In this photograph we can see two men cooking chapatis (an unleavened flatbread) in ‘the Sikh kitchen’. Several buildings in Brighton were converted into hospitals during the First World War, to treat the thousands of Indian soldiers that were returning wounded to the UK from fighting in France. Three groups of kitchens were created in these hospitals: one for Muslim soldiers; one for meat-eating Hindu and Sikh soldiers; and one for vegetarian Hindu and Sikh soldiers. These three kitchens were then divided according to caste and ethnicity, resulting in a total of nine kitchens.
The Girdwood Collection
This series of several hundred photographs recording the contribution of Indian soldiers to the Allied war effort was produced in 1915 by the Canadian-born photographer Charles Hilton DeWitt Girdwood (1878–1964). As a professional photographer Girdwood had an early connection with India, photographing the Delhi Durbar of 1903, the royal tour of 1905–06 and the Delhi Durbar of 1911. In 1908 he set up a photo agency called Realistic Travels, specialising in stereoscopic photography.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, Girdwood returned from India and in April 1915 was given permission by the India Office to photograph the work of the Indian military hospitals in Bournemouth and Brighton. From July to September 1915 he worked in France as an official photographer to record Indian and later British troops in the field. In the later part of his time in France he also made ciné film of the campaign (which later appeared under the title With the Empire’s Fighters.