THE forgotten history of the Indian Army soldiers who camped in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace, southwest of London, in the early 20th century is set to be uncovered in a new exhibition opening this month.
The Indian Army at the Palace will explore the story of the encampments in detail for the first time, including the soldiers’ experiences in the camp, and the press and public reactions to their stay.
It follows an appeal by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity that looks after Hampton Court Palace, to the Asian community for objects relating to its role in historical colonial events associated with the palace, which dates to the 16th century.
“Through our research and outreach work, we have established connections with descendants of Indian soldiers who resided in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in the first half of the 20th century at historic events such as coronations,” said Dr Tejpal Singh Ralmill.
He is a military expert at A Little History of the Sikhs group, which develops tours and lectures on Sikh, AngloSikh and Punjabi history. It is one of the community organisations which worked with HRP on the new exhibition.
“It has been fantastic to support the team at Historic Royal Palaces to interpret submissions from our community to the call-out, and to work on the content of this important part of the palace’s history,” he said.
The new display will include stories of Indian soldiers who lived on the Hampton Court estate on four occasions – the coronations of King Edward VII in 1902, King George V in 1911 and George VI in 1937, as well as for the First World War victory parade in London.
Visitors to the exhibition, which runs until March next year, will learn about the daily experiences of the soldiers camped in the grounds, from food and rationing to entertainment, travel and religious accommodation.
Efforts were made in the camps to meet the cultural and religious requirements of the soldiers from many ethnic communities. They also visited attractions in London and across the country.
Through press and public reactions, the exhibition will also look at the negative perceptions of the south Asian presence in Britain in the early 20th century, as well as its impact.
The HRP said it aimed to commemorate their contribution to historic occasions at the grounds where the troops stayed more than a century ago.
Zakira Begum, interpretation officer at HRP, said: “Working with south Asian community groups has been a key part of bringing this story to life. We look forward to sharing their objects with our visitors as part of the display. We believe our work is enriched by the involvement of a wide range of people and perspectives, and working with these groups has been instrumental in creating this new display for our visitors.”
The exhibition will bring together several never-before-seen objects, including a military uniform, photographs, maps and postcards.
Many items are from the HRP collection, including an official plan from one of the camps, press cuttings depicting the soldiers’ arrival at Hampton Court station, and Indian soldiers in and around the palace grounds.
These objects will be displayed alongside a collection of items on loan from the south Asian community.