As part of the obligatory mid-life crisis, I decided to quit my job and return to full-time education. With no particular career path in mind I applied for a place on the MA International Cultural Heritage Management at Durham University, with the only premise being that it complemented my BA in archaeology.
Having spent the best part of my working life in the Army, I am a keen advocate of British military history and wanted to explore the heritage in some form. For my dissertation I conducted an investigation into the role of military heritage in the formation of a soldier’s sense of pride and belonging.
Royal Hospital Chelsea
To do this, I spent my summer at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, home to the Chelsea Pensioners. And what a summer! These amazing men and women are part of an institution dating from 1692. I was allowed exclusive access into their home; their confidence and was made to feel part of the family. Together we laughed, on occasion cried, but most of all we had the best fun.
Those who took part in my research may soon be beyond the grave. Yet their contribution, imparted amongst the layers of intensified, historic regimental living, consoles the mind to accept that heritage has a point. I formed life long friendships and am so proud that three of “my boys” were able to travel to Durham to support me on graduation.
Marking the occasion
Chelsea Pensioners Peter Henry, James McGuinness and Arthur Currie, made the journey north to join me as I graduated at Winter Congregation 2018. They were joined by Warrant Officer 2 Matt Starmer, Lieutenant Colonel Iain Watt, Major Rachael Thomas at the ceremony in Durham Cathedral. After the graduation ceremony they visited the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Chapel within the Cathedral, to lay a wreath in honour of fallen comrades.
One of the visiting Chelsea Pensioners, James McGuinness re-trained himself to walk and left his hospital for the first time in 3 years to attend the ceremony, which just shows how important this occasion was to him. I was delighted that he and my other Chelsea friends could make it to help me celebrate and can’t thank them enough for their support.