August 2014 – As the nation commemorates the Centenary of the start of the First World War, this moment holds particular significance for The Royal Star & Garter Homes as the Charity was established to care for the severely injured young servicemen returning from the battlefields of Europe.
As War raged in Europe, Britain’s military hospitals became overwhelmed with wounded troops. When Queen Mary expressed concern for the future of these disabled servicemen, an independent charity was set up and, in 1916, The Royal Star & Garter Home on Richmond Hill opened its doors to 65 residents, providing a “permanent haven for paralysed and severely disabled men of the King’s Forces.” The average age of residents was 22.
One such resident was Horace Ham, who enlisted in 1915, aged 20. A year later, Horace and his regiment, the 16th Middlesex, fought at the Battle of the Somme. Horace recalled: “I joined up with four friends and we stuck together until the Somme. Then, within a few minutes two were dead and two of us injured. Only 100 men out of our 800-strong battalion made it back.”
After recovering from his injuries, Horace returned to France in 1917, but was shot in the arm and permanently disabled. Standing in waist-high water in the trenches also caused osteoarthritis in his spine. When his wife died, Horace came to The Royal Star & Garter Homes: “The Star & Garter is my home now. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place. I only hope, just as the Home was here for me when I needed it, it will be here in years to come for brave service men and women.”
The residents’ stories, past and present, reinforce the Charity’s mission to care for those who served our nation, adapting our care to meet the needs of future generations – just as Horace hoped.