Looking back at the WW1 centenary

With this year’s Remembrance Sunday marking 100 years since the signing of the armistice that ended WW1, there has been fresh attention on the Royal Pavilion’s use as an Indian military hospital.

Even though it’s been several years since I worked on the creation of the Indian hospital gallery, I’ve recently spent a lot of time responding to this interest.

Man standing in a gallery by some paintings
Lord Asthon of Hyde in the Indian Military Hospital gallery. Courtesy DCMS

On 18 October, I gave a tour of the Pavilion to Lord Ashton of Hyde, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. This visit also took in the Chattri memorial and the Keep. He commented that, ‘it has been fascinating to learn more about the Royal Pavilion and Brighton during the war and its role in preserving the stories of Indian soldiers.’

Later that month, a wreath laying ceremony took place at the Pavilion’s Indian Gate, lead by the Chattri Memorial Group. This was one of several events held throughout the UK to mark the contribution made by Indian soldiers to the First World War, including a major Interfaith Remembrance event I attended at the Neasden Temple in London.

Khadi poppy and event programme

The temple is an extraordinarily beautiful building, but one quiet highlight for me was the discovery that the British Legion have commissioned a limited edition poppy for 2018 made from khadi. This is a type of hand-woven cotton fabric popularised by Mahatma Gandhi, who encouraged its production as a means of making India more self-sufficient during the struggle for independence.

There has also been renewed media interest in this story, including an interview with me by Meridian TV as part of a WW1 heritage event I spoke at in Brighton Dome.

What next?

For people like me, who have spent considerable time over the years promoting a story about the First World War, there is a question abouot what happens next. After four years of centenary events, will people now leave the subject alone? Has our understanding of the war changed with the anniversary?

For Royal Pavilion & Museums, this will continue to be part of our public offer. Our Remember War Stories display continues in Brighton Museum until 13 January 2019, and our portrait of Brighton born Victoria Cross winner Ernest Beal can be seen until the same date. Even once these works have been withdrawn, our Indian hospital gallery is a permanent display, and we offer a wide range of online resources, including downloadable images relating to WW1, stories on our blog, and a version of our WW1 themed audio tour that you can listen to on your mobile phone, wherever you are.

I am also aware that there has been particular interest in the story of the Pavilion’s use as a WW1 hospital ever since we opened the permanent gallery in 2010, and the Brighton and Hove Black History and Chattri Memorial groups had been promoting awareness of this episode in Brighton’s history many years before us.

What has really persuaded me that this story will not fade away is a small reminder of the emotional value this holds for some people. A couple of weeks ago I was fixing the digital interactive in the gallery and noticed that someone had left three plastic poppies in the gallery. Tied together with plastic covered wire, I don’t know whether the poppies were manufactured in this form or self-assembled as a sort of makeshift miniature wreath. Nor do I know who left them there.

All I can reasonably assume is that whoever left it there feels a clear emotional attachment to the story. For that reason alone, I believe we will be discussing and remembering this story for many years to come.

Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager

Update 28/11/18 — Since posting this story, I’ve discovered that the poppies were left by one of our front of house team. It’s interesting that while many people see that gallery as an exhibition space, others, such as my colleague, see it as more of a memorial site.

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