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My personal journey through the Jewish East End of London

The March of the 38th Royal Fusiliers; when the spirit of Judah Maccabee hovered over the Whitechapel Road, by Martin Sugarman, Archivist of the AJEX Jewish Military Museum. 

(A copy of this article referenced to source material is available on request, contact phil)

In 1917, after 3 years of lobbying by both the British Jewish community and its many friends in the wider community, the British government agreed to the raising of a specifically Jewish unit to fight in the British Army in World War One, against the Turks in Palestine/Israel. It was a momentous and iconic moment in Jewish history as it would be only the second time since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish statehood, that an independent Jewish fighting unit had been formed, with its own banner and later its own cap badge with the famous Menorah and Kadimah design. But it was also the very first time that “a regiment consisting exclusively of Jews will have tramped the streets of England …history is being made in these days” as it was the Jews “whose honour they have, in so large a measure, in their keeping”

The force was to be part of the Royal Fusiliers, and was given the battalion numbers 38th, 39th and 40th, with 41st - 42nd battalions as training Reserves. The whole force became known as the Jewish Legion or colloquially as “The First Judeans”! The Guardian newspaper even alluded to the term “The New Maccabeans”To the Jewish community the nicknames “Royal Jewsiliers” and “Kings own Schneiders” (or ‘tailors’ , as so many came from that then Jewish dominated profession) quickly attached themselves to this astonishing group of volunteer fighters; whilst the quip was made that they were adopting the battalion motto of “No Advance Without Security”.

The role of Vladimir Jabotinsky (known to British soldiers as Captain Jug O'Whiskey, as they could never pronounce his name) in helping to create the Jewish Legion is remembered in this United Israel Appeal poster below.  Born in Odessa, he became a member of The Zionist executive and one of the founders of Keren Hayesod, the United Israel Appeal

The role of Vladimir Jabotinsky (known to British soldiers as Captain Jug O'Whiskey, as they could never pronounce his name) in helping to create teh Jewish Legion is remembered in this United Israel Appeal poster.  Born in Odessa, he became a member of The Zionist executive and on of the founders of Keren Hayesod, the United Israel AppealMany later famous Jews joined. Sculptor Jacob Epstein joined the 38th as it was raised mainly from Jews in the East End of London, or Jewish soldiers who transferred from other regiments. Vladimir Jabotinsky (known to British soldiers as ‘Captain Jug O’Whiskey’, as they could never pronounce his name!) was an honorary officer in the 38th battalion. The 39th came mainly from America and Canada and even Argentina; the 40th were mostly Palestinian Jewish refugees and included David Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Itzak Ben Zvi.

Many books have been written about the Legion (see the reading list at end of this article, with thanks to Harold Pollins) but this paper focuses on a major event in the Jewish East End when part of the 38th battalion marched proudly through Whitechapel and the City, on Monday February 4th 1918, watched equally proudly by the wild and frenzied cheering Jews of East London. They were en route to fight in Palestine/Israel and liberate it from the Turkish occupation.

The Times describes how half of the 38th  battalion, consisting of four companies totalling  426 men with 12 officers,  had been ordered to return to London by General  Macready from their training camp in Plymouth, whilst under orders for the Front, in order to parade through the City and Whitechapel. They “marched through the streets amid scenes of enthusiasm……along the whole of the route the men, whose sturdy physique and martial bearing were favourably commented on, were heartily welcomed” and not just by the Jewish inhabitants. Traffic was stopped and shouts of welcome greeted them from City offices and the tops of buses. The Daily Telegraph described “scenes of enthusiasm”. And the Daily Mail describes how “London’s Ghetto, refuge of generations of oppressed Jews….rocked with martial pride…and the homage of the people from among whom the bulk of the (battalion) were recruited”.

Commanded by Col. John Patterson, DSO, the fiery, Judaeophile Irish Protestant from Dublin, the men had slept overnight at the Tower of London. At 10 am  (some sources say 11am, the Daily Mail 10.45) , after an early morning inspection, they emerged from the Tower of London , in columns of four abreast, Zionist flag and Union Jacks held high aloft, headed by the band of the Coldstream Guards. They were greeted with an outburst of cheering “……repeated as they made their way, in inclement weather, via the mud of the Minories,  to Aldgate, Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street to the Mansion House. With their Colonel at the front - who had also commanded the Zion Mule Corp at Gallipoli 2 years before – the men carried full service battle kit with packs and helmets slung behind them, and were permitted to march with glittering fixed bayonets, a special privilege granted rarely to any British unit in a City area.

