Historic Image: Banqueting Room
Banqueting Room as Indian hospital ward, 1915.
This magnificent chamber was originally the Banqueting Room, where George the Fourth hosted lavish feasts. In 1915, though, it was converted into a rather exotic hospital ward. Here’s Jody East, Creative Programme Curator at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, to tell us more:
‘When you look at photographs of the Banqueting Room as a ward for the Indian soldiers, it’s a room of contrasts, of two different halves. The bottom half of the room looks very much like a military hospital; you have four rows of beds and there’s probably about 50 beds in this one room, the floor is covered with a khaki coloured lino, there’s boarding across all of the walls to protect the paintings behind. However, above these boards you have these beautifully decorated Chinese pictures, you have these incredible chandeliers hanging from the ceiling above the soldiers’ heads. So you can imagine being a soldier lying injured in bed and looking up at these ornate, heavily decorated, beautiful dragon chandeliers. It must have felt quite surreal after being on the Western Front.’
So why did the Pavilion become a hospital for Indian soldiers? When war broke out, the British army was much smaller than the French and German armies, and battle-ready reinforcements wouldn’t be ready for many months. The Indian Army, on the other hand, was a well-trained standing army, and could be called on instantly. It was mobilised immediately and brought to Europe to fight on the Western Front.
Being so far from home, it was impractical to send sick and wounded soldiers back to India to convalesce, so it was decided to bring them to Britain, initially to hospital ships moored in the English Channel, and then onto the mainland.
The Pavilion was one of three Indian hospitals in Brighton. The town’s workhouse and a local school were also used.
When you’re ready, continue to the next room, the Table Deckers’ Room.
Mobilising the Indian Army
Local military historian Tom Donovan explains how the Indian army was mobilised:
‘Within two days of the declaration of war on 4th August 1914 Indian soldiers were being mobilised, mainly in northern India, in the Punjab and in the frontier districts. By the end of August they’d shipped from Karachi and Bombay to, initially Suez, for a stopover, and then by the end of the month a whole division, that is some 12,000 men, had landed in Marseille in the south of France, and from there they were taken by train up to the middle of France to a place called Orléans, where there was a staging post, a camp set up for the Indians to train and do exercises. From there, very soon after their arrival, by the end of October, they were in the frontline in ditches and trenches around Ypres in Flanders and a little bit further south in France around a place called Bethune, villages that became famous as First World War battlefields, such as Neuve Chapelle, were in the Indian Army Corps sector, the Indian Army held this sector of 15 to 18 miles on its own for almost a year.’