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Sikh Patients of Brighton (from SikhChic)

Discussion in 'History of Sikhism' started by spnadmin, Jan 11, 2010.

  1. spnadmin

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    The Sikh Patients of Brighton<small>
    by PARDEEP SINGH NAGRA</small>

    <!-- <small>January 10th, 2010</small>-->
    From the autumn of 1914, and throughout the war years, the Brighton (United Kingdom) local newspapers made frequent references in their headlines to ‘Dr. Brighton' and his patients - the wounded soldiers from the trenches in France who were brought for treatment in the many temporary hospitals established in the town.

    Between December 1914 and early 1916, some thousands of Sikh and other Indian soldiers passed through their own special hospitals and so became Dr. Brighton's Indian patients.

    ‘Dr. Brighton' had been given his title long before, when the town developed a reputation as a health resort, elegant enough to attract wealthy patrons from among the aristocracy and gentry. The royal connection was strengthened when the young Prince of Wales - later Prince Regent and then King George IV - bought a modest farmhouse near the centre of the town and in time transformed it into the Royal Pavilion.

    On August 4 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. The German army had crossed the Belgian frontier as a preliminary to attacking France, and Britain had a treaty obligation to defend Belgium's neutrality.

    On the outbreak of war, the Dominions - Canada, Australia and New Zealand - at once expressed their support for Britain and their forces were later to play a vital role in France, at Gallipoli and Mesopotamia. In 1914, however, the urgent need was for reinforcements to assist the French and British armies already in the field and it would take time for the Dominion forces to arrive.

    In Britain, thousands of young men queued up to volunteer, but it would be many months before they could be trained and equipped. Only India - not a Dominion, but the ‘jewel in the crown' of the Empire - had regular forces, ready and available to call on.

    It was the Indian Army Corps which, within days of its arrival in France, was to provide that relief. The German war plan depended on a lightning offensive in France, and its army - a mighty instrument of war - was everywhere victorious and so near to Paris that the French Government had already left for Bordeaux. The actual arrival in France of the Indians - ‘large reserves of perfectly fresh and thoroughly trained troops' - was reported on October 28.

    Three days later the "Gazette" printed the first appeal for ‘comforts' for the Indian soldiers.

    In November came the news that the Indians wounded on the Western Front were to be sent to Brighton and that the Pavilion was to be taken over and converted into a military hospital. The urgent need for hospital accommodation of the Indians arose from the fact that there had been a fire on one of the ships moored in Southampton Water to serve as temporary hospitals.

    A lot of work within a couple of days was done to make the transformation of a gorgeous Pavilion into a military hospital. This included new flooring, linens and beds, artificial heating, and an X-ray department and rooms for heat and electrical treatment.

    There were to be other special provisions needed to meet the dietary and ritual requirements for men of different religions. Separate arrangements had to be made for Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, including separate kitchens (nine in total). There were separate facilities for washing up, for bath-houses and latrines. Preparations were also made for separate mortuaries. Before the first patients arrived, the Indian orderlies moved in and notices were prepared in Gurmukhi, Urdu and Hindi. A gurdwara was erected on the Pavilion lawns.

    In one of her books, Lyn Macdonald quotes from the diary of Sister Luard, who was attached to Hospital Train No 5.
    On November 25 1914 she helped care for a number of Sikhs, most of them wounded in the hands or arms. She was clearly moved with the compassion for these men, so far from their homes and families, and admired "their long, fine, dark hair under their turbans, done up with yellow combs; glorious teeth and melting, dark eyes".

    At this date the Sikhs must have been on their way to a hospital ship moored in Southampton Water or have gone to one of the hospitals already prepared for them in Brockenhurst. The Indian hospitals in

    Brighton were not yet ready to receive patients.
    From the trenches in France, and from the hospitals in England, the soldiers sent letters to their families.

    There are many expressions of appreciation for the kindness and consideration shown to them, the excellent treatment they received and the comfort of their surroundings.

    In February 1917 the ‘Gazette' made the first mention of the scheme for and Indian memorial on the Downs near Brighton, to mark the place where the Sikh and Hindu dead had been cremated. The memorial - now known as the Chattri - was not to be erected until after the war, when it was unveiled by the Prince of Wales. The inscription reads: ‘To the memory of all Indian soldiers who gave their lives for their King-Emperor in the Great War, this monument, erected on the site of the funeral pyre where the Sikhs and Hindus who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire, is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated'H. H. The Maharaja of Patiala further gave thanks by erecting a special "Indian Memorial Gateway" at the Brighton Pavilion in 1921.

    In the spring of 1995 a new play went into production at the Theatre Royal, Strafford East. ‘Dusky Warriors', by Kulvinder Ghir and Nasser Memarzia took as its theme the experience of the wounded Indians at Brighton during the First World War.

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