The Duchess of Cornwall has sent the Chelsea Pensioners a message of support to mark their Founder’s Day.
A scaled-back socially distanced version of the veterans’ annual parade celebrating the occasion was being staged at the Royal Hospital Chelsea on Thursday.
Camilla praised the in-pensioners, who are known for their scarlet tunics and black tricorn hats edged in gold, for their military service to the nation and said the occasion was all the more poignant as they thought of “absent friends”.
Nine of the residents at the retirement home for ex-Army veterans have died after contracting coronavirus, the Royal Hospital announced at the start of May.
Almost 300 elderly former soldiers live at the site in London, including some who served in Korea, the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland and during the Second World War.
A member of the royal family usually attends the parade each year and Camilla expressed her disappointment not to be there in person.
The duchess said, in a video recorded at Birkhall in Scotland: “Today, as we mark the 328th anniversary of the foundation of the Royal Hospital, the Chelsea Pensioners continue to stand for service to our nation, just as you have since 1692, and just as you always will.
“But the world, as we know it, has changed of late.
“This Founder’s Day is like no other, when we are, due to Covid-19, separated from one another. And it is, of course, a particularly poignant occasion, as we think of our absent friends.”
Camilla was wearing an oak leaf on her brooch – a custom of the celebrations.
The parade honours King Charles II who set up the hospital more than 300 years ago to care for soldiers unfit for further duty because of injury or old age.
Oak leaves are traditionally worn on the day by guests and the former soldiers as a nod to the tree in which Charles II hid as he escaped after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
Reflecting that the oak leaf represented strength, wisdom and endurance, the duchess added: “These are qualities which are immensely valuable, even vital, to us all – and never more so than now.
“They are qualities which abound among Chelsea Pensioners, qualities which have seen you through your military service to our country, and which inspire every person who is fortunate enough to meet you.
“I look forward to seeing you all again – face-to-face, hopefully – in the not too distant future.”
The Chelsea Pensioners receive board, lodging and medical care in exchange for their Service pension.