Enemy Propaganda & Fears of Sedition


German Alliance: Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary,
Sultan Mehmed V of Turkey and Tzar Ferdinand I of Bulgaria

While the British presented an aura of imperial benevolence in running the Brighton hospitals, under the surface their seems to have been an atmosphere of fear, mistrust and paranoia as the British dealt with both real and imagined external and internal threats.

Rumours that the British meant to kill off the Indian Expeditionary Force were circulating among demoralized Indian troops in France, and the authorities were concerned that these would have ‘a very serious depressing effect in India and a very bad effect on recruiting’. Urgent action was necessary if trust in the British authorities was to be re-established and so a concerted effort was made to expand and improve hospital accommodations. [1]

The fact that Britain had entered into war against Germany’s ally the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the seat of the Khilafat had angered some Muslims in India. There was a fear among the British that the Muslims of India could rise up against them. The British were particularly worried about nationalist material such as the following German propaganda leaflet and the effect that it would have on their troops:


German leaflet in Urdu written in the Devnagri script.
'The High Priest of Islam in Holy Mecca has on the occasion of the Eid Festival issued an edict to you that declares jihad against the English and French. The King of Turkey has gone on war against the barbaric English, French and Russian nations and his allies are the Afghan people.' [2]

A letter written to a Muslim soldier fighting in Europe raises some of the same sentiments as the propaganda leaflet in extolling soldiers to rebel against the British:

An unnamed Muslim to the Risaldar-Major of the 6th Cavalry, Troop No.1
(Urdu) Karachi, March 1916
You are entangled in a war in which no victory has been gained nor can any be gained in the future.  What you ought to do is raise your fellow caste-men against the English and join the army of Islam (the Turks ). If you die in its service it would be better than living as you are doing now.  Act as I have advised you, or you will be sorry for if afterwards. God’s orders have been received to the effect that the destruction of the British Raj is at hand.  They are having to face great losses everywhere. You ought to think over this, for by sticking to the English you will gain neither this world nor the next (heaven). All the Muslims who have died in this war fighting for the British will spend an eternity in hell. Kill the English whenever you get a chance and join the enemy. If you do not win in this world you will at all events gain Paradise. You will certainly be safe from this King of the traitors (George V).  Everything out here is very clear and there is a regular famine. Be watchful, join the enemy, and you will expel the Kafir (get rid of the unbelieving British) from your native land (India).  The flag of Islam is ready and will shortly be seen waving.  You Indians make ready and we here in two days will rebel and imprison all the English. Please God we shall do this, for every caste (class of Indian) out here complains of them. [3]

The majority of Muslim soldiers fighting in Europe did not share the same sentiments regarding the British and did not feel any close affinity towards the Turks:

A Muslim officer to his brother (Central India)
France (Urdu), December 1914
What better occasion can I find than this to prove the loyalty of my family to the British Government? Turkey, it is true, is a Muslim power, but what has it to do with us?  Turkey is nothing at all to us.  The men of France are beyond measure good and honourable and kind.  By God, my brother, they are gentlemen to the backbone!  Their manners and morals are in absolute accord with our ideas.  In war they are as one with us and with the English.  Our noble King knows the quality and the worth of his subjects and his Rajas alike. I give you the truth of the matter. The flag of victory will be in the hands of our British Government. Be not at all distressed. Without death there is no victory, but I am alive and very well, and I tell you truly that I will return alive to India. [4]

Sirfaraz Khan to Dafadar Alam Khan (Baluchi Muslim, 18th Lancers, France)
61st Camel Corps (Urdu) Lahore, April 161916 Punjab
Remember this, that you must always do the Sirkar’s (British government) work faithfully.  It is very difficult to get such a King. The Turks are not our nephews and nieces!  I firmly rely on you, that you remain the well-wisher of the Sirkar (British government) Still, it is proper that I should advise you. The Turks made war against our Sirkar without any cause.  Our Sirkar repeatedly told the Turks before the war to remain neutral, and that their security would be arranged for in every way. But the Turks would not be advised, and now they are giving away their country with their own hands.
[5]

Another anti-British group, the Ghadar Pary founded in 1913 by Sikh immigrants to North America was also active both in North America and India, mainly Punjab advocating a overthrow of the British Raj. At the advent of the war many Ghadrites had returned to India to fight for independence. Letters from Indian soldiers, which passed through the hands of the official censor, reveal that Sikh Ghadrites had attempted to contact soldiers in France. [6]

The fear of infiltrators and enemy propaganda led to a heightened sense of mistrust directed towards both the Indian patients at the Brighton hospitals as well as the Indian support staff that worked at the hospitals.

Sir Walter Lawrence to Lord Kitchener, March 1915
The staff of the Hospitals, both in Britain and France, have very black sheep in the matter of sedition. These are very carefully watched. We have had to get rid of two in England, and there is one man now under close observation in France’. [7]

Men of the Indian support staff that worked at the Brighton hospitals had been recruited from among bazaar coolies in Bombay and were unused to and resentful of military discipline. They performed most of the domestic tasks at the hospitals and were found to be the group most responsible for disciplinary offenses. There was a real fear that the Brighton hospitals would become breeding grounds for indiscipline and dissent as normally loyal troops would be subjected to political propaganda or otherwise corrupted by the Indian hospital staff. [8] Surveillance of the Indian staff and patients became a top priority. Sir Walter Lawrence kept in close communications with the Chief Constable of Brighton to make sure that the patients were closely watched while outside the hospital. [9]

Keenly aware of how a minor incident of religious perception had exploded into the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and not wanting any minor incident at the Brighton hospitals to become fuel for anti-Raj forces in India it was decided to model the running of the Indian hospitals along the class and caste separation found in a Hindu village in India. Wanting to ensure that the Hindu majority in India was placated and satisfied with how their soldiers in England were being treated, wards were segregated by race, and caste and separate baths, kitchens, even toilet facilities and separate water plumbing were installed. Catering to the beliefs and taboos of the India's Hindu majority was considered to be politically imperative. Sir Walter Lawrence was certain that there were ‘many outside’ waiting to seize and ‘make political capital’ out of any error made in regard to caste and religious procedure. [10]

Fearing that any incident of religious infringement might play into enemy propaganda, Sir Walter Lawrence strictly forbid any kind of missionary work by Christian missionaries, priests and organizations within the Indian hospitals.

Sir Walter Lawrence to Lord Kitchener, 1915
‘I have seen vernacular translations of the gospels at the Pavilion, and I have orders that these should be strictly excluded…Questions arise every day with clergymen and missionaries who wish to be admitted to the hospitals… if it is abroad that any attempt has been made to proselytise men who are sick or wounded, there would be great trouble’ [11]

Footnotes

1. Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) 190

2. Herbert A. Friedman, German WWI Psyop, www.psywarrior.com/GermanWWIPSYOP.html

3. David Omissi, Indian Voices of the Great War, Soldiers’ Letters, 1914-1918 (St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1999)

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Mark Harrison, Disease, Discipline and Dissent: The Indian Army in France and England, 1914-1915. in: Roger Cooter, Harrison Mark, Sturdy Steve, eds Medicine and Modern Warfare (Rodopi B.V., Amsterdam, 1999) 196

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Samuel Hyson & Alan Lester, "British India on trial: Brighton Military Hospitals and the politics of empire in World War I", Journal of Historical Geography 38 (2012) 27

10. Ibid. 21

11. Kevin Bacon, "The Royal Pavilion as a Vision of Empire" (powerpoint presentation, The Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove, 2012)