Our audio tour of the WW1 Pavilion Military hospital is now available to download and listen online.
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Hello, and welcome to the Royal Pavilion. The Pavilion was built as a royal residence, and this is how it appears today. But a hundred years ago, the building was alive with the hustle and bustle of a military hospital, as the Pavilion played its part in the terrible drama of the First World War.
This tour will tell you more about that fascinating period in the Pavilion’s history, when the elegant rooms and galleries of the Pavilion were converted into hospital wards, consulting rooms and operating theatres for wounded soldiers.
Before we start, a quick word about your guide. It’s very easy to use. Just look for the tour symbol and number in the room and key the number into your player. The commentary will start automatically. The volume control buttons are just beneath the screen. In addition to the main audio commentaries, there are also extra pieces of content featuring interviews and images to add to your understanding of this wonderful building and its use during the First World War.
When you’re ready to begin the tour, go through into the next room, the Long Gallery.
When the First World War broke out, the army needed to set up hospitals for wounded soldiers on the south coast of England, within easy reach of the port at Southampton. The initial thought was to requisition hotels in Brighton and pay the owners, but the mayor of Brighton suggested a much cheaper option: using the Pavilion.
At the time, the Pavilion was largely used for civic functions and private hire, so it was quick and easy to vacate. Built by King George the Fourth and completed in 1823, the Pavilion reflected George’s enthusiasm for exotic interiors and excitement. For Queen Victoria and her large family it was impractical, so she sold it to the Brighton Corporation, which later became Brighton & Hove City Council.
The use of the Pavilion during the war divides into two distinct phases. During the first phase, from December 1914 to January 1916, it was a hospital for Indian soldiers who had been injured or become sick on the Western Front. During the second phase, from April 1916 until 1920, it was a hospital for British soldiers, specifically those who had lost an arm or a leg. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was called the Hospital for Limbless Men.
It can be difficult today to visualise the building as it looked a hundred years ago, but as we follow the tour, imagine the rooms with their royal furniture and ornaments removed, and with lino covering the floors, and boards protecting the walls. You’ll have the opportunity to see photographs of the Pavilion during its time as a hospital throughout our tour.
As you make your way through the Pavilion, can I remind you not to touch any of the walls or objects on display, as they’re easily damaged. And please note that photography is not permitted even without using the flash – a condition of the many loaned items on display.
Our next stop is in the Banqueting Room.
Banqueting Room — west
This magnificent chamber was originally the Banqueting Room, where George the Fourth hosted lavish feasts. In 1915, though, it was converted into a rather exotic hospital ward. Here’s Jody East, Creative Programme Curator at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, to tell us more:
‘When you look at photographs of the Banqueting Room as a ward for the Indian soldiers, it’s a room of contrasts, of two different halves. The bottom half of the room looks very much like a military hospital; you have four rows of beds and there’s probably about 50 beds in this one room, the floor is covered with a khaki coloured lino, there’s boarding across all of the walls to protect the paintings behind. However, above these boards you have these beautifully decorated Chinese pictures, you have these incredible chandeliers hanging from the ceiling above the soldiers’ heads. So you can imagine being a soldier lying injured in bed and looking up at these ornate, heavily decorated, beautiful dragon chandeliers. It must have felt quite surreal after being on the Western Front.’
So why did the Pavilion become a hospital for Indian soldiers? When war broke out, the British army was much smaller than the French and German armies, and battle-ready reinforcements wouldn’t be ready for many months. The Indian Army, on the other hand, was a well-trained standing army, and could be called on instantly. It was mobilised immediately and brought to Europe to fight on the Western Front.
Being so far from home, it was impractical to send sick and wounded soldiers back to India to convalesce, so it was decided to bring them to Britain, initially to hospital ships moored in the English Channel, and then onto the mainland.
The Pavilion was one of three Indian hospitals in Brighton. The town’s workhouse and a local school were also used.
When you’re ready, continue to the next room, the Table Deckers’ Room.
Mobilising the Indian Army
Local military historian Tom Donovan explains how the Indian army was mobilised:
‘Within two days of the declaration of war on 4th August 1914 Indian soldiers were being mobilised, mainly in northern India, in the Punjab and in the frontier districts. By the end of August they’d shipped from Karachi and Bombay to, initially Suez, for a stopover, and then by the end of the month a whole division, that is some 12,000 men, had landed in Marseille in the south of France, and from there they were taken by train up to the middle of France to a place called Orléans, where there was a staging post, a camp set up for the Indians to train and do exercises. From there, very soon after their arrival, by the end of October, they were in the frontline in ditches and trenches around Ypres in Flanders and a little bit further south in France around a place called Bethune, villages that became famous as First World War battlefields, such as Neuve Chapelle, were in the Indian Army Corps sector, the Indian Army held this sector of 15 to 18 miles on its own for almost a year.’
