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Jewish Defense Organizations: The Jewish Labour Corps

by Martin Sugarman

In the Public Record Office file WO 329/2359 (a Medal Roll of the First World War), about forty sheets into the un-numbered pages, is a list of 189 names of the Jewish Labour Corps who fought in Gallipoli.

Typed  along the top of the first page  is the comment, “Prepared in accordance with War Office letter NW/2/18747 (A.G.4. Medals), 3rd March 1928”  and that the “ individuals are entitled to The British War Medal (Bronze)”. The pages are signed by Lt H. Wetherall.

Unusually, attached to the first page are copies of  War Office letters which in summary explain that the unit was formed in Egypt separately from the Zion Mule Corps but may have been mis-named as the 2nd battalion of that Corps, and that the army numbers range from 1 to 320 with gaps. One letter says that the rates of pay were 1/- (5p) per day for a Labourer, 1/6d  (7.5 p) for a Ganger, 2/- (10p) for a foreman and £12/10- (£12-50) per month for the Superintendent (who was called Bension Ventura) . All the men were enlisted between the 15th and 22nd April 1915 and served only until 22nd and 28th May 1915.

The entry was not made in the Medal Roll until May 14th 1928 and clearly there had been some appeal from the veterans about receipt of the medal which had not till then been forthcoming. Another letter  is evidence of this, as it is between the War Office in London and the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria and Zion Mule Corps Commission (Veterans),  in Alexandria,  discussing the medal issue.

A quick cross reference with the Zion Mule Corps Roll in the British Jewry Book of Honour shows  clearly that the names are NOT included among those  of the ZMC and so these men were definitely a separate group. Equally, I could find none of the names among other Jewish units (The Jewish Royal Fusiliers) or the Labour Corps in the Book of Honour. They all have very Sephardi names and are clearly locally enlisted  Egyptian and  Israeli Jews.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly, these mens’ names were all therefore mistakenly omitted from the compilation by Chief  Rabbi Adler of the British Jewry Book of Honour in 1922. This author’s  discovery thus adds a further 189 names to the splendid record of  Jewish British and Empire personnel in WWI.

None of the many standard works on Gallipoli mention this Corps [1], although this is not surprising given that the Zion Mule Corps were also largely ignored until recently in official and unofficial British written histories of the campaign [2].   Research by the author at the Public Records Office revealed no mention of the Corps at all in  General Routine Orders or Army Orders for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force/Mediterranean/Gallipoli areas for the time period, nor in the Cabinet Records  (CAB) for that time. Furthermore, none of the men have Medal Index Cards or personal Army Records. Whilst there are many,  albeit brief,  references to the Zion Mule Corps, there is nothing referring to the Jewish Labour Corps at all in any of the many files referring to the establishment of the ZMC and the Jewish Legion (Royal Fusiliers Jewish battalions).

A search through the Jewish Chronicle newspaper for the 1915 period and that for 1928 (when the medals were issued) also resulted in no mention whatsoever of the JLC. Nor is there any mention in the Army Council Instructions for 1915 or 1928.

However, advice from a fellow researcher [3] led me to a file on the embarkation of units from Alexandria [4] on  HMV  Trevillard on 17th –19th April 1915, of  148 labourers and  2 officers (Major  S. Hutchins and Lt  F.  Hodsell)  of the Jewish Labour Corps. This indeed was final proof, if any were needed, of the participation of this group in the tragic and costly but magnificent Dardanelles Campaign of World War One.

[1] Especially Brig.- Gen. Aspinall-Oglander , ” Military Operations Gallipoli ”, 2 Volumes,  Heinemann 1929, London.

[2] “The Zion Muleteers  of  Gallipoli ”, by Martin Sugarman, Jewish Historical Society of England,  Vol 36,  pp. 113-139 1999-2000; also in Military Advisor (USA), Journal of Military History; Gallipoli Association Journal; AJEX Journal; Gunfire Journal; Manna Magazine.

[3] Ivor Lee of Banffshire; with thanks for the contact to Harold Pollins of Oxford

[4]    PRO WO25/3541

Sources: Martin Sugerman, Reprinted with Permission