Role and Image of King George


King George V played an integral role in perpetuating the image of the British Raj, both in the lives of the Indian soldiers as well as the marketing of the Royal Pavilion Hospital.

To understand the intimate and father-figure like role of King George in the lives of Indian soldiers, one has only to look at their own words:

Risaldar Dayal Singh (Sikh, 42) to Chuni 17.1 Lal,
(Campbellpur, Attock District, Punjab)6th Cavalry [Urdu], France, July 14, 1917
I am not afraid either to live or die. This is all in God's hands. I have escaped hitherto from a rain of shells and bombs, and I believe it will be the same in the future. If He has laid down that my work shall lie in the midst of such a blazing fire I shall go on doing it with His help. There are two points to note in this. The first is that God has ordained my career; and the second is that loyalty to the King compels me to serve him and to be true to my salt. [1]

Gurmukh Singh to Bishan Singh (Sikh, 20th Deccan Horse, France),
Rawalpindi [Urdu] Punjab, January 30, 1917
So, you do not desire to return? True, although India is your native land, what of it? Certainly Europe is not our native land; but it is the native land of our King, George the V; and you should therefore esteem it better than your native land and fight with your whole heart. God will Himself bring that day when we shall meet you again in India. That day is about to come, for God will destroy our enemy and give victory to our King. [2]

A wounded Sikh to his brother (Amritsar District, Punjab)
[Gurmukhi] England, January 15, 1915
Brother, I fell ill with pneumonia and have come away from the war. In this country it rains a great deal: always day and night it rains. So pneumonia is very rife. Now I am quite well and there is no occasion for any kind of anxiety ... If any of us is wounded, or is otherwise ill, Government or someone else always treats him very kindly. Our Government takes great care of us, and we too will be loyal and fight. You must give the Government all the help it requires. Now look, you my brother, our father the King-Emperor of India needs us and any of us who refuses to help him in his need should be counted among the most polluted sinners. It is our first duty to show our loyal gratitude to Government. [3]

Jemadar Khisan Singh (Sikh) to his wife (Nabha State, Punjab)
36th Jacob's Horse [Gurmukhi], France, February 6, 1917
[He encloses the New Year's card for Indian troops, depicting the King-Emperor.] I have sent you thrice before pictures of His Majesty. As you framed those and put them up on the wall opposite the door, so do the same with this portrait after framing it. Worship it every morning when you get up. This is an act of religious merit, and the portrait will be a memorial. Every morning, pray to the Guru that He will give victory to the King. Do not be anxious about me. I am quite happy. [4]

What emerges is a very personal connection between the Indian soldiers and their British King. They were not fighting because of political or ideological reasons, but to defend the personal honour of their King. The almost child-like reverence for the King as their father was commented on by The Times Newspaper:

The Times, January 2, 1915
‘..it remains only to wish that the King himself could be there and see this beautiful childlike faith in his fatherly solicitude for his soldiers’. [5]

Given the personal reverence for the King, it was only natural that the War Office sought to exploit this relationship with the establishment of the Royal Pavilion.

Although King George had nothing to do with the process of the selection of the Royal Pavilion or its operation, for propaganda purposes the Royal Pavilion was marketed as a King having turned over his own palace for use by the wounded Indian soldiers and that he was actively involved in its running.

Col. J McLeod, Commanding Officer Royal Pavilion Hospital to Sir Walter Lawrence, March 30, 1915
‘ I tried to bring out that the Pavilion was a Royal Palace and that the initiation of all that was done came from the King. To bring the Corporation [Brighton officials]… more prominently into it I thought would confuse things in the eyes of India.’ [6]

Establishing the myth of the connection between the King and the Royal Pavilion's selection became key to its propaganda value. Conversely this involved de-emphasizing the fact that the Royal Pavilion was not a residence or palace belonging to the King anymore but a museum and a public space owned by the town of Brighton.

In the Souvenir Book produced to be handed to every Indian patient as they left the hospital as well as in the 20,000 additional copies produced to be distributed in India the myth of the King’s central role in the establishment and the running the Royal Pavilion hospital is mentioned as a matter-of-fact. The ownership of the palace by the town of Brighton is glossed over in order to instead present the Pavilion as the Kings desire to turn over his palace into a hospital for Indian soldiers, just as his father King Edward had turned over his palace into a hospital for British soldiers in his time:

About 1845, Queen Victoria purchased the estate of Osborne, and eventually the palace at Brighton was made over to the town, which kept up its magnificence and used it for many brilliant social functions. The palace of Queen Victoria at Osborne was given by the late King Edward as a hospital for British officers, and now, at the suggestion of H.M. King George, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton is transformed into a great hospital where Indian soldiers are restored to health. [7]

Most of the Souvenir Book is dedicated to photographs and details of the King’s visits to the Royal Pavilion to meet his wounded Indian patients. Keen to exploit the personal reverence for the King that the War Office censors had noticed in the letters from the Indian soldiers, every visit of the King was turned into a major media extravaganza. Not only would these visits result in further enthusiastic letters home from the Indian soldiers at the Royal Pavilion, but news reports, photographs and film footage of the visits were also effectively used for maximum political gain throughout the Empire and especially in India.

Isar Singh (Sikh, 59th Rifles) letter to a friend (50th Punjabis, India)
Indian General Hospital  [Gurmukhi], Brighton, May 1, 1915
'Our hospital is in the place where the King used to have his throne…The King has given a strict order that no trouble be given to any black man (Indians) in hospital. Men in hospital are tended like flowers, and the King and Queen sometimes come to visit them.' [8]

The Toronto Daily Star (Canada), January 9, 1915
Hospitals in Brighton, Eng., Set Aside For Indian Soldiers.
Brighton, Eng., Jan 9 - King George and Queen Mary, accompanied by a large escort, to-day visited the hospitals here which have been set aside for the reception of the wounded of the Indian expeditionary forces. The King and Queen talked at length with many of the wounded and were given an enthusiastic reception.

Footnotes

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

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

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

6. Ibid.

7. A Short History In English, Gurmukhi & Urdu of the Royal Pavilion Brighton and a Description of it as A Hospital for Indian Soldiers (Corporation of Brighton, 1915) 4

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