This major research project examined the Foundling Hospital’s historic links with the military from the Napoleonic Wars to the twentieth century.

The fascinating and heart-wrenching stories of how military action in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries affected the lives of children at the Foundling Hospital, were brought to life through a series of four displays in the Introductory Gallery. The Foundling Hospital was established to protect children from destitution and create well-rounded citizens. To assist the children in their transition into adulthood, many foundling boys went directly from the Hospital into military service. Due to the musical heritage of the Hospital, the children were commonly enrolled into military bands and travelled with their respective regiments all over the world. Wartime also saw a rise in orphaned children and abandoned or widowed mothers, which in turn led to an influx of petitions to the Hospital.

The project encompassed four presentations, displayed between September 2014 and January 2016.

World War I
In the centenary year, this first display focused on World War I and includes previously unseen archives which tell the stories of the foundlings that fought and the mothers left abandoned.

Military bands
The second display looked at the huge number of foundlings that left the Hospital to join military bands, serving in regiments all over the world.

The Battle of Waterloo
Coinciding with the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the third display followed two former foundlings whose paths crossed with Nelson and Napoleon.

Through the Ages
The final display presented an overview of the entire 250-year relationship between the Hospital and the military, highlighting a key story from each century.


Explore these fascinating stories of foundling boys who served across the globe with our free Foundlings at War iBook, featuring images of archive material. Available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.