The Chattri on the South Downs outside Brighton is an unique Memorial which stands in memory of all Indian soldiers who died during the First World war but it is particularly associated with 53 Hindu and Sikh soldiers, including from the Jullundur Brigade, who died in hospitals in Brighton during 1914-15 and whose remains were cremated on the spot. Twenty one Muslims who died in Brighton were buried in the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking.
It is well known that Brighton's Royal Pavilion, which was a museum in 1914, was rapidly adapted as a hospital for Indian sick and wounded from France and Flanders. In fact, rather larger numbers of Indians were hospitalised at two other locations in the town:the poor Law Institution(or Workhouse) in Elm Grove and the York Palace schools. Around 12,000 Indians convalesced in Brighton and 74 died in the town. This number may at first glance seem unfeasibly small, but all the men who arrived in Brighton had undergone treatment at clearing hospitals in France and endured journeys in ambulances, trains and hospital ships before they reached England. Of course, in some cases later complications with their wounds caused deaths; others died of sickness but, all in all, the small number of dead speaks well for the care provided in the three Brighton hospitals. Today there is a special room inside the Pavilion given over to recording, largely in photographs, this piece of history.
The original idea for a Memorial is attributed to Lt Das Gupta of the Indian Medical Services who approached the then Mayor of Brighton, Mr J(later Sir John) Otter in August 1915 for permission to erect a Memorial on the site where the cremations had taken place.The Mayor embraced the idea with great enthusiasm and became the driving force behind it.From a study of the bulky file preserved in the India Office Library the debt to Sir John Otter becomes increasingly apparent.
In 1916 Sir John wrote that he envisaged a "tablet with names and to contain one of the slabs on which cremation took place". Sir John was supported by Sir Walter Lawrence, the King's Commissioner in charge of welfare of Indian troops, who wrote in December 1915 to the India Office "I feel that it would be wise on political and historical grounds to spend a great deal of care and some money on preserving the memory of the Indians who have died in France and in England". And on 16th February 1916 the Secretary of State for India, the Rt. Hon. Austen Chamberlain, concurred with Sir Lawrence writing "...that where cremation has been resorted to, a simple monument of an oriental character should be erected on the site of the crematorium".
Following these supporting statements the India Office quickly started planning. It was agreed that the India Office and the Brighton Corporation would bear half each of the cost of construction. The land where the cremations had taken place was conveyed to Brighton by 31st July 1916 from the property of the Marquess of Abergavenny - a 'lunatic'.(Brighton Council remains responsible for care and maintenance of the Memorial and grounds to this day.)
Sir John Otter consulted the architect, Colonel Sir Swinton Jacob, experienced in public works in the subcontiment about a suitable form and the latter sketched out a chattri, a traditional Indian style of memorial with an umbrella shaped roof symbolic of protection for those commemorated. A Mr Henriques "a young native architect just finishing his studies in England" was appointed to undertake the design which was completed by December 1916.
The centre of the Memorial is the chattri itself which stands on a square base within a walled area with steps down to three granite slabs which cap the original concrete cremation blocks. The Memorial bears the following inscription in Hindi and English:
"To the memory of all Indian soldiers who gave their lives for the KIng-Emperor in the Great War, this Monument, erected on the site of the funeral pyre where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton, passed through the fire, is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated."
There then ensued much wrangling over costs and responsibilities but, in August 1920, Sir John Otter was eventually able to report that the chattri was under construction. Finally, on the 1st February, the chattri was formally unveiled by HRH The Prince of Wales. The end cost of the entire scheme was £4964, the cost of materials and labour having risen rapidly during realisation of the project (including £1,117 spent on as caretaker's cottage).
After this auspicious beginning there then followed a period of poor maintenance and neglect of the site. The idea of a permanent caretaker had to be abandoned as it had proved impossible to keep he post filled due to the remoteness of the location.
During World War 2 the area encompassing the site of the chattri was requisitioned as part of the Downland Training Area, a battle training area with live firing . Canadian troops used the area as part of their pre D Day landing training and the Memorial was reported as bearing "honourable scars of war". On decommissioning of the area in 1946 the War Office accepted the charge for repairs and agreed to restore the chattri to its original condition.
Commencing in 1951, the British Legion organised an annual Memorial Service on a Sunday in June. This took place until 1999 when , amid some fairly wild and wide of the mark accusations of racism in the columns of a national newspaper, the service was discontinued citing old age and declining numbers of attendees. Hearing of this demise, Davinder Dhillon, a local Sikh teacher, approached the British Legion with a view to resurrecting the event and under his stewardship the ceremony has been held annually on the second Sunday in June since 2000.
Since then the Chattri Memorial Group has been actively and successfully campaigning for a new Memorial to be built containing the names of all those Indian soldiers who had been cremated on the site of the original chattri.
A more detailed historical essay on the chattri can be found at www.chattri.com
The members of the Jullundur Brigade who were cremated on the site were:
4835 Sepoy Bara Singh 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force) 17 Nov 15
1425 Sepoy Hazara Singh 47th Sikhs 22 Mar 15
48 Sepoy Sher Muhammad 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force)18 Mar 15
2931 Sepoy Bhag Singh 52nd Sikhs att'd 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force) 18 Mar 15
4644 Sepoy Jog Singh 124th DofC's Own Baluchistan Inf att'd 47th Sikhs 13 Nov 15
Sepoy Godar 40th Pathans (att'd Jullundur Brigade May-Nov 15) 24 Oct 15
Sepoy Harnham Singh 15th Ludhiana Sikhs (att'd Jullundur Brigade from arrival in France to May 15) 17 Feb 15
Drummer Mangal Singh 19th Punjabis (att'd 15 Ludhiana Sikhs when part of Jullundur Brigade) 26 Feb 15
Subadar Manta Singh 15th Ludhiana Sikhs (att'd Jullundur Brigade to Apr/May 15) 20 Mar 15
Sepoy Sher Muhammed 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force) was conveyed for internment at the Shah Jehan MOsque in Woking, Surrey
This article is an abridged version of a recent article by Tom Donovan which appeared in the Durbar, the Journal of the Indian Military Historical Society Volume 26 Number 2 Summer 2009 - see the related links details on this website.
For further information see: www.chattri.com
The Chattri, whilst retaining that name, has also now also been additionally designated as The Patcham Down Indian Forces Cremation Memorial.