Cap Badge of the Jewish Legion. Widely
displayed but not authorized for Royal
Fusiliers uniforms until 1919. The motto is
קדימה Kadima (forward).
|Vladimir Ze-ev Jabotinsky|
Royal Fusiliers Officer
He found in Egypt thousands of foreign-born Jews deported from Palestine by the Ottoman government. In particular he met Josef Trumpeldor, a decorated (Cross of St. George) Russian veteran of the siege of Port Arthur where he lost an arm and was imprisoned by the Japanese. In March 1915, a delegation led by these two was received by Gen. Sir John G. Maxwell, where they presented a plan to raise an infantry unit from these deportees to fight the Ottomans in Palestine and the Levant.
This was a problematic request. British Army rules at the time prohibited service in the Army by persons not Crown subjects, like Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor. Moreover, even though there were some British Jews in the mix, the government opposed the use of Zionists in the campaign in Palestine because the liberation of Eretz Yisrael from Muslim rule was not a diplomatic goal.
(Zionist Mule Corps Kit)
Landing on April 27th after only four weeks of training and travel, 562 men served with distinction on the Cape Helles front, mostly hauling water. A Distinguished Conduct Medal was awarded to Pvt. M. Groushkowsky, who under heavy bombardment near Krithia on May 5th kept his mules from stampeding and despite being wounded in both arms, delivered the load. On a different occasion Trumpeldor was shot through the shoulder but refused to leave the field. Lt. Col. Patterson later wrote: "Many of the Zionists whom I thought somewhat lacking in courage showed themselves fearless to a degree when under heavy fire, while Capt. Trumpeldor actually reveled in it, and the hotter it became the more he liked it ..."
The Zionist Mule Corps were at Gallipoli until the end, returning to Alexandria on 10 January 1916. The unit was officially disbanded on 26 May.
|Lt. Col. Patterson|
Although the World Zionist Congress had proclaimed neutrality in 1914 (Jews were serving in many armies), Jabotinsky eventually convinced the renowned chemist and British Zionist leader Dr. Chaim Weizmann of the value of his plan. Weizmann had the ear of top British leaders due to his important contributions to munitions production, and in August 1917 the 38th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London) was authorized (hereafter ‘38/RF’), which was popularly called "The Jewish Legion". Over a thousand volunteered, including Jabotinsky’s group plus many Russians living in the UK. Lt. Col. Patterson was again appointed the CO and Jabotinsky was made a staff lieutenant.
Once the Zionist movement was behind the plan, it gained momentum quickly. Another unit was raised in Canada, and in January 1918 it was designated as 39/RF, with a deployed strength of 1,720 (more than twice the size of a serving battalion) and most were Americans. The CO was Maj. J.A. de Rothschild, DCM, from the banking family, a French-born naturalized Canadian.
And it didn’t stop there. A third unit was created in Egypt for Zionist deportees plus non-Palestinian Ottoman Jewish POWs, and over 1,000 were recruited again. This was designated as 40/RF, and still forming in November 1918 were 41/RF and 42/RF. After the war, Jabotinsky wrote of the 5,000 or so men who served in 38/RF, 39/RF and 40/RF: 34 percent were from the U.S., 30 percent were from Palestine, 28 percent were from England, 6 percent were from Canada, 1 percent were Ottoman Jewish POWs, and 1 percent were from Argentina.
|London, 4 February 1918, 38/RF on Parade, Col. Patterson Mounted at Left|
Public reaction in the UK to the formation of 38/RF was mixed. Prejudice reared its ugly head as newspapers referred to the unit as "the Royal Jewsiliers" or "The King’s Own Tailors". To counter this disparagement, 38/RF was granted the "freedom" to parade with fixed bayonets in the City of London on 4 February 1918. Led by the band of the Coldstream Guards, they marched over eight miles past tens of thousands of cheering onlookers, were saluted by the Lord Mayor, and ended in Stepney where numerous dignitaries received them.
In June 1918, 38/RF arrived in Palestine with the 31st Brigade, 10th (Irish) Division. They were immediately deployed to the Jordan Valley north of Jerusalem to oppose Ottoman counter-attacks.
In July 38/RF and the newly-arrived 39/RF were attached to Chaytor’s Force, commanded by the New Zealander Maj. Gen. Sir E.W.C. Chaytor and consisting otherwise of the Anzac Mounted Division, the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade and two battalions of the British West Indies Regiment, in total 11,000 men. Besides various skirmishes, the Force participated in the Battle of Megiddo in mid-September 1918, widely considered one of the decisive victories on the Ottoman front. The objective of 38/RF and 39/RF was to capture the Jisr ed Damieh bridge and fords in a pincer movement to sever the line of communication between the Ottoman forces on the west bank and the Fourth Army at Es Salt, so that the Force could capture Es Salt and Amman.
For his actions at the bridgehead, Lt. Jabotinsky was Mentioned in Despatches (he also received an MBE in 1919), and Maj. Gen. Chaytor later told the Jewish troops, “By forcing the Jordan fords, you helped in no small measure to win the great victory gained at Damascus.”
Among the members of the Jewish Legion who would later become prominent Israelis were David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister (1948-54, 1955-63), Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, President (1952-63) and Levi Eshkol, Prime Minister (1963-69).
On 4 December 2014 the cremains of Lt. Col. Patterson were re-buried at Avihayli in Israel. PM Netanyahu said of Patterson and the Jewish Legion: "the first Jewish fighting force in nearly two millennia. And as such, he can be called the godfather of the Israeli army."
Sources include: The Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index.html, and The Jewish Magazine, http://www.jewishmag.com/148mag/jewish_legion/jewish_legion.htm