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Address by His Majesty the King of the Belgians at the Royal Hospital Chelsea Founder’s Day, London

8 June 2023

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear In-pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you on this Founder's Day. I am extremely grateful to General Sir Adrian Bradshaw for inviting me and my wife, Queen Mathilde, to meet with you and to take stock of the wonderful work accomplished at the Royal Hospital Chelsea over more than 300 years.

This institution is an exemplary expression of the respect that you, the British people, hold for your history and traditions, which you manage to keep alive throughout the ages, in an unparalleled way.

And speaking of history – I’d like to take you back to the close ties that bind the British Royal Family to mine – and to the common history of our countries.

In 1816, my ancestor, Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, uncle of the future Queen Victoria, married Princess Charlotte of Wales and was destined to become Prince Consort of the United Kingdom. Sadly, Charlotte died a year later, at the age of 21, giving birth to her stillborn son.

It was in the wake of this tragic historical setback that Leopold agreed to become the first King of the Belgians, in 1831. He enjoyed the confidence of the great European powers, and his personal relationship to statesmen such as Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston allowed him to work, from England, for the recognition of Belgium's independence and prepare his accession to the throne.

From its foundation, the neutrality of Belgium was guaranteed by international law. On the other hand, it did not prevent our young nation from devoting substantial budgets to its defence.

In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, Germany invaded Belgium, following my great-grandfather King Albert's refusal to let the German army pass through Belgium to attack France.

Invoking this violation of my country's neutrality, the United Kingdom then declared war on Germany. The German Chancellor said he could not understand why the United Kingdom was taking such risks in the name of a mere – and I quote – “scrap of paper". But it was precisely this "scrap of paper" that embodied the international law which your country was committed to upholding.

I would like to pay tribute to all those valiant British soldiers who came to our rescue during the First World War, so many of whom rest in peace in Flanders Fields.

And the heroism of the Belgian army during this trench warfare, never giving in to the enemy, earned us special recognition from King George V, granting our soldiers the honour of parading at the Cenotaph, which they still do to this day.

I am proud to stand here before you today, within these walls which, on the initiative of King Charles II and for some 330 years, have housed army veterans and ex-servicemen in recognition of the sacrifices made for the nation.

Here and now, together with you all, I would like to spare a thought for those who are no longer with us. For all those who, over the course of world wars and regional conflicts, have travelled the demanding path of the military, a path of uprightness, courage and service.

In particular I would like to express our eternal gratitude to all your brave countrymen who liberated us from the Nazi yoke during the Second World War.

Let us also remember that the Belgian Navy and Air Force originate in the Belgian Sections of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force Volunteer Service that were created during the Second World War. And our Para-Commando Regiment was formed from the Belgian volunteers in the Special Air Service Brigade.

In these turbulent times, I would also like to spare a special thought for the Ukrainian soldiers who are heroically defending their country, at the cost of their lives. I am proud that together, in the name of respect for international law, both our nations are part of a coalition to help them succeed.

And I would like to end, ladies and gentlemen, with a quote from William Gladstone, because it fills me with hope. ”We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”

I salute you, proud Pensioners, and wish you a very happy "Founder's Day"!