Reviewer: Michael Keith
Title: A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose
Author: Stephen Wynn, Tanya Wynn
Total Number of Pages: 230
Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7
In a note on this volume’s dustjacket, the authors state that that the book ‘…Looks at the hospital’s beginnings…goes on to look at some of the characters who have been Pensioners at the hospital over the centuries as well as some of the individuals who have been buried in the hospital’s grounds. There is also an in depth look at the hospital’s governors [and] a look in some detail at a few of those who currently live and work in the hospital’. It is an excellent precis’.
The book opens with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s well-known poem For the Fallen; the verse which begins: They shall not grow old… It is an appropriate Dedication. The Title and Contents pages follow in succession. An Introduction is next; while providing background to the book, it also summarises its content. The 14 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to both the hospital itself and to noteworthy individuals and events which are associated with it. They may best be described as being the ‘Historical’ section of the volume. Where appropriate, subheadings within each Chapter detail both specific events and individuals. Chapters 5-to 12 may best be described as being ‘People’-focussed, the majority of their content being in the nature of biographical details for named individuals. Within this bloc, and where appropriate, specific individuals have been allocated a Chapter to themselves, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (Chapter 6 Margaret Thatcher) being one of several individuals accorded this honour. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a partly British Government-funded institution and Chapter 13 (Hansard Discussions) records the Hospital-related discussions which have occurred in the House of Commons since 1807. Such debates are recorded verbatim in Hansard (the official record of such discussions), with those records forming the basis of entries within the Chapter. Chapter 14 (Correspondence) contains both text and photographic copies of ‘…A few post cards and a letter connected to the Royal Hospital…’ The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Conclusion follows. This both summarises the volume and permits the authors to express their opinions on the institution’s present and possible future. A biographical section titled About the Author follows. Again, its title is self-explanatory. Curiously, a 15-entry Subsection occurs within that section. Titled Sources, it is bibliographic in nature and function. A four-page Index completes the volume. It is not however the book’s final printed page, this honour being accorded to a final (albeit unnumbered) page placed behind page 229 on which there is an advertisement for Pen and Sword-published titles which can be ordered from both the author and the Publisher. The volume contains 53 largely-unsourced monochrome images, defined as Figures. These are numbered sequentially and informatively captioned. Unsurprisingly, they are largely people-focussed but also include other items relevant to the narrative. For unknown reasons, the last image (on page 221) is not numbered. Although it would have helped readers to precisely-locate the Royal Hospital Chelsea the volume contains no Map.
Although this volume is well-written, for this reviewer it was badly let down by its Index, A random search within the Index for names and locations occurring within the volume found numerous examples where such names were omitted. These includes such entries as that for Michael Hurley (pages 204-205), and Patrick Johnson (page 146), while John Price, despite being the subject of a substantial entry on pages 202 and 203 was also absent from the Index. It was also noted that where some subjects were accorded an Index entry, these were incomplete; the Wren Chapel being but one such example: Although carrying Index entries for pages 18 and 20, that on page 86 was omitted. As other, similar, examples of the above were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably suffered, especially as the ommissions appear to be very numerous. There is no way to know the extent of the problem. The volume also contains numerous unsourced Quotes. In the absence of supporting citations, it is possible to suggest that these are imagined; there again being no way to know otherwise with certainty. The standard of proofreading was also disappointing, with several examples of incorrect entries being noted (page 85; 1918, not 2018), together with spelling mistakes. It was also noted that book titles, where appearing within the text, were not accorded acknowledgment through either a Footnote or an Endnote.
Although for this reviewer at least, it was let down by the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’, it is very evident that this volume is a labour of love. In the absence of any other contemporary volumes on the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is likely to become a standard work of reference for its subject. On that basis it may appeal to readers of all persuasions with an interest in British military history, while military historians with a similar interest may also find it worthy of their attention. Health and social historians and researchers may also find it worthy of perusal.
On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.
It should have been much higher.