Caught by the River

New Years Resolution

Mathew Clayton | 11th January 2008

My New Year’s Resolution – rather than do something for the last time this is about doing something for the first time.

Mine is… Attend the annual memorial service at the Chattri just outside Brighton.

In the middle of an unremarkable field tucked into a fold of the South Downs is a remarkable war memorial. Twenty feet high and ten feet across, with a domed roof set on eight granite pillars, and standing at the top of a broad stone staircase the Chattri looks out over Brighton in the distance and the English Channel beyond. Enclosed in a small windswept ornamental garden it is a magical, lonely place, unexpected amongst the empty rolling fields that surround it.

It was built in the 1920s on the site of a ghat, a funeral pyre used to cremate the bodies of Indian soldiers who had fought in the first world war. Over 1.5 million Indians travelled half way round the world to fight on the Western Front and those that were injured were brought to convalescse at temporary hospitals in Brighton. Fittingly, the main site was the Royal Pavillion, the town’s own mini Taj Mahal.

When I first discovered the Chattri in my late teens it was overgrown and neglected Brighton Council long since having forgotten their original obligation to pay for its upkeep. Happily since 2000 its cause has been championed by a local teacher Davinder Dhillon who resurected the annual service that the British Legion had organised from the 1950s onwards.

It is particularly appropriate to be thinking about this today as it was on New Year’s Eve in 1914 that the first body of an Indian soldier was driven out of Brighton in an army ambulance, carried up the Downs, covered in wood and straw and set alight.

The service takes place on the second Sunday in June at 2.30pm but it is worth visiting at any time of the year. Details of how to get there (it is quite tricky) can be found here:

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  • Mathew Clayton