One observer noted that the two Zionist flags were “of Cambridge blue and white with the Shield of David and bearing the inscription in Yiddish (probably in Hebrew) ‘If I forget ye O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning’”. In his Foreword to Jabotinsky’s book, published after he had died, Patterson says Jabotinsky carried a Jewish banner at the head of the Batallion. Jabotinsky himself says, “…..tens of thousands lined the streets…blue and white flags over every shop door…..old Jews with fluttering beards murmuring the “Shechecheyanu” …..Patterson on his horse laughing and bowing and wearing a rose which a girl had thrown him from a balcony…and those boys! Those tailors! Shoulder to shoulder, their bayonets dead level, each step like a single clap of thunder, clean, proud, drunk with the National Anthem, with the noise of the crowds and all the sense of a holy mission…long life to you my tailors of  Whitechapel, Soho, Leeds and Manchester”.

The most famous photograph of the men on their march, showing Patterson clearly and proudly at the head of his men on his horse with one of his officers mounted behind him, though the image is blurred, has the Colonel clearly with a broad smile on his face. Indeed every man was smiling as they were lionised by the crowds. The three marching officers, clearly seen on the film, shows two with either swagger stick or sword , and one is wearing his greatcoat, evidence of the cold day. Clearly the crowd was huge as they seem to be pressed many deep in the background, although it is not known where the photo was actually taken along the route. The Daily Sketch pointed out that “some (of the men) had already seen active service as was testified by the gold stripes on their sleeves” (5/2/1918).

Colonel Patterson leading the Jewish Legion on parade in the Whitechapel Road

Colonel Patterson leading the Jewish Legion on parade in the Whitechapel Road

At the Mansion House (which the Daily Mail said was reached by 11:15 am) the Lord Mayor Sir Horace Brooks Marshall, accompanied by his wife and City Sheriffs,  took the salute from the balcony. Later the Lord Mayor said “You can tell the Jewish Regiment and their friends that I consider it was a magnificent muster. I am proud of them and wish them God speed and good luck in the service of their King and Country”. The Westminster Gazette remarked how the battalion received a special greeting by well known City men as they passed the steps of the Stock Exchange!

The Jewish Chronicle opined, “He must be  a dull and unimaginative Jew who, without a glow of emotion and pride could have witnessed London’s welcome to the Judeans as they marched through the streets of the metropolis….trampling down in their progress foolish fears and fictions…of those leaders in Israel who frowned on the idea of a regiment of Jews and did their best to spoil (it)…in a short while a band of Jews – ‘foreigners’ and East End aliens be it noted – from the workshop and factory, have been turned into a body of smart troops  - looking each one of them every inch a soldier – and a hundred well-spun fables about the race have been blown into nothingness. The Judeans are a living refutation of many a silly legend that has clung to the name of Jew, and the cheers of the London populace …..testified that the whole edifice of calumny and ignorance  - the work of centuries – had toppled to the dust”. The editorial asked what now will become of the “equally inveterate fables that the Jew can never become an agriculturalist, can never build a State, and can never govern his own land?”  

