Jews ‘not wanted to fight Ger­many’

Lo­cal au­thor and his­to­rian DJ Kelly ex­plains why so many young Jewish men signed up to join Bucks reg­i­ments dur­ing the First World War

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - PEOPLE AND PLACES -

WHEN re­search­ing the fallen of the 1914-18 war, the first port of call is of­ten a church­yard memo­rial. Ob­vi­ously, these do not give the full pic­ture.

The Ger­man in­va­sion of Bel­gium in 1914 fu­elled anti-Ger­man feel­ing in Bri­tish so­ci­ety. Back then how­ever, many Bri­tish peo­ple could not dis­tin­guish be­tween for­eign names. An up­surge of xeno­pho­bia and jin­go­ism cre­ated an un­for­tu­nate cli­mate of dis­trust and dis­crim­i­na­tion as far as our Jewish com­mu­ni­ties were con­cerned.

In 1914, few Jewish peo­ple were liv­ing in Buck­ing­hamshire, the near­est sub­stan­tial com­mu­nity be­ing in Lon­don’s East End. At the out­break of war, many Jews tried to en­list but, shame­fully, many were turned away from recruitment cen­tres with the re­buff, ‘Lord Kitch­ener does not want any more Jews in the army’. The press re­ported the dif­fi­cul­ties st End Jews were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in ing specif­i­cally to join Lon­don’s ack­ney Reg­i­ment. Con­versely, her ar­eas of the press un­fairly cused Jews of be­ing ‘un­pa­tri­otic’ d not en­list­ing. Even be­fore con­scrip­tion was tro­duced, how­ever, at least 0,000 Jewish men did man­age to nlist – 1,140 of them as of­fi­cers.

But to do so, many had to at­test s Chris­tians.

Ex­act fig­ures for Jewish nlist­ment are un­known but they re likely to be much higher than his.

Jewish women, in­clud­ing Mar­guerite Dis­raeli, niece of Hugh­en­den-based Jewish for­mer prime min­is­ter Ben­jamin Dis­raeli, also vol­un­teered as nurses and VADs (Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment).

It was pro­posed in sev­eral quar­ters that there should be a spe­cific Jewish bat­tal­ion but this was re­sisted, the Jewish boys of Bri­tain pre­fer­ring to serve along­side fel­low coun­try­men.

In 1915, Ma­jor Lionel de Roth­schild MP, a Wad­des­don-based lead­ing lay mem­ber of An­glo-Jewry, es­tab­lished a Cen­tral Jewish Re­cruit­ing Com­mit­tee at his City of Lon­don bank.

This ex­plains the re­mark­able phe­nom­e­non of thou­sands of East End Jews end­ing up in Buck­ing­hamshire reg­i­ments. Roth­schild ac­cepted re­cruits for all the Bucks reg­i­ments, in­clud­ing the Royal Bucks Hus­sars, Royal Bucks Yeo­manry and Bucks Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps.

Of the 61 Jews who vol­un­teered for the Ox­ford and Buck­ing­hamshire Light In­fantry, 57 died in ac­tion, as did 24 who joined the Bucks mili­tia (fore­run­ner of the Ter­ri­to­ri­als).

The 1916 Mil­i­tary Ser­vice Act brought in con­scrip­tion for el­i­gi­ble men of all faiths. Jewish recruitment now soared, as did the num­ber of Jewish ca­su­al­ties and deaths ap­pear­ing in the Jewish Chron­i­cle. A list of Jewish men who served with the OBLI may be searched on­line at www.jew­ish­mu­

Buck­ing­hamshire au­thor DJ Kelly ex­plores this and many other as­pects of the lo­cal ef­fects of con­flict in her book The Chal­fonts and Ger­rards Cross at War.

Percy Levy (above) was one of hun­dreds of Jewish men who signed up to fight for Bucks reg­i­ments in the First World War; (below left) the Hon­ourable Cap­tain Neil Prim­rose MC, son of Lord Rose­bury and grand­son of the de Roth­schilds, died in Pales­tine in 1917 lead­ing a charge of the Bucks Hus­sars; (below right) the grave, in Willes­den Jewish Cemetery, of Ma­jor Evelyn Achille de Roth­schild, who was killed in ac­tion in Pales­tine in Novem­ber 1917 while serv­ing with the Royal Buck­ing­hamshire Hus­sars

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