First World War Centenary 2014

Discover the Garden’s WWI history and share your family storiespoppy

2014 marks one hundred years since the start of the First World War.  A historical event to which we are all still connected, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities or because of its long-standing impact on society and the world we live in today.

Chelsea Physic Garden played its role in the First World War.  Many gardens, as expected, went into decline during this time as their menfolk fought and lost their lives. Miraculously all of the Garden’s menfolk returned uninjured.  During the First World War women substituted for the men who had been called up, however they were not followed by other female staff until 1950.

In 1916 the Committee (of the City Parochial Foundation, who at that time were responsible for management of the Garden) allowed patients from military hospitals to visit the Garden.  This year, to mark the centenary of WWI, Chelsea Physic Garden will be opening its doors once again to Chelsea Pensioners and their families for one hundred days from 28 June 2014. This marks the day in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie are shot to death by a Bosnian Serb nationalist during an official visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. The killings sparked a chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I by early August. On 28 June 1919, five years to the day after Franz Ferdinand’s death, Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, officially marking the end of World War I.

Another story the Garden has to tell is that Wilfred Owen, often referred to as one of the greatest voices of WWI, spent one of his last afternoons in England in the Garden.  He visited with Siegfried Sassoon  and Osbert Sitwell, who had a key to the Garden.  Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen’s biographer, stated that “so listlessly happy was Owen that he could not bring himself to leave to go to the station to catch the train he had arranged to take”.  Owen returned to Flanders, and his death, just three months later, only a matter of days before the Armistice.

Extract from ‘Spring Offensive’ by Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

© Christine Battle – Member of Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society

© Christine Battle – Member of Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society

“So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together
Over an open stretch of herb and heather
Exposed. And instantly the whole sky burned
With fury against them; and soft sudden cups
Opened in thousands for their blood; and the green slopes
Chasmed and steepened sheer to infinite space.

In addition to welcoming the Chelsea Pensioners to the Garden to mark the centenary of the First World War, the Garden would also like to hear your families’ stories from this significant period in history. Please join in conversations on Facebook and Twitter or email stories to

Find out more about the Garden and it’s staff during WWI at the links below:

Albert Holton

Physic Garden Opened to the Wounded

Staff who have stories to tell about family members involved in WWI will be posted at the links below:

John Hutchison

Gill Disley

Lily Middleton


FWW_Centenary__Led_By_IWM_Red rgb


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