From Mansion House the battalion turned east and marched via Cornhill and Leadenhall Street back to Aldgate and on to the Pavillion Theatre in Mile End Road (which actually stood at 193 Whitechapel Road, now a vacant plot near the corner with Vallance Road). As the sound of the band brought masses of people to the main road, around Aldgate, shouts of “Baruch haba” (welcome) and “Come back beshalom” (in peace) were shouted in Hebrew from the Jewish community. Mothers wept and handed little parcels to their sons; fathers called out last words to their boys, pushing through to them whilst on the march.  The Star newspaper described how one feature that gave great pleasure to the crowds was the Guards band playing the ‘Hatikvah’, “now recognised as the approved Jewish National melody”. The Daily Mail, describing the men as “soldierly with spick and span appearance”, went on , “But it was not until the battalion, in the midst of which with the Union Jack, Zionist flags of pale blue and white were held aloft, swung into Mile End road past Aldgate East station, that enthusiasm reached its height among the crowds…The battalion was now on home soil. Patriarchal Jews, Russian, Polish, Galician, Armenian (?) with flowing beards with curly hair, jostled dark haired Jewesses of all ages in an effort to gain the footpath’s edge for a close range glimpse of ‘some of their own’ . From the windows Yiddish greetings were hurled unceasingly, interspersed by an occasional scream of delight as some mother, sister or sweetheart recognised a soldier dear to her. Once or twice the battalion halted on account of traffic congestion ahead and then there were hurried but fervent family reunions on the fringes of the ranks. It was a great day for Jewish London!  The Jewish World newspaper reported “A non-Jewish labourer was heard to exclaim, ‘Well I never! I was told the -----------  Jews were all shirkers.’.

At the Theatre, where they arrived by 12 noon, they were received by the Mayor and Mayoress of Stepney (Dr. Jerome Reidy and his wife), Lt General Sir Francis Lloyd, Sir Adolph Tuck,  Mrs Hertz (wife of the Chief Rabbi),  Mr James  D Kiley Liberal MP for Whitechapel, Chaim Weizmann (President of the English Zionist Federation, and later first President of Israel),  Mr Myer (Michael)  J Landa (Secretary  of the Regiment Committee) , Mr H H Gordon and W C Johnson , members of the LCC (London County Council) for Whitechapel, and many members of the Stepney Borough Council – seated on a dais in front of the theatre.  Col. Patterson dismounted and was taken onto the dais and introduced by Mr Landa to the dignitaries. The theatre front was decorated with the Union flag and Zionist banner and Jewish flag. A catholic priest known pleasantly to the Jews as Av Horachmim (sic - Father of Mercy, probably) expressed his pleasure at seeing the Zionist flag, many non-Jews describing it as pretty. For the local Jewish community, the spirit of Judah Maccabbee truly hung over the Whitechapel Road. It was seen as history repeating itself, as soldiers prepared to re-enter Israel like Moses of old, the fulfilling of the ancient prophecy.

After a short time, the men marched on via Jubilee Street and then turned back west on Commercial Road and onwards to Camperdown House (Half Moon Passage), the HQ of the JLB opposite Aldgate East station and also a huge Jewish Community centre. Here, watched by an even larger crowd, the men were formally inspected by Lt Gen. Sir Frances Lloyd  when drawn up in Great Alie Street. Young women hung out from windows waving at the men as they marched by. Hundreds of Jews electrically responded to the cry of  “Attenshun!” ; it thrilled them , giving them a new view of the lads of the Ghetto, the glamour of the Maccabeans; they smiled amid their tears.

In his speech outside the hall, General Lloyd complimented the men on their appearance and said he “saw a battalion that would do great credit to itself and to the country”. He went on to say this was by no means the first effort that the great Jewish population of Great Britain had made in the patriotic defence of this country, but they had concentrated on it a special effort which would long be remembered. “I feel sure”, he said, “You will prove worthy followers of the ancient Jewish warriors….for the glory of the Jewish nation“. He wished the men God Speed and the fortunes of battle, and expressed the hope that honours might be showered on them.

The men then fell out at 1.30pm and had a kosher lunch at Camperdown House, decorated inside and out, with Zionist flags and the colours of the Allied nations. Extended across the large dining room in bold Hebrew characters was the motto “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel”. The menu consisted of “soup, beef pie, apple pie, coffee, fruit and cigarettes”. Joseph Cowan (a leading Zionist) presided in the unavoidable absence of Lord Rothschild, who had suffered a bereavement, and many other prominent Jews were present including Lt. Jabotinsky.

Grace was said by Rev Solomon Lipson, Jewish Chaplain to the Forces. Mr Cowan simply said “God Bless you – mazel and beracha (luck and blessings) to all of you” and the mayor added that he was “proud to see the fine well set-up men marching through the streets of London”.

