Manta Singh and English Hospitals

Gravestones and Flowers
Manta Singh

Manta Singh, who served with the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, an infantry regiment of the Indian Army, was seriously injured during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, in March 1915.

While rescuing his injured friend and fellow officer, Captain Henderson, Manta Singh was hit by gunfire in his left leg.

The Indian Army had never suffered such a huge number of casualties - over 4000 in just three days. Manta Singh and his wounded comrades were shipped to England where hospitals had been set up to meet their needs.

Brighton and the Indian Military Hospitals

(With special thanks to Kevin Bacon and David Beevers from Brighton Royal Pavilion Museum for permission to use their text)

"The largest group of Indian military hospitals on the south coast was established at Brighton: at the workhouse, tactfully renamed the Kitchener Indian Hospital (now Brighton General Hospital);the York Place and Pelham Street Schools; and the Royal Pavilion (including the Dome and Corn Exchange), where 722 beds were provided.

The Royal Pavilion hospital became the most famous of the three Brighton hospitals.

Brighton Hospital Ambulance

In converting the three buildings, enormous efforts were made to conform to the religious and caste sensitivities of the soldiers. Indeed, caste and religion dominated everything in the hospital, from food preparation to bathing and sanitation.

Separate water supplies were provided for Hindus and Muslims in each ward; there were segregated bathing houses and latrines and no fewer than nine kitchens for Muslims, meat-eating Hindus and vegetarians. Each kitchen had caste cooks, with a high-caste head cook in charge.

Notices throughout the hospital were printed in Urdu, Hindi and Gurmukhi and separate areas were designated for religious worship.

The wounded were cared for by orderlies of the same caste or religion and some of the doctors were medical students studying in Britain.

The British doctors from the Indian Medical Service had all worked in India and spoke Indian languages.

Recreating the pattern of a Hindu village, so called 'untouchables', who acted as dhobis (laundrymen) or menials, were provided with a special building on the eastern lawns.

This scrupulous attention to detail was widely publicised in Britain and India. The security of the British Raj depended on the loyalty of the native army. It was thought that this could be achieved by understanding the religious needs of the men. Any mistake or omission in connection with caste might have serious political consequences."

Please refer to this website for further details and a wonderful gallery of contemporary photographs:

http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/RoyalPavilion/whattosee/Pages/indianhospital.aspx.

Manta Singh may have spent some time at the Royal Pavilion but it is certain he was treated at the Kitchener Indian Hospital.

Kitchener Indian Hospital

Here, sadly, his wounds became infected with gangrene. He was told his legs would have to be amputated to save his life, a thought which filled him with despair. He died from blood poisoning a few weeks later.

See here how Manta Singh is commemorated.

A Postscript to Manta Singh's story

Manta Singh and the injured man he rescued, Captain Henderson, had become firm friends as well as brothers in arms. When Manta Singh died, Henderson ensured that Singh's son, Assa, was taken care of. He encouraged him to join the Sikh Regiment too. Throughout the Second World War, Assa Singh and Henderson's son, Robert, served together, in France, Italy and North Africa.

To this day, the Singh and Henderson families remain close friends. Assa and Robert have passed away, but their sons, Jaimal and Ian, are in regular contact.

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