Table Deckers’ Room
The Indian hospital opened with about 600 beds, with around 120 more in tents in the summer. Over the course of fourteen months, over 2,300 wounded Indian soldiers were treated. Then in January 1916, the Indian army was redeployed from the Western Front to fight in Egypt and Mesopotamia, in what today is Iraq. Local military historian Tom Donovan explains why:
‘By the end of 1915, their numbers had been depleted greatly by casualties in battle and by sickness, and a decision was made to break up the Indian Army corps in France and employ it in the Middle East. So a lot closer to its own home base in India, therefore more easy to repatriate its wounded, easier to supply it with reinforcements, easier to supply it with material from India.’
As it was now more practical to send wounded soldiers back to India than to bring them to Britain, the Indian Hospital period at the Pavilion came to an end.
However, the need for hospitals in Southern England was, if anything, even greater by this time. And with the Pavilion already adapted for medical use, it was quickly reopened as a hospital for limbless British soldiers, with room for about 520 patients, plus around 80 or 90 under canvas. The hospital would stay open until long after the war had ended, not closing its doors until 1920, by which time it had treated more than 6000 men.
When you’re ready, continue into the next room, the Great Kitchen.
This room was originally the Pavilion’s largest kitchen. It had running water and plenty of light from the square lantern above our heads, which made it ideal for locating one of two operating theatres. Here’s Kevin Bacon, one of the curators of the Indian Hospital gallery:
‘When we talk about the Pavilion hospital, it wasn’t actually just the main Royal Pavilion building itself that was used, it was the whole Pavilion estate. So this also includes the buildings that are now the Dome and the Corn Exchange, which were formerly the stables of George IV. When the building was converted the requirements were partly that it could be a state of the art medical facility, so two operating theatres were set up, one in the Great Kitchen, another just off the main auditorium of the Dome. There was also an X-ray room which was set up here, which was a bit of a struggle for the military authorities to set up, because X-ray at this time is still a relatively new technology and unfortunately, the best X-ray equipment came from Germany. So they had to rely on inferior American exports, which apparently had a small habit of causing minor explosions when they were used.’
As an operating theatre, it was almost unrecognisable, as Jody East explains:
‘All of the walls have been boarded, so you can’t see any of the original Regency kitchen fittings at all, it looks like a sort of clean, white, empty space with an operating table in the middle. All you can see are the pillars which come down supporting the roof.’
When you’re ready, continue on through the Table Deckers’ Room and back into the Banqueting Room.
Banqueting Room — west
Character Voice (Sussex schoolgirl)
‘July 31st, 1917. Dear Wounded Soldiers, Together with the help of some of the present and past girls of Lewes Road Girls’ School, I have managed to get up a concert. It was a great success. With the money obtained from the concert, we have bought some eggs for you. Eggs being quite a luxury now, we thought that you would enjoy them more than anything else.
Yours sincerely, EMILY CORNFORD’
This letter from a local schoolgirl appeared in the hospital magazine, Pavilion Blues, in September 1917. It shows the concern the people of Brighton felt for patients at the hospital, but also how scarce basic foodstuffs were. A year earlier, there had been so many complaints about the food that the Secretary of State for War, David Lloyd George, was asked in Parliament: “if he was aware that dissatisfaction exists among the wounded soldiers of Brighton as to the quality of the food supplied, and the method of serving it.” Lloyd George replied that an inquiry had been launched.
For the Indian Hospital, it was also important to satisfy the strict dietary requirements of patients from different religions and castes. Kevin Bacon:
‘New water supplies were put in so that separate taps could be supplied for Hindus and Muslims, even though the wards themselves were actually mixed. Nine separate kitchens were set up in the grounds of the building so that food could be cooked for the men by their co-religionists and for Hindus, fellow caste members. There was a Pavilion dairy which supplied milk for the hospital and it would arrive in churns marked in Urdu or Hindi, whether they were for Muslims or Hindus or Sikhs.‘
There was even an enterprising local butcher who converted his backyard into a slaughterhouse that could accommodate the different slaughter methods preferred by Muslims and Sikhs.
