In Memory of India’s Fallen

A cremation ghat built in Brighton for Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War has recently been inscribed with their names, writes Rosie Llewellyn-Jones.

This autumn sees the last act of remembrance for 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers who were cremated on the Downs near Brighton during the First World War. Nearly a century after their deaths, the men’s names have been inscribed in stone by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and unveiled in a simple ceremony, at a memorial erected in their honour. 

At the same time, a small permanent exhibition has been launched in Brighton’s Royal Pavilion commemorating the year (1914-15) when this exotic building, erected for the Prince Regent in the early 19th century, was turned into a military hospital to care for Indian troops wounded on the battlefields of Europe. It was an imaginative gesture by the War Office to house the soldiers in the famous south coast ‘Oriental’ palace on the grounds that they would feel at home in it. The fact that many of the men actually came from simple thatched cottages in the rural Punjab was not discussed. The impression was given, and not corrected, that the Pavilion was still a royal palace, and that the King-Emperor, George V, had given it up for use to his loyal Indian soldiers. 

In truth it had not been a royal residence since 1850, when Queen Victoria, who disliked its friviolity, sold it to Brighton Council. But everything possible was done to make the Indian patients comfortable and there was an outpouring of sympathy towards these men who had come from half way around the world only to be wounded on the Western Front. Crowds gathered at Brighton station to see the hospital trains being unloaded with their stretchers of wounded men. Musical entertainments were organised for those well enough to attend. Gifts for the men poured in from across Britain, including warm clothing and hand-knitted garments.

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