The 300 Army veterans living at The Royal Hospital Chelsea include former soldiers who served in World War 2, Korea, the Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland and more recently Iraq and the Balkans.
The key ethos is to nurture belonging, respect individuals, encourage pride, and enjoy life. All of this fits well with rugby’s values and camaraderie. One of the key reasons veterans apply to move to the Hospital is to be welcomed back into the Army team. In April, In Pensioner Brian Rolfe came up with the idea that he and his fellow Pensioners could play walking rugby and The Scarlet Warriors were formed, with an enthusiastic group of around 20 now regularly meeting on Monday evenings to train.
Some veterans have had limited physical activity opportunities for quite a while, and some have never played rugby before. They’ve begun to play friendly games with other walking rugby teams and are keen to meet opposition teams at the Royal Hospital’s Burton Court in the heart of Chelsea, or at away fixtures. In their first competitive match they beat a Richmond walking rugby team 5-1 and almost 50 pensioners were there to cheer them on.
Major (Retired) Matt Clarkson is one of the four Captain of Invalids at the Royal Hospital, a 189 year old traditional role overseeing the welfare of the Chelsea Pensioners, he supervises the walking rugby and conducts guided walks all to promote healthy lifestyles and to promote fitness opportunities. On Friday 22 September 2023, a team of Chelsea Pensioners, Royal Hospital staff and Pearly Queens, will be walking a 12-mile route, crossing the 16 bridges of the Thames starting at Putney Bridge at 0930hrs and finishing at The tower of London. The team aim to raise £1600 (£100 per bridge) for the Royal Hospital Chelsea charity fund. Chelsea pensioners 16 Bridge Charity walk.
The Scarlet Warriors have an average age of 73, some having left the Army 20-30 years ago so 10% of the Pensioners involved in walking rugby is excellent. We have a Pensioner never seen without a walking aid, yet he turns up every Monday, trains with us without a stick, and then picks it up again to walk home. He’s never failed to attend.
The team is entirely inclusive also, with two female Pensioners becoming key team players and people of all ages and abilities encouraged to turn up. Barbara is a former Newbury ladies rugby player and probably our most experienced team member, and Anne had never picked up a rugby ball is always there and keen to get involved.
The internal and external support for the team has been outstanding, and not least from Major Marc Wilding at the Army Rugby Union and from Scotty Lamont from L4 Teamwear who have provided the team kit. The Scarlet Warriors have also had the benefit of calling on professional trainer Coach Chris Stegmann from Rosslyn Park who has been instrumental in teaching us the game.”
Having beaten Richmond, the team is now booked up for a tournament at Guildfordians later this month (September) and their next home match is against Beccehamian RFC on 2 October. The first two hours at Guildfordians will involve a rugby refereeing seminar to iron out the rules.
As a driving force in the team Brian was interviewed on TV at a London Irish match and credited Houghton Le Spring as his first rugby team. The club then started a campaign to ‘Find Brian’, which they duly did and hosted him and a Chelsea Pensioner friend over a weekend of rugby.
Brian was delighted to see the Army Women’s team helping to promote the idea of walking rugby when they paid a visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and encouraged the creation of the Scarlet Warriors.
He was also invited to the Commons & Lords charity match against Barnes RFC at Twickenham and would love the Scarlet Warriors to play an exhibition match before the next Commons & Lords contest. He hopes the Scarlet Warriors can persuade all the services rugby unions to get their veterans playing walking rugby.
“We meet on a Monday evening and, after a few months. I think we are pretty good. We have a fantastic time, enjoy having a competitive game and we get more exercise in an hour’s rugby than we probably get over two days. And all of it with a smile on our faces.
“It’s fun, something we can enjoy together, and we are getting a lot of good out of it. To me it’s a no brainer, get people interested in walking rugby and at our age that has got to be great!” said Pensioner, Brian.
Their aim is also to play a team of Royal Navy veterans at the annual Army V Navy game at Twickenham.
To discover more about The Royal Hospital visit: https://www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk
Article and imagery provided by Matt Clarkson, No 3 Company Captain of Invalids, Royal Hospital Chelsea