The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

The Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion, was initially built as a villa for George, Prince of Wales, in the late eighteenth century. It gave him time away from London, and it is documented that in Brighton, he would welcome guests, as well as continue his relationship with Maria Fitzherbert, whom he was not allowed to marry due to the Royal Marriages Act 1772 that placed terms on who monarchs were allowed to marry. In 1815, soon after becoming Prince Regent, and five years before he became king, George commissioned the renowned architect John Nash to transform his villa into a magnificent palace. It was built in an ‘oriental’ style, mimicking such buildings as the Taj Mahal. The exterior has an Indian and Islamic look, while Chinese, Mughal and Islamic designs all influence the interior. In 1850, Queen Victoria, who disliked aspects of Brighton, sold her uncle’s palace to the town.

The Royal Pavilion (credit Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove)

The Royal Pavilion (credit Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove)

In December 1914, with the war effort in full flow, and given the geographical location of Brighton on the south of the British Isles, the Royal Pavilion was one of a number of buildings transformed into military hospitals. The hospital at the Royal Pavilion, though, was one of three hospitals reserved for members of the Indian Army, many of whom were Muslim. The other two were the York Place School and the Elm Grove Workhouse, also in Brighton.

The faiths of the wounded soldiers were of clear interest to the War Office who made a number of provisions for the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh members of the Indian Army. A ‘caste committee’ was appointed in order to ensure that each group could observe their religious duties. This meant different toileting areas for each of the three religious groups, as well as separate kitchens to cater for the various dietary requirements. There were even slaughtering areas on-site, one named the ‘Hindoo Meat House’ and the other the ‘Mohammedian Meat House’. Muslims were given space on the lawn to pray, while a tent-like gurdwara was made for Sikh soldiers. It should be noted, though, that much of this was intended as a propaganda and morale-boosting tool for both the English and potential future recruits from India. The press were invited to garden parties, photographs were published, and visits were made by Lord Kitchener and King George V. Local newspapers took real interest in the Indians, publishing many articles about ‘Our Indians’, and such newspapers sold in huge numbers.

More than 4,000 Indian soldiers were nursed at the Pavilion. Those who died, such as Mahrup Shah, were sent to Woking for burial. When the Indian Army was moved from the Western Front to the Middle East, the Pavilion began to operate as a hospital for limbless soldiers.

Sources:

Susan Cohen, Medical Services in the First World War (Oxford: Shire Publications, 2014), p. 53.

Samuel Hyson and Alan Lester, ‘“British India on trial: Brighton Military Hospitals and the politics of empire in World War I’, Journal of Historical Geography, Vol. 38 (2012), 18-34 (27).

Inside the Pavilion

The faiths of the wounded soldiers were of clear interest to the War Office who made a number of provisions for the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh members of the Indian Army. A ‘caste committee’ was appointed in order to ensure that each group could observe their religious duties. This meant different toileting areas for each of the three religious groups, as well as separate kitchens to cater for the various dietary requirements. There were even slaughtering areas on-site, one named the ‘Hindoo Meat House’ and the other the ‘Mohammedian Meat House’. Muslims were given space on the lawn to pray, while a tent-like gurdwara was made for Sikh soldiers. It should be noted, though, that much of this was intended as a propaganda and morale-boosting tool for both the English and potential future recruits from India. The press were invited to garden parties, photographs were published, and visits were made by Lord Kitchener and King George V.

Slaughter houses (29th July 1915) – credit Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove.

Slaughter houses (29th July 1915) – credit Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove.

Profile: Khairuddin

Rank: Havildar

Regiment: 69th Punjabus

Khairuddin, an officer of the Indian Infantry (a Havildar), was injured badly in his hand while serving. In October 1915, while recovering at the Indian Hospital in Brighton, he wrote a dramatic letter to a Naik from his regiment named Imammudin. Khairuddin describes how, a month earlier, he suffered a horrific injury. He also claims to have completed a heroic escape.

Khairuddin accidentally found himself in a German trench, face-to-face with three opposing soldiers. All of them fired at him at once. He writes: ‘By the grace of God I escaped and returned their fire and as they were all standing together I bagged all three with one bullet’. The result of this ordeal, however, was a painful injury when a bullet struck his left hand. He describes how his thumb dropped ‘on the ground where [he] stood’. This is almost certainly an exaggerated story.

Source: BL L/MIL/5/825/7.

Profile: Haji Muhammed Salamat-Ullah

There were also Muslim doctors involved in the war effort. One example is Salamat-Ullah, who served as a doctor for the Punjab Regiment in 1916, and who now lives in Woking.

Haji Muhammed Salamat-Ullah - image courtesy of the Surrey History Centre

Haji Muhammed Salamat-Ullah – image courtesy of the Surrey History Centre