Col. Patterson responded to the toast to the Regiment, by the Lord Mayor of Stepney, and also acknowledged the good work of the Ladies’ Comforts Committee. When he stood to speak he was cheered with great affection by the men. He said that those who were “responsible for the setting up of the Judeans were the true friends of Israel …their enterprise had been long in labour but it had brought forth not a mouse but the Lion of Judah …the whelps were all around” and he was “confident that the members of the Regiment would acquit themselves like men”. He said that in training the men had behaved impeccably and were “beyond all praise”. But there was only one fault – there were not quite enough; his passionate words resonating with Biblical undertones, he said that he wanted not thousands but tens of thousands, and that if his voice could reach beyond these walls, it would go forth to the young men of Israel to “come and help us”, to which there were again huge cheers! He described officers and men as “a band of brothers”.

They would “fight together”, Patterson said, “and some of us may die together”, but “We do know what we shall do together: we shall march on to victory”, again resulting in huge cheers from the men and guests. Patterson later told the Daily Mail, “I have a fine, hard, well-disciplined and eager lot of troops. They mean to give a good account of themselves whatever duty is assigned them. I have not the slightest doubt that they will”.

The Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz then gave his Benediction to the men reminding them that every Jewish soldier held the honour of his people in his hand; they would be, he said, worthy successors of the ancient Jewish warriors – the Maccabeans; the response was deafening! He reminded them that in this great struggle British ideals were consistent with Jewish ideals and quoting the Psalms asked that “The Guardian of Israel who slumbers not , neither does he sleep, have you all in his keeping, that he may bless your going out and your coming in, evermore”. And then amid great emotion the Hatikvah was sung, followed by “God save the King”.

After the lunch, the troops marched - still accompanied by the band of the Coldstream Guards - to entrain at Waterloo  (for Southampton docks, where they met the second half of the battalion, to embark on February 5th). They were decorated with the flowers from the tables at Camperdown House. With a Sepher Torah (Torah Scroll) at the head of the procession, given by Captain and Mrs Israel Fredman, the Rev Lipson had presented it to the troops saying, “I give into your keeping this Book of the Law, to be in all circumstances and at all times your never failing guide…in the remote past, the Law went forth from Zion; happy are you that take it unto Zion, to establish the Sacred Land”. As the troops marched away, many religious Jews lining the route manifested their traditional respect to the Scroll as it was carried ahead of the marching columns. Strong stuff indeed!

One un-named eye witness writing in the Jewish Chronicle on Feb. 8th describes how the Zionist Flag (today’s Israeli flag) was the last thing he saw as the train left Waterloo station to “the lusty farewells of the men” amid the tears of the waving relatives.

Tributes flowed in. The Lord Mayor wrote to Lord Rothschild, saying how much pleasure he had in taking the salute at Mansion House and how he was “greatly struck by their soldier like appearance and the smartness and good spirits which they all exhibited”. Likewise, Sheriff G R Blades wrote to Mr Landa in similar vein. One letter in the JC (8/2/1918) reminded readers that even the Daily Mail – “not among our best friends” – had stated, “it was a great day for Jewish London…with martial pride and bearing distinguished badges of service, the members of the Jewish battalion marched past with smart military appearance ….to the admiration of the crowds”.

Patterson himself wrote “This march of the Jewish soldiers, unique in English history, proved a brilliant success…the scenes of enthusiasm…rocked with fervour….the people roared to welcome their own and …Jewish banners hung everywhere”.

Equally some bile also flowed. The East London Observer (9/2/1918) stated that “the military authorities are to be congratulated on deciding” not to give the battalion a “distinctive Jewish title, and to drop all the nonsense about the Shield of David. The regiment will be known as the 38th Royal Fusiliers”. However, they did add - under the avuncular headline “Our Own Judeans” – that “no feeling need exist as to the exceptional treatment accorded to the new regiment …because the circumstances are quite peculiar and there was obvious advantage (adding the back handed compliment) from a recruiting point of view…the men bore themselves bravely and (they added patronisingly) had in large measure assimilated some of the best traditions of Thomas Atkins Esq.”. They go “to meet the Infidel Turk who has been so long the tyrant of Jerusalem”. The Jewish World noted that “the most telling (comment) was the disgusting letter from the egregious Joseph Bannister which the “Globe” (newspaper) thought it consistent with the ideas of the decency of English journalism to print” (unfortunately, the author was unable to trace this pearl of wisdom).  

