Melanie has been looking into healthcare provision for South Asian soldiers, and here she tells us a bit about Brighton and what on earth that has to do with wounded men:

“A lack of medical facilities in France led to the conversion of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton from an exotic seaside palace used by King George IV into a hospital used by South Asian soldiers who had been injured on the Western Front.

The Pavilion was converted into a state of the art medical facility in less than 2 weeks, with new plumbing and toilet facilities established, beds set up in new wards, and X ray equipment installed. Two operating theatres were created; one in the palace kitchen, and one in the entrance hall.

The Pavilion’s first patients arrived in early December 1914, and were welcomed by British crowds. Many soldiers wrote to their loved ones at home about the high-quality treatment they received, with one soldier writing “everything is such as one would not even see in a dream. One should regard it as fairyland….there is no other place like this in the world.

The British Indian army was made up of different religions, and great care was taken to cater for the men’s religious and cultural needs. Muslims and Hindus were provided with separate water supplies, and 9 kitchens were set up so that food could be cooked by the patients’ co-religionists and fellow caste members.

As a boost for morale, soldiers were allowed to believe that the King had vacated the royal palace especially for them (it was actually already in the care of the local council). Many soldiers were photographed for postcards in the hope that these would be sent home to India, bearing good news of their treatment.

The term ‘Doctor Brighton’ was coined by the Maharaja of Patiala, who humorously mentioned in a speech that “from many of those who returned I have heard expressions of fervent gratitude for the attention and care lavished upon them by ‘Doctor’ Brighton, whose fame and skill as a healer and health restorer is talked of in many hundreds of remote Indian villages.”

The hospital at the Royal Pavilion is marked by the Indian Gate at the southern entrance to the Pavilion, which was presented to the people of Brighton by the ‘princes and people of India’ as a gesture of thanks for the care provided by the town’s hospitals.”

Image credit: Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove. Released for re-use under a BY-NC-SA 4.0 Creative Commons licence