BORN LONDON, MAY 28, 1925. DIED LONDON, SEPTEMBER 28, 2007, AGED 82.
SECOND WORLD War sailor, amateur boxer and volunteer fighter in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, East End-born Joseph Brooks trained the new state’s fledgling navy.
He was six when his mother died. His father, Mordechai, a silversmith and market trader, placed him for six years in the West Norwood Jewish orphanage. Twice he ran away.
From 12-14 he attended the Jews’ Free School in Stepney. In 1940, a year under age, he joined the merchant navy as a deckhand. After sailing along the North African coast, he crossed the Atlantic to collect and deliver oil.
On his second crossing, he missed his ship back from Sydney. He promptly joined the Australian army, was placed in a landing craft unit and landed troops in the South Pacific.
Demobilised in 1945, he worked his passage home for nine months, repatriating Australian and Indian prisoners-of-war, and taking Gurkhas to support the French army in Vietnam.
Once home, he joined Jewish exservicemen fighting Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement and became eager to see a Jewish state in British mandate Palestine. In 1947 he was recruited at Hyde Park Speaker’s Corner for Menachem Begin’s Irgun organisation.
At his father’s request, Joe consulted his rabbi before travelling to Marseilles to board an ex-American ship carrying surplus arms for the Irgun. It was the ill-fated Altalena, which sailed in June 1948, shortly after Israel’s declaration of independence.
The ship was refused entry by Israel’s prime minister, David Ben Gurion, who ordered it to be bombed off Tel Aviv rather than let Begin receive arms. At the highly controversial bombing, Joe was on shore in a landing craft with the wounded from earlier skirmishes.
In the chaos he and his charges were spirited away to hospitals and safe houses. They then joined Irgun units in fierce fighting around Jerusalem until a truce was declared in July.
A week later he was sent to Haifa to train an Israeli navy comprising two corvettes. In October, when fighting resumed, its first mission was to sink two Egyptian ships off Gaza.
By night two Israeli frogmen each rammed a ship with a small TNT-filled boat and swam back to Joe’s waiting boat. The flagship “King Farouk” was sunk and the other ship disabled. The British thought the Israelis had submarines. It was Joe’s proudest moment.
In 1949 he returned to London, marrying Trudi Smith in 1950. Known as “king of the road”, he transported and sold clothes until 70, and worked at his son’s legal practice until 80.
He was presented with the Israel Independence War Ribbon Medal in 1992 by Yitzhak Rabin during a visit to Britain, and was a volunteer guide at the Ajex Military Museum.
He is survived by his wife, Trudi, two daughters, Lorraine and Michelle, son Keith and six grandchildren.