This permanent exhibition in the first floor in the Royal Pavilion (no lift, sorry) opened on April 26 this year. It has been very popular, with a leaflet for a short series of events, a partial catalogue (£1. 25p), a dedicated web-page in the Royal Pavilion web-site and a recent article in the G2 section of the Guardian.

At an illustrated talk by curator of photography Kevin Bacon on April 15, the importance of this episode in Brighton’s history was emphasized for the many untold stories that are and continue to be revealed.

The Royal Pavilion was one of three Indian hospitals in Brighton: the York Place schools were used for the more heavily wounded troops, while the Elm Grove workhouse was renamed the Kitchener Hospital and treated lighter casualties. The Pavilion became more than a hospital: it became a media spectacle and a source of propaganda. There is evidence that the Pavilion was not the best place to site a military hospital and it seems the War Office were given an offer by Brighton Corporation that could not be refused.

The Mayor Mr Otter milked the situation for all it was worth in the opening in December 1914. A series of 170 postcards were printed and two official publications. The Indian Office purchased 20,000 copies of the commemorative booklet for distribution in India.

After the patients left in January 1916, the Pavilion was thrown open to the public in aid of the Mayor’s war charities. Ticket sales were brisk. Indeed, it seems that a proportion of those sales were diverted to a friend of the mayor, local artist Charles Burleigh, for oil paintings of scenes of the interior rather than directly benefiting the war charities.

During the 14 months the hospitals were used, there had been particular anxieties raised about possible encounters between Indian men and white women. Local press reports refer to some women showing an excessive interest. So much so, hoardings were erected to prevent such voyeurism. In the Kitchener Hospital up Elm Grove, which treated lighter casualties, barbed wire palings were fixed to the walls and the whole place was put under a military guard. Only the convalescent officers were free to go out on their own. And visiting clergy were asked not to proselytize too much.

There is even evidence from the Chief Censor, reading the postcards the men sent back to India, there some concern among the men as they recuperated that they would forced back to the front line. Though this was normal procedure for British soldiers, it is said that the code for Indian warriors wounded honourable in battle was that they should not be sent to fight again.

Apart from the excellent catalogue, there is extensive material in the Local History Centre on this and other matters. In particular, Joyce Collins’ book Dr Brighton’s Indian Patients is a must: sadly out of print, all copies in the Jubilee Library are not available.

This permanent exhibition will certainly make visitors think twice about the role played by the Indian troops in WW1 in defending the British Empire. It may even jog some pre-memories as one goes to the memorial service in the The Chattri Memorial Service on Sunday 13th June 2010.