At the end of March, we opened a new room on the Royal Pavilion visitor route – what I call ‘a small room with a big story’. Here, visitors who turn off their audio guides and step away from tales of royal residency can discover a very different but incredibly significant chapter in our history – the period between 1914 and 1916 when the Pavilion was used as a military hospital for Indian troops fighting for the Empire on the western front.
The new gallery displays images and objects that help to tell the story of the Pavilion as an Indian military hospital. We have a small number of artefacts from our own collections, including a fragment of a ward menu discovered under the floorboards and a hookah pipe found in the grounds. These are complemented by weapons, paintings, extracts from soldiers’ letters, archive photographs and newsreel footage. The display is a new departure in the presentation of the Pavilion.
Approximately 1.5 million Indian Army troops fought alongside British soldiers during the war, and Indian Military Hospitals were set up at several locations on the south coast, including three in Brighton. The Royal Pavilion (including the Dome and Corn Exchange) was suggested as a hospital site by the Mayor of Brighton. It took a week to convert the buildings, and the first patients arrived in December 1914. The Indian military hospital remained in use until early 1916, by which time most Indian units had been transferred to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). The Pavilion site became a hospital for limbless British soldiers for the rest of the war.
Last Sunday, 13 June, two of the project team attended the annual service that takes place at the Chattri memorial on the downs above Patcham. This monument was erected in February 1921, on the site where Hindu and Sikh soldiers who died in the Brighton Indian military hospitals were cremated. (Muslim troops were buried at sites close to the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking.) The sun shone, and the atmosphere was one of respectful celebration as the sacrifices made by all Indian soldiers were honoured. The ceremony was attended by the Indian High Commissioner, Mayor, local Councillors and MPs, representatives of the British Armed Forces, Indian Army and veterans of the Undivided Indian Army, the Royal British Legion, the Police and many local people, as well as those from further afield.
The Chattri memorial service takes place on the second Sunday in June.
Laura Waters (Curator – Collections Projects)[slideshow]