In The Repercussions, the third novel from award-winning writer Catherine Hall, a present-day war photographer returning from Afghanistan discovers her great-grandmother's diaries, which document her wartime role nursing Indian soldiers at the Brighton Pavilion in 1915.
Here Catherine reveals the surprising history of the former royal residence, whose design echoed Indian architectural fashions from the previous century, and the reasons Indians chose to enlist.
One of the main inspirations for The Repercussions was an article I read in The Guardian about the Brighton Pavilion being used as a hospital for Indian soldiers in the First World War. I used to live in Brighton and had always liked the Pavilion - this ornate, Orientalist fantasy of an Indian palace, built for the Prince Regent as a seaside retreat at the end of the 18th century. I went to visit an exhibition at the Pavilion about the soldiers, and was immediately hooked.
I hadn't known that Indian soldiers had fought for Britain in World War I. Lots of them did - around 827,000 enlisted. At one point on the Western Front, it's estimated that one in ten of the soldiers was Indian. They came on boats that sailed from Bombay around the Horn of Africa and up to Marseilles, which was quite the journey in itself, especially since for Hindus, crossing the ocean, which they called the Kala Pani, or Black Water, was a taboo.
It was the first time that the Indian Army had fought outside Asia and its soldiers just weren't equipped for it. They arrived in Autumn 1914, many wearing light khaki uniforms and didn't receive warm clothing for months. They were used to fighting in the mountains but now they faced trench warfare with its machine gun fire, heavy artillery and poison gas. Imagine then, after being wounded, being put on a train to England and ending up in a seaside town in a royal pleasure palace with its incredibly ornate chandeliers and frescoes. It must have blown their minds.
I began to wonder what it must have been like for them, and for the people of Brighton, many of whom would never have seen a non-white person before. They seem to have been fascinated by the Pavilion patients. The local newspapers called them 'Dusky Warriors' being treated at the hands of 'Doctor Brighton' and published articles on things like how to sneak a glimpse of Sikhs combing out their long hair. There were three hospitals in Brighton for Indian soldiers - but it was the Pavilion that caught the imagination of the public. And that wasn't by accident.
The Pavilion was all about propaganda, an example of how well the British were treating their troops from overseas. This was important, partly in order to make sure that more soldiers volunteered but also to avoid the prospect of mutiny - the Indian mutiny of 1857, which had seriously threatened the British Raj - was still very much in the minds of the authorities.
And so from the very start, the Pavilion was intended to be shown off. A lot of effort went into making sure that the needs of different castes and religions were met. There were separate taps for Hindus and Muslims in every room. There were nine separate field kitchens and separate bathrooms. A large tent became a Sikh temple and there was a tent for a mosque next door.
And all of this was extensively documented. A set of postcards was produced by the Brighton Corporation and the military authorities. Some were published in a commemorative book for the patients to send home. There were also paintings commissioned and a short film was made. King George and Queen Mary made several, well publicised visits.
Where were these troops from? And why had they chosen to enlist? Many were from the North-Western Frontier, which bordered British India and Afghanistan with a buffer zone of tribal areas inbetween. After the Mutiny, the British Army had adopted a military recruitment policy called 'martial race', under which they classified each caste or ethnic group into either 'martial' or 'non-martial' - ie brave and suitable for fighting, or unfit for battle. The Pathans, from the mountains of the North-Western Frontier, were seen as excellent fighters. Pathan is the Hindu-Urdu name for what in Persian is Pashtun, the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan today.
Some men fought for the money. But honour was also important. Izzat - honour, reputation, credit, prestige - was a vital part of why they were fighting. They fought to gain or preserve izzat. It was thought glorious or honourable to die in battle or become a martyr.
Of course, honour is always important in war. Certainly in World War I, British soldiers believed in it - at the beginning, anyway. Those were days when people read Kipling and Conrad and Hardy and believed in traditional moral values. The language used to talk about it was of valour, duty and grit.
I think since then, in the West, at least, there has been a lessening of that attitude towards honour, but that language is still the language of extremist groups today, who talk of warriors and peril and a moral imperative, in order to get young men to fight.
Catherine Hall is also the author two previous novels, The Proof of Love, which won the 2011 Green Carnation Award, and bestseller Days of Grace.