Banqueting Room Gallery
This is where George the Fourth retired with his guests after dinner. But he wasn’t the only king to pass through these rooms. Nearly a hundred years later, George the Fifth visited the hospital several times.
‘I have a funny story to tell which occurred at the Royal Pavilion during a visit by the King and the Queen and the children. As the King was doing his rounds in the wards, Jamedar Sobat Khan of the 129th Baluchis suddenly produced an autograph book and a pen for the Emperor to sign his name. There were looks of horror from the commanding officer, but the King most graciously sat down on Jamedar’s bed and wrote; ‘I was pleased to visit and meet Jamedar Sobat Khan. George R’. Discipline in our hospital was very strict, so immediately after the royal party had left the CO remonstrated with the patient and asked him why he had troubled His Majesty. The Jamedar just smiled and said, ‘If I can take the trouble to leave my home and get severely wounded and maimed for life for the sake of His Majesty, surely he can’t mind this little trouble to sign his name in my book’.
That was Davinder Dhillon, co-ordinator of the Chattri memorial, reading an account of the King’s visit in 1915 by D.R.Tharpar, assistant quartermaster at the Pavilion.
Throughout the war, members of the royal family visited the Pavilion to help boost morale among the patients, both when it was an Indian hospital and as a hospital for limbless men. In the case of the Indian Hospital, this was also part of a wider strategy not only to thank wounded troops for their sacrifice in person, but also to ensure the loyalty of the Indian army in supporting the British Empire.
Most of the Indian soldiers cared for at the Pavilion were illiterate, so a secretary or scribe would have written their letters for them. The letters were then sent to a censorship office in Boulogne, where they were translated into English and if necessary redacted before being sent on. Very few original letters survive, but we still have the translations, giving an insight into what the patients thought about their situation both on the battlefield and at the Pavilion.
‘Do not be anxious about me’, writes Isar Singh of the 59th Rifles.
‘We are very well looked after, white soldiers are always beside our beds, day and night. We get very good food four times a day, we also get milk. Our hospital is in the place where the King used to have his throne. Every man is washed once in hot water. The King has given a strict order that no trouble be given to any black man in the hospital. Men in the hospital are tended like flowers and the King and Queen sometimes come to visit them.’
The Indian patients knew that their letters were being censored, and sometimes used a simple code. In another letter, black pepper refers to Indian troops, red pepper to British troops.
‘I have received your card dated 24th February 1915 and mastered its contents. The state of affairs here is as follows. The black pepper is finished, now the red pepper is being used. Occasionally the black pepper proves useful. The black pepper is very pungent and the red pepper is not so strong. This is a secret, but you are a wise man; consider it with your understanding.’
The Pavilion as a Political Tool
One important advantage of using the Pavilion to treat sick and wounded Indian troops was the political role this former palace could play, both in Britain and particularly back in India.
Shortly before the hospital opened, Turkey had entered the war as an ally of Germany. This presented a new threat to the Suez Canal and to British rule in India. It was therefore more important than ever for Britain to ensure continued Indian loyalty to the British Empire.
Britain had learned many lessons from the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when a series of uprisings sparked by religious insensitivity had almost ended British colonial rule in India. The British now recognised that their continued presence in India depended on understanding and respecting the religious and cultural needs of the Indian people. The Indian hospital reflected this awareness, thereby ensuring that an important message was sent back to India. Kevin Bacon explains.
‘What the British were really trying to do with the Pavilion hospital in particular was really promote it as a sign of British benevolence, and this is really benevolence that is in many ways expressed through the care given to the religious and cultural needs of the Indian patients here. And this is recognition of a political situation in which British rule in India is under intense threat, because it’s a time when Britain not only needs Indian troops to support its efforts on the Western Front, but it also has no army that it can deploy to try to keep India under its own control. So the Pavilion is part of a media spectacle in a sense, which is there to demonstrate how well cared for the Indian patients were in Brighton.’
