A new exhibition of previously unseen objects, photographs, film and personal stories tells the story of Indian Army soldiers who camped at Hampton Court Palace in the early 20th century. 

A uniform on display at The Indian Army at the Palace exhibition at Hampton Court Palace

Source: Historic Royal Palaces

The new display explores the stories of the soldiers who stayed in a specially created camp at Hampton Court Palace. 

Open at Hampton Court Palace until March 2024, The Indian Army at the Palace exhibition marks the part the Indian soldiers played during World War One, bringing to life their story and experiences. 

It’s the first time their contribution has been celebrated in this way with the exhibition also looking more widely at the South Asian presence in Britain during the 20th century and its impact. 

The forgotten story of the Indian Army soldiers

In 1919, the grounds of Hampton Court Palace in East Molesey, Surrey, played host to a large contingent of Indian soldiers taking part in the post-war Peace Celebrations.

Having fought in World War One, almost 1,800 Indian Army officers, soldiers and civilian workers, stayed in a camp specially created to house them during their stay. It was one of the largest gatherings of people from India and South Asia ever assembled in Britain at the time. 

A curator handles old photographs on display as part of The Indian Army at the Palace exhibition at Hampton Court Palace

Source: Historic Royal Palaces

Previously unseen photographs are on display as part of the exhibition. 

The camp was built following instructions from the King that ‘everything possible should be done for the comfort of the men’. Accommodations were made to meet the cultural and religious requirements of the soldiers, and – recognising that this was the first visit to England for the vast majority of those in attendance – the soldiers were entertained with excursions to attractions in London and across the country, including trips to the Tower of London and a Chelsea football match. 

Look out for…

…a rare charity pin badge like those sold by Indian princess and suffragette Sophie Duleep Singh to raise money for the Indian Army. The rare ‘India Day’ badge is only 2.5cm high and depicts an Indian elephant. 

While official records of the encampment and parades can be found in archives, the display also aims to explore the human stories of the soldiers who attended them and share an insight into their personal experiences.

Entrance to The Indian Army at the Palace exhibition at Hampton Court Palace

Source: Historic Royal Palaces

Groups will find out what life was like for the some 1,800 Indian soldiers who played such an important contribution. 

As part of this, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) – the independent charity that cares for Hampton Court Palace – has worked with South Asian community groups, collecting objects and collating memories in order to reflect the various national occasions that Indian soldiers camped at the Palace. 

Zakira Begum, interpretation assistant at Historic Royal Palaces said: “We’re really excited to be shining a spotlight on the stories of the Indian soldiers encampment at Hampton Court Palace, celebrating the contribution that they made to the Palace’s history.”

There are group rates for admission to Hampton Court Palace, which includes entrance to the new exhibition. Find out more and book your visit here