The Jewish Chronicle meanwhile noted (22/2/1918) that the “tongue of malice is we know impossible to restrain” and that even though every man was a volunteer, some “have spread about two stories….that large numbers of the Judeans took advantage of the march in order to desert…and that their behaviour (on the march) was reprehensible…both are absolute unmitigated falsehoods”.  Meanwhile the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette offered the following piece of priceless anti-Semitism as he observed the Jewish soldiers; “….the heavy , high cheeked-boned countenance of the Russian predominated, though there were a few stubby round-headed figures which looked as though they had got into khaki by mistake……their speech however betrayed the men more than their appearance. It is a curious fact that in spite of their marked linguistic ability, Jewish people may live in England almost all their lives without losing that tell-tale accent”.  Such was the anti-Semitism of the time, and oh so ignorant and hypocritical! For the British Bantam battalions which had lately been formed were made up of the very short, stunted men of the industrial cities and mining areas of Britain who had previously been turned down as unfit for the military, as manpower shortages became so desperate and more cannon fodder was required!

In total the battalion appears to have marched over eight miles that day, including the last section to Waterloo station. From Southampton they sailed on the SS Antrim to Cherbourg and thence by train to Lyons en route to Egypt.

In conclusion, we should bear in mind how significant a day this was in Jewish history. It is too easy for Jews today, living in a country where we enjoy such freedom and in a world where Israel is strong and well established, to forget how astonishing it must have been, how hugely symbolic, for Jews who had fled terrible persecutions in Europe, to reach freedom in Britain, and witness a Jewish regiment going off to fight to liberate Eretz Israel. And it all happened in Whitechapel.