This small, serene chamber lies at the very heart of the Pavilion. With its circular shape and domed ceiling, it almost feels like a chapel or temple. An important aspect of patient welfare was, of course, their religious and spiritual well-being, and the authorities took great care to accommodate a diverse range of beliefs. Kevin Bacon explains how:
‘To satisfy the religious requirements of the men in the Pavilion hospital, Sikhs were given a gurdwara, which is a structure used to take the Sikh holy book, so they were given a tented gurdwara in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion. In fact they had two, the first burnt down, but they were given another one. Muslims weren’t given any structure that they could use for worship because there was a belief that if any structure was built that area of ground would be considered forever sacred to Islam, but they were given space on the eastern lawns where they could pray towards Mecca. Another concern was local Christians trying to get access to the estate to actually convert these Indian men to Christianity. And this was something that absolutely terrified the British authorities, because the British Raj grew out of the ashes of the Indian rebellions in 1857 which were essentially a religious war inspired by a lack of British respect for Indian religions. And in fact the one thing Britain had learned was that to keep control of India it had to absolutely respect those indigenous religions.’
Music Room Gallery
Another area of concern were liaisons between Indian patients and local women, either nurses or Brighton residents. Female nurses were employed to work at the hospitals, but they weren’t supposed to interact directly with the Indian patients.
However photographs clearly show nurses on the wards, one of which was even published in The Daily Mail, in May 1915. Soon after that, the authorities ordered all female nurses to be removed, and male orderlies took their place. When the Pavilion became a limbless hospital, female nurses resumed their duties, as Jody East explains.
‘In direct contrast to the Indian military hospital in which the female nurses weren’t supposed to have any contact with the Indian patients, when it became a hospital for limbless soldiers, mainly British limbless soldiers, there’s evidence of much more engagement between the patients and the nurses. We’ve got several copies of autograph books which belonged to Pavilion nurses in which they got soldiers to write poems, sign their names, do little drawings. So there was obviously lots of sort of contact and camaraderie between the female staff and the patients. We’ve even got evidence of a marriage between one of the nurses and a patient called Sergeant-Major George Fulkes. He met nurse Betty Donnelly when he was a patient here at the Pavilion, they obviously kept in touch and then after the war they got married.’
The room you’re in now is the music room, where George the Fourth held concerts and balls. Feel free to have a seat while you listen.
Music and concerts also played an important part in maintaining morale among patients, as did other hobbies and leisure activities. Patients played sports against local teams and teams from other hospitals, including cricket and football. They also competed in sports days, or gymkhanas, competing in events adapted to their injuries.
One of the main purposes of the hospital was to prepare patients physically and emotionally for civilian life. This was how Viscountess Falmouth addressed patients of the limbless hospital at an official opening, in August 1916:
Character Voice (Viscountess)
‘I know that when you come here many of you have sad feelings. You think that life is not going to be much good to you any longer; but when you come on to Roehampton and see the fellows walking about with their artificial legs and using their artificial arms, and when you know what good work they are able to do in the workshops … You will be filled with hope… For hope welcomes all who enter here!’
Andy Maxted, Curator of Collections Projects explains how they did this:
‘There’s great consideration about what these poor people are going to do once they’re discharged back into society, so they open what they call an educational facility, which is the Queen Mary’s workshop in the grounds, a big set of sheds, buildings were put up in the grounds, where some of these patients are retrained in professions that they can use once they’re discharged. Because obviously if you’re working on the land and you’ve lost a leg or lost an arm, you’re not going to find employment once you’re released back into society. So they’re retrained in various sort of office skills, accountancy, plus other skills such as woodworking, metalwork, mechanics, cobbling, cinematography, it’s another interesting one. So while they’re here there’s an attempt not only to sort of build them up physically for the fitting of the prosthetic leg, but also to retrain those people that need retraining in professions that they can use once they’re discharged.’
In September 1917 the superintendant published an article in the hospital magazine, encouraging patients to take advantage of the training available to them:
Character Voice (Pavilion Blues Article)
‘Do you remember Rifleman E. Jones and Corporal Watson? They began their training here, and finished at the London Polytechnic. They were formerly labourers in agriculture; they are now efficient workmen, one earning 35/ and the other 42/- per week, and permanent jobs. What they did, you can do if you will make up your mind to give up four hours per day. I receive letters every day from former students, some most grateful for the help they decided to avail themselves of, others regretting they did not stick to it.’
One man who did was E.J. Andrews, who wrote in December 1916:
Character Voice (Pavilion Blues Article)
‘Speaking quite personally the classes I have attended have opened for me entirely new vistas. I know I am a considerably better article than in pre-war days. I would be a fool to accept my old salary. I like to think too as I look so hopefully forward to the future, that the seeming affliction of a lost limb has enhanced my value.’
Our next stop is in the King’s Apartments.
