The Garden's WWI Story

August 5, 2014 3:38 pm Published by

poppies slideMany gardens, as expected, went into decline during the First World War 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 of 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)Wilfred_Owen_plate_from_Poems_(1920)

“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.

Return to WWI Homepage 

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This post was written by Lynn Scrivener

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