David Barnes is Secretary of the Documentary Group, for the Royal Photographic Society. As a participant for ‘Refocusing Perspectives’, David is keen to explore the impact of the First World War upon the city of Brighton. Using ‘Then and Now’ photographs can enable not only a visual documentation of how its architecture has changed, but a chance to reflect upon about the longer term social legacies that the conflict brought about.
This blog shares some early findings from his research.
‘The Impact of the First World War upon Brighton – Then and Now’
During the First World War, several buildings in Brighton were pressed into use as hospitals. One of those buildings was, at the time, “The Workhouse”. The foundation stone (Figure 1) is clearly visible near the entrance to what was the Brighton General Hospital for many years, and is now part of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospital.
Figure 1: Foundation Stone at Brighton General Hospital. ©David Barnes.
The inmates of the workhouse were moved out to make room for injured soldiers from the Indian Sub-continent (Figure 2 and Figure 3). The original wartime photographs are matched with recent images.
Figure 2: Entrance to Brighton General ©David Barnes.
Hospital. Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton
& Hove: released for re-use under a BY-NC-SA
4.0 Creative Commons licence.
Figure 3: In the hospital grounds. Royal ©David Barnes. The location from which the
Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove: original image was taken is no longer
released for re-use under a BY-NC-SA 4.0 accessible as there is a building there. The
Creative Commons licence. “H” is still clearly visible. The location of the
“G” can be seen but the letter is very faded.
Muslims who died from their wounds were buried in Woking. Hindus and Sikhs were cremated on the South Downs above Brighton. The cremation site (Figure 4) is marked by The Chattri (Figure 5). A memorial service takes place here every year, and is attended by Hindus and Sikhs from around the world.
Figure 4 Burning ghatt photographed in 1915. Royal The Chattri in 2015. ©David Barnes.
Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove: released for
re-use under a BY-NC-SA 4.0 Creative Commons
After the war, the buildings were returned to their original use. They became a hospital again in the mid-1930s. Even as late as the 1960s, some local inhabitants still thought of the hospital as “The Workhouse” and resisted being treated there.
The question that I would really like to address through my research is “did any of the solders in Brighton stay on after the war and are their descendants still living in the City?” My initial assumption, based on my 21st century attitude, is that this probably happened. However, the Indian soldiers were not allowed to be treated by white women and fraternisation with local British women was frowned upon. However, Figure 2 clearly shows white women and children appearing to be with the Indians. Although there is a mosque in the city the nearest gurdwara is several miles away which might suggest that Asians were relative late comers.
According to the 2001 census the population of Brighton and Hove was nearly 248,000; of which just over 4,500 were Asian or Asian British. I plan to contact some local affinity groups to try and discover if there are any descendants of the Indian soldiers treated in Brighton.