But did Edwardians realise that the Royal Pavilion had not been a royal residence since 1850? Queen Victoria loathed this lumping symbol of the dodgy Georgian ancestors whose image she distanced herself from. So in 1850 she sold the palace to Brighton council. Only the original fittings and furnishings were moved to Buckingham Palace and Osborne on the Isle of Wight, where they remain.
Secretary for War Lord Kitchener was told: "Understanding that the Royal Pavilion at Brighton is specially suited for hospital treatment of Indian troops, the Corporation beg to place it at His Majesty's disposal for that purpose". The palace had a very Indian external architecture and both Islamic and Mughal taste in the interiors. So the Brighton dignitaries thought it would be very home-like for any Indian soldiers who found themselves wounded, 7,500 ks from their families.
Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nonetheless it was still something of a surprise when, in Nov 1914, builders moved into the palace. Luxury carpets and curtains were removed, linoleum laid over the ballroom and stone-flagged kitchens, and 700 beds were installed under the gilded ceilings and chandeliers. Prinny’s Georgian kitchen was changed into an operating theatre.
Nine kitchens, some catering specifically for Hindu religious laws, were erected in the grounds, and enlisted men from the Indian army were quickly shown how to cook standing up at a western stove. A halal slaughterhouse was opened in town. The Sikh temple was a marquee erected in the Pavilion grounds. Muslims were able to use the lawn in front of the Dome, as this was facing East.
In early December 1914, a train bearing a large contingent of wounded Indian soldiers from the Western Front arrived at Brighton railway station from a hospital ship in Southampton. Stretcher after stretcher shifted from the train to the ambulance vans and became the first Indian patients to move in. A feature in The Herald introduced local citizens to Hinduism and its rituals, explaining how cultural understanding would grow as the hospitals became better established.
Brighton Corporation commissioned Allen H Fry to take official photographs of the hospital, which were then issued as real postcards
Were they hidden motives for helping the wounded Indian comrades? Rosie Llewellyn-Jones suggested that small groups in India, both Muslim and Hindu, were actively working against imperial rule, in collusion with Germany and the Ottoman Empire. If Turkey entered war on the German side, there was an added concern - Indian Muslims might not be prepared to fire on fellow Muslims fighting for Turkey. It was essential, therefore, to show that the differing religious groups were being well cared for.
Sikh soldiers in the music room, by CHH Burleigh. Brighton Museum.
A souvenir book was published, in English and Urdu, and given to former patients on their return to India. The book promoted an idyllic image of the hospital and the care they had received: "In many an Indian village in the years to come, these soldiers, their fighting days long over, will talk to their children's children of the Great War. Their faces will then glow with pride as they tell of the day when they were lying wounded in a Royal Palace, and the King and Queen came to their bedside." Postcards of the same caring images were sold in the hope they would be posted home to India.
The Daily News acknowledged that the Indian soldiers were mown down in such numbers that existing hospitals behind the lines and on the south coast of England could not cope. 1.5 million Indians enlisted during the First World War, of whom 43,000 were killed and 65,000 were wounded. As more and more Indian soldiers were wounded, two other buildings in Brighton were turned into hospitals. The York Place schools were converted into a hospital for the more heavily wounded troops, while the Elm Grove workhouse, renamed the Kitchener Hospital, treated the less wounded.
These three Brighton hospitals, so urgently opened for 2000+ Indian casualties, were told they were closing when the Indian divisions were withdrawn from France. By January 1916, there were no patients left.
So the Pavilion had become a media spectacle and a source of propaganda, for the royals, for Brighton and for Britain. Only recently has the war time history of Brighton and its Royal Pavilion has been reanalysed and displayed. Since late 2010, the Royal Pavilion has mounted a permanent exhibition, displaying the Indian hospital, complete with archive photographs, paintings, beds, uniforms, medical equipment and newsreel footage.
King George and Queen Mary visited the hospital, 1915.
Readers will enjoy the book by Joyce Collins called Dr Brighton's Indian Patients, December 1914-January 1916 (Brighton Books Publishing, 1997). Suzanne Bardgett's journal article (History Today, March 2015) is appropriately called "A Mutual Fascination: Indians in Brighton During the First World War". The people of Brighton offered a warm welcome to the wounded Indian soldiers, as did the various royal family members. Only the military authorities and the town councillors were anxious.