Help reveal secrets of First World War New Forest

Wounded wwi indian troops news article

Published Friday 16 October 2015

Volunteers with a fascination for the New Forest’s history are being sought to help uncover details of war-time activity a hundred years ago.

During World War I, the Forest was home to several hospitals for wounded New Zealand and Indian troops, training schools and camps which left a lasting impression on the landscape.

Now thanks to support from ExxonMobil at Fawley, the New Forest National Park Authority is piecing together what life was like in the Forest during 1914-18.

So far seven volunteers are scouring thousands of pages of censored letters from Indian troops on the British Library website to find material relating specifically to the New Forest, but many more people are needed to help with the research.

The personal accounts and photographs will become part of an online archive of the Forest’s war-time history (www.newforestheritage.org) and will form an exhibition next year in the New Forest Centre, Lyndhurst.

WWI project officer Gareth Owen said: ‘There’s a huge number of aspects of the war years which the New Forest is best placed to tell – we know the old race course at Lyndhurst was a camp for thousands of soldiers before they set off for the front; there were military hospitals for the wounded; a naval air station at Calshot; a bomb school at Lyndhurst and even a training school for dogs helping on the frontline.

‘These very personal accounts helps us understand more about the role the New Forest played in the First World War and will create a legacy for future generations.’

To get involved in the the New Forest Remembers World War I Project contact Gareth Owen at archaeology@newforestnpa.gov.uk or call 01590 646652.

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Picture caption: Wounded Indian soldiers heading to their tented accommodation in the grounds of Forest Park Hotel. c1914. Credit: Topfoto.co.uk

Notes to Editor:

Brockenhurst – a First World War village

From the outbreak of war until the end of 1915 Brockenhurst was home to The Lady Hardinge Hospital for Wounded Indian Soldiers, named after the wife of the British Viceroy of India who died shortly before war broke out. 

Balmer Lawn and Forest Park Hotels were commandeered and fitted out as a medical facility, with temporary structures in the grounds providing extra accommodation. Overcrowding became a problem within months, and in 1915 a 500-bed combination of tents and galvanised huts was erected at Tile Barn (now Tilebarn Outdoor Centre) nicknamed ‘Tin Town’ locally.

At least 3,000 Indian soldiers were treated in Brockenhurst before the Corps was posted to Egypt in November 1915.

‘Tin Town’ was taken over by the New Zealand authorities in 1916 and by the end of the war over 21,000 New Zealand casualties had been treated there. Ninety-three New Zealand servicemen died while being treated at Brockenhurst and are buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at St Nicholas’ Church, Brockenhurst.

Censored letters unearthed so far include accounts from wounded Indian soldiers recovering in the New Forest, possibly at the Balmer Lawn Hotel hospital and at the Indian Military Depot in Milford on Sea.

On 8 April 1915 Ragbir Singh of the 59th rifles 8th Company wrote home: ‘I have been wounded twice, and now this is the third time I am being sent to the trenches. The English say it is alright. How can it be alright? As long as one is unhurt, so long they will not let one off. If Parmeshwar (Supreme God) allows I will escape, but the butcher does not let the goat escape.’

A non-commissioned officer of the 47th Sikhs wrote: ‘On 28 October in the evening, while in the act of charging, I was wounded by the enemy’s machine gun. My company suffered heavy loss and inflicted the same upon the enemy, many of whom were taken prisoner and many killed... Well, when I was wounded I came to England and many men of the Indian troops have come to England. Now I am all right again. My wound healed very quickly… The hospital in which I am was formerly a big hotel. The arrangements are excellent, and I am absolutely comfortable in every way. At first I was at Brockenhurst which was near Mr Lieut. Governor Dane’s house. He used to come to see us, and the King and Queen came.’

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

• Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect.
• Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

• Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit www.newforestnpa.gov.uk to find out more.

Media Contacts:
Sion Donovan, Communications Officer, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646639
Email: sion.donovan@newforestnpa.gov.uk

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