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
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.jewishmuseum.org.uk.
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