Joseph Brooks


The Jewish Chronicle - - OBITUARIES -

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.

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