Awards to the 38th Battalion
1 DSO, 5 MC’s (3 with bars), 1 DCM, 6 MM’s, 8 MiD’s
1 officer and 31 men killed; 4 wounded
I would sincerely like to thank the amazing Clive Bettington, Founder and Chair of JEECS, for commissioning and inspiring me to write this article; the Tower Hamlets Local History Library staff; Harold Pollins, formerly Tutor at Ruskin College Oxford; staff at the St James’s library, Westminster; the staff of the Colindale British Library of Newspapers and The British Library, Euston; Imperial War Museum Film Archives; Jenny Ruthven, Special Collections, University of Southampton.
Appendix 1
Below is most of the report of the Jewish World newspaper of 6/2/1918 page 5, about the March; it says it all:
“Never before has London beheld the proud sight presented to it on Monday last, when some hundreds of the Judeans, as the Regiment of Jewish soldiers has come to be fondly known, marched through the City prior to taking their departure from England….this splendid body of troops would have done credit to any section of the British Army, either on the score of physique, of smart soldierly bearing or of intelligence. Yet they were drawn almost entirely from “foreign” Jews; they were made up of the oft despised aliens; in private life they were just tailors or cigar-makers, or some of the crafts that are plied in the East End of London…it was a stirring spectacle to see these men executing in excellent style a difficult  turning movement in order to wheel round to the Mansion House …….it was heartening to hear their lusty singing of the Hatikvah , alternately to their fine rendering of the National Anthem. And every worthy emotion that can stir Jews must have been aroused when these brave lads, with swinging gait, marched to their station to their journey, to the Land of Jewish Hope, at their head as their Regimental “mascot” – a Sepher Torah! In the annals of London Jewry no event more pregnant with strains of thought more redolent of the best aspirations of our people is recorded, than this march of the Judeans. In the annals of this great country, no event has happened reflecting more than this the true glory and true magnificence of Britain, nor are more typical of its real might.
The leading members of the Jewish community who saw the admiration and respect which the Regiment evoked  from all sorts and conditions of men and women on the line of route, the deep impression it made upon the authorities, must have thought of their crassness in opposing the formation of a Jewish Regiment at the beginning of the war…even though these soldiers are not the best of Anglo-Jewry, made up for the most part of Russian born Jews, brought up and nurtured in conditions that do not tend to physical prowess…it is difficult to think of what might have been had a Jewish Regiment been given to the government, as was proposed, for the great struggle. The march was the best, the most effective, the most crushing answer to any anti-Semitic gibe or any anti-Jewish screed”.
And from J B Schectman’s , “Rebel and Statesman; the Jabotinsky story” (New York, Yoseloff, 1956, pages 249-50) a political statement which resounds to this day; “Now when Jabotinsky’s dream became triumphant reality, both the assimilationist  Lords and the masses of the East End, who had so belligerently opposed him (Jabotinsky), and reviled him, were ecstatic in their joy and pride…..including Major Lionel Rothschild  - one of the Legion’s belligerent opponents – looking important  and proud, taking a delight in something he narrowly failed to destroy”. Patterson added “the scene was unparalled in the history of any previous British battalion…Jabotinsky must have rejoiced to see the fruits of his efforts; the same day he had been gazetted to a Lieutenancy in the battalion”.
Recommended Reading
Ben-Zvi, Itzhak, The Hebrew Battalions. Letters of Izhak Ben-Zvi, translated from the Hebrew by Taffi Baker and Margalit Banayal, 1969.
Maurice Bleifeld, ‘The historic march of the Jewish Legion ‘, American Zionist, 68 (6), 1978, pp. 25-8.
Cecil Bloom, ‘Colonel Patterson: soldier and Zionist’, Jewish Historical Studies: Trans. of the Jewish Hist. Soc. Of England, 31, 1990, pp. 231-48.
Yigal Elam,  Ha-Gedudim ha-Ivriyim be-milhemet ha-olam ha-rishonah, 1973
Roman Freulich, Soldiers in Judea, Stories and Vignettes of the  Jewish Legion; NY, Herzl Press 1964,  preface by Edwin Herbert, Viscount Samuel.
Elias Gilner, War and Hope: a History of the Jewish Legion, New York, 1969.
Rodney Gouttman, An Anzac Zionist Hero: The Life of Lt.Colonel EliazerMargoilin, 2006
Vladimir Jabotinsky, Megilat Ha-Gedud: sidur ha-gedudim ha-Ivriyim be-milhemet ha-olam he-rishonah, 1991
Vladimir Jabotinsky, The Story of the Jewish Legion, 1945.
Jewish Regiment Committee, The Jewish Regiment Committee: Aug. 1917, to Aug.1919, Report, 1919. [Bodleian Library, Oxford.]
Zachariah Kay, ‘A Note on Canada and the formation of the Jewish Legion’, Jewish Social Studies, xxix, no 3, 1967, pp. 171-7. 
J.H. Patterson, With the Judaeans in Palestine, 1922.
J.H. Patterson, With the Zionists in Gallipoli,1916.
Harold Pollins, 'The Jewish Legion and the First World War', Jewish Journal of Sociology, vol. 47, nos 1 & 2, 2005, pp.54-63.
Joseph B. Schechtman, The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story, volume 1, Rebel and Statesman, 1956.
Alan Sillitoe, ‘Patterson the Zionist’ Jewish Quarterly, 28 (4) (no. 105), pp.16-18.
Cyril Silvertown, ‘The “righteous colonel:” and the Jewish Legion’, Jewish Quarterly, 32 (2) (no. 118), pp. 37-40.
Patrick Streeter, Mad for Zion: a Biography of Colonel J. H. Patterson, 2004.
Martin Sugarman, 'The Jewish Labour Corps. A Vanished and rediscovered unit of the First World War' (in his 'Two notes on Jews on active service') , Jewish Historical Studies. Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 2004, vol 39 pp.177-8.
Martin Sugarman, ‘The Zion Muleteers’, The Military Advisor, Summer 1996, pp. 24-31.
Maurice Tarl, ‘Fighting Jews ... Colonel Patterson’s mob ... Jewish contribution to HM Forces in the First World War’, Jewish Chronicle, 14 November 1975, p. 14.
Bernard Wasserstein, Herbert Samuel: A Biography, 1992 (re opposition to separate Jewish military participation.)
Martin Watts,The Jewish Legion and the First World War, Palgrave MacMilan, 2004.
Photos of The Royal Fusiliers:

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers.The King's own Schneiders. Schneider is Yiddish for Tailor

The Kings own Schneiders

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers displaying the flag of the Zionist movement

The Royal Fusiliers

The Royal Fusiliers

website copyright of Philip Walker