From the late 17th century in Great Britain and Ireland, soldiers leaving the army after a certain number of years of service and/or with a disabling injury were entitled to a pension. These pensions were usually paid by one of two veterans’ hospitals, the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC) in London, and the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, in Dublin. The Scarlets & Blues project aims to record information from the minutes of meetings held by the Board of the RHC between July 1908 and November 1919. These minutes, contained in records at The National Archives, include details about: accounts (payment of weekly bills for things like provision of clothing and artificial appliances), the names of individuals employed by RHC, the different uses of the RHC grounds (fetes, charity concerts, and exhibition of German guns), and, crucially, Military Pensions. The records cover the period of the British Army’s bloodiest First World War campaigns, and coincide with the establishment of the Ministry of Pensions, which took over some powers of the Hospitals’ Commissioners as the number of people affected by the war grew rapidly. The records are of interest to social, medical, war, women’s and family historians, and provide insights into how the British state dealt with those who sacrificed their lives or good health to the army. They reveal changing attitudes towards veterans as citizens’ lived experience of war changed, and show the evolving role of women as the war progressed.
Scarlets & Blues will feed into several streams of research. The volunteer transcriptions and classifications of the minute books will provide new information for The National Archives catalogue allowing for investigation of research questions around how the hospital was organised, and the medical, women's and social history of the wartime period. We will also analyse volunteer engagement with the project, particularly with a new indexing tool, to produce a report recommending the best ways of encouraging and supporting meaningful public interaction with heritage collections.
None of this research would be possible without the contributions of our volunteer transcribers. A huge thank you goes out to everyone who is taking part.