London's East End Synagogues, cemeteries and more......

My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

Private Jacob Schneidersonís story Ė The Royal Fusiliers, World War One

In the Lily Montagu Hall of South London Liberal Synagogue is a display  (Summer/Autumn 2010) of historic photographs relating to the Jewish East End of London.  Included in the photographs are numerous photos of soldiers from the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, a battalion raised largely from foreign Jews living in the East End of London.   Peter Taylor, one of South Londonís senior members, was looking at a photograph of the Royal Fusiliers when to his surprise he identified his father in a photograph.  This in turn prompted him to relate to me his fatherís story, including an amazing experience in World War One. 

In his own words, Peter says:

ďMy father was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1898 and named Jacob Schneiderson.  In his very early years his family moved to England and they lived initially in Brick Lane in the East End of London.

Dadís first and only job as an employee was as a barber working for my grandfather Phillip Belchak.  Phillipís family moved from Lodz in Poland at the end of the 1890s and lived in Cable Street.  Phillip opened a hairdressing salon in Wilson Street, which is just behind Liverpool Street station, and my dad worked there.  Dad married Phillipís daughter Florence (Fanny) in March 1925 at Poetís Road Synagogue, Dalston, and I was born in Maida Vale in February 1926. 

Dad only told me one thing about the First World War.  He was in Palestine in 1918 and was told to deliver a message from his regiment to another place, and when he returned his regiment had gone.  He said it took him two months travelling up and down and across the country before he found his regiment.  He never told me anything else but I have a photo of him in his Royal Fusiliers uniform (photo) and also his 1920 army discharge certificate.

My understanding of Jewish involvement in the First World War is that in 1914/1915 Jews in England were vigorously campaigning to form a Jewish regiment.  Two men particularly active in this campaign were the Zionist leaders Chaim Weizmann and Vladimir Jabotinsky.  Jews in America were likewise campaigning for the British Government to raise a Jewish regiment.  Jews in Palestine Ė many of whom had been pushed out by the Turks to Cairo and Alexandria   Ė were also campaigning.  In 1916, with support from the foreign secretary Lord Balfour, the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was formed specifically for Jewish recruits.  Many of the recruits were Russian Jews from the East End who were otherwise ineligible to join the British army.  The 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers was also formed to recruit American Jews, and the 40th Battalion was formed to recruit Palestinian Jews.

In 1917, dad enlisted in the 38th Battalion.  The only non Jew in the Battalion was the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Patterson.   Soon after his enlistment dad was posted to Palestine. My understanding is that in 1918 Turkish commanders, believing that Palestinian towns on the Mediterranean coast were heavily fortified, marched their army north along the East side of the Jordan valley in order to avoid the fortified coast.  British army intelligence heard of this and, while my dad was away delivering his message, the 38th Battalion was ordered east to Jericho to intercept the Turks, and that is how my dad lost his regiment.

(Peter Taylor was talking to Philip Walker, September 2010)

And now for the to enlarge

Part of exhibition of East End photos at South London Liberal Synagogue. Peter's father featured in one of the photos

Private Jacob Schneiderson, 38th Batallion the Royal Fusiliers

Private Jacob Schneiderson's demobilisation papers

Jacob Schneiderson's naturalisation certificate

Private Jacob Schneiderson 38th Batallion Royal Fusiliers

Peter Taylor pointing to the photo of his father

Peter Taylor pointing to his father's photo

Memorial to the Jewish Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers rescued from the bombed Great Synagogue, Dukes Place, and now in the Royal Fusiliers Museum, Tower of London. Displayed with it is a Royal Fusiliers' cap badge

website copyright of Philip Walker