King’s Apartments 1
Towards the end of his life, George the Fourth suffered from very poor health. He was very overweight, and unable to climb stairs, so his bedroom was moved here, on the ground floor, where he was pushed around on an early type of wheelchair.
While it’s true that the Indian appearance of the Pavilion was down to George’s love of exoticism, he did have a more concrete link with India, in the form of Sake Dean Mahomed, who had served with the Bengal Army before coming to Cork in 1782 and later opening the Hindostanee Coffee House in London, reputedly the first Indian restaurant in Britain. In 1822 he became the Royal Shampooing Surgeon – derived from the Hindustani word champo, and nothing to do with shampoo as we know it. He treated the king with a form of vapour bath combined with therapeutic massage designed to treat various ailments including gout and asthma.
Patients at the limbless hospital had very different challenges, of course, and the Pavilion hospital was only part of their rehabilitation. After they were discharged from here, they were sent to Roehampton Hospital, where they were fitted with prosthetic limbs. Andy Maxted.
‘The continuing narrative is about how far technology seems to progress during war, so that the prosthetics being fitted or available at the beginning of the war are completely different by the end of the war. The sorts of things people are dying from at the beginning of the war, apparently if you suffered a major break in an upper long limb in the war, something like 90% of people died, it’s a ridiculous statistic, whereas 90% of people survived at the end of it. The problem was of course gangrene. I mean a lot of amputations took place because gangrene set in very quickly. What’s a terrible waste is that, you know, if we’d been able to treat gangrene there wouldn’t have been anywhere near the number of amputations that there were.’
King’s Apartments 2
Although fatalities on the Western Front were extremely heavy, the mortality rate among soldiers who’d reached Brighton alive was surprisingly low, perhaps because the most serious cases had either died en route, or were too badly injured to be transported in the first place.
In the case of the Indian Hospital, only 18 patients died at the Pavilion, from a total of over 2,300 who were treated here. Nevertheless, it was important that their funeral arrangements should be appropriate to their respective cultures. So special arrangements were made for Indian fatalities from all three Brighton hospitals. Kevin Bacon:
‘Hindus and Sikhs were taken to a very picturesque, if remote, spot on the Downs, the hills just outside Brighton, where they were given an open air cremation, which itself is fascinating because it was and remains illegal in Britain to actually give open air cremations. 53 Hindus and Sikhs were cremated on that spot on the Downs where the Chattri Memorial now stands. Muslim soldiers who died in the Indian hospitals in Brighton were taken with full ceremony to a specially laid out cemetery in Woking. Woking was chosen because it was the site of the Shah Jahan Mosque, at that time the only purpose-built mosque in England, and a cemetery was specially laid out for those Muslim soldiers by the Indian Office in Horsell Common.’
To commemorate the Indian soldiers who died in Brighton, a memorial was erected at Patcham in 1921, on the site of the funeral pyre where Sikhs and Hindus were cremated during the First World War. It is called a Chattri, which means “umbrella” or “canopy” in Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu. Chattris are found throughout India, at funerary sites or decorating forts and palaces, Here’s Davinder Dhillon, Chattri coordinator.
The Chattri’s a monument which is built from Sicilian marble with eight pillars and it’s on the outskirts of Brighton in a small village called Patcham, which is now part of Brighton. It’s on a small hillock and that’s where the bodies were cremated originally in 1914/15 onwards. In our culture, Sikhs and Hindus, when people die, they are cremated so there is no cemetery or a stone to remember them by. It particularly commemorates the 53 Hindus and Sikhs who died here in Brighton and the idea is to then commemorate their memory annually, because of their contribution to the war.
Yellow Anteroom and Goodbye
We’ve nearly come to the end of the Military Hospital tour.
We’ve heard that the Indian hospital closed in January 1916, when the Indian army was redeployed to Egypt and Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq. The Hospital for Limbless Men then occupied the Pavilion from April 1916 until August 1920, when the final patients were discharged to Roehampton Hospital and the Pavilion was returned to the Brighton Corporation.
Upstairs you can find a small gallery with further information, audio-visual displays and personal objects from the Indian Hospital. This is also where you can find the Pavilion tea room, with a balcony that overlooks the gardens.
When you leave the Pavilion, don’t forget to look at the magnificent domed gateway, which is on your right as you exit. This is the Indian Gate. It was unveiled in 1921, as a gift to Brighton from the princes and people of India, in recognition of the care provided to Indian soldiers by the town’s hospitals.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the tour. Goodbye!