Just trying to imagine something like that raises so many questions.
What would it feel like to be at war? What would it feel like to be injured? How about if you were at war for a country that dominated your own country at the time? Where does patriotism and jingoism fit into oppressed colonial nations? How about being treated to hospitality (after injury) in a lavish palace built as a symbol of that colonial power?
And I’m honestly not sure. The story that is normally told is of the Indian gate, the large stone structure in the pavilion gardens given as a gift by India to the people of Brighton to thank them for their hospitality.
And by all reports the hospitality was impressive. The Pavilion was transformed. One little detail I was told about was that water was kept separate to fulfil religious requirements for different groups. Great care was taken to provide what would now be seen as a respectful multicultural environment. Places of worship were built suitable for Muslim, Sikh and Hindi people.
So there was this vast influx of injured that need to be treated. It’s stating the obvious to know that that means lots of people were dying. The Indian army was bought to Egypt to act as reserves, but when it became clear that troops were being slaughtered, they had to be bought to the front. Thousands ended up coming to Brighton. I can’t find specific numbers for those treated or those that died.
There’s more than one way to approach it. It could almost be used as a jingoistic argument for more community between people of different faiths and ethnicities. That’s definitely a positive take home, if the odd nationalist can be told about Indians dying for ‘our’ country, and then start to realise that we genuinely are all part of the same web.
But it misses that oppression. Britain got fat rich and powerful from exploiting India and the Indian people. Bringing them into the meat grinder of the western front was only another part of that.
Should a country be judged on the way it treats those injured in the course of protecting it?
And am I genuinely missing the point here. It’s a portion of history I’m unaware of. Were the Indian soldiers volunteers? Did they know what they were getting in for? How many people in India didn’t mind the occupation, did well out of it?
I’ve got a hundred assumptions and judgements. But the truth is that I don’t know. I never know.
I imagine the troops felt hurt. Injured. In pain. I imagine it was a balm to have those wounds treated respectfully and by caring people. I imagine the hospitality was good. I imagine the surroundings were oddly lavish.
But I don’t know how I’d feel about how I got there.
I have no experience to compare with that.
With love and respect to all who have been injured and killed in all wars everywhere.
Illustration by Lucy.