Very early on in World War I it was apparent that the allies did not have enough forces to cover all the areas of fighting – for example in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. So it was decided to employ troops from the Indian Army. One of the reasons for this was that the Indian Army could be mobilised immediately. It would be the first time that the Indian Army would be deployed to fight outside of India.
On the 8th August 1914 the first Indian troops to fight in World War I left India headed for Egypt to be held in reserve. However the fighting on the Western front was so desperate that they were needed on the front line instead of being kept in Egypt as reservists. So the troops were redirected to the fighting on the Western front in Europe. Still dressed in the khaki uniform suitable for Egyptian not European weather, the troops arrived in France on 26th September 1914 ready to battle.
Soldiers wounded in battle on the Western front needed to be hospitalised somewhere. Originally it was hoped that the wounded Indian soldiers could be hospitalised in France, but the number of casualties was so great that this was not possible, and alternative arrangements had to be made to accommodate the wounded soldiers.
The next best option was the South Coast of England, and Brighton was one of the main towns that offered its service to the war office. There were also other offers of accommodation in the South East: Brockenhurst, New Milton, Southampton and Bournemouth, to name a few.
On the 21st November 1914 Colonel Sir Walter Lawrence visited Brighton and met with the Mayor at the time Alderman Sir John Otter. The meeting was to inform the Mayor that King George V had requested the use of the Royal Pavilion as a militarily hospital for wounded Indian soldiers. This was immediately agreed.
After a consultation with the Chairman of the Pavilion Committee (Councillor Bartlett) and the Town Clerk (Mr. Hugo Talbot, O.B.E.), the following telegram was sent to the Secretary of State for War (Lord Kitchener):
“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 Royal Pavilion estate had to be able to accomodate the three main Indian religions: Hindu, Muslim and Sikh, in order for soldiers to be able to worship. The Sikh temple was a marquee erected in the Pavilion grounds. The Muslims were able to use the lawn in front of the Dome, as this was facing East. Nine kitchens were erected in the grounds to cater for the various religions.
The Royal Pavilion was not the only building in Brighton to be transformed into a militarily hospital for wounded Indian soldiers, the Brighton General hospital Elm Grove at the top of a hill near the Brighton racetrack was renamed the Kitchener General Indian hospital, the York Place school, were all converted and especially adopted for the wounded Indian soldiers.