Pre World War 1 map of the region
World War I began in Europe in the summer of 1914 with major battles between the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary versus the Triple Alliance of the United Kingdom, France and Russia.
Do you remember that fact from your World History classes?
The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) joined with the Central Powers and attacked the British at the Suez Canal in January 1915.
In an attempt to put pressure on Germany and Turkey, Britain sent warships to the Dardanelle Straits in April 1915, planning to sail up the narrow, 60-mile-long waterway to shell Constantinople and break through to the Black Sea to relieve German pressure on Russia. Many of the ships were sunk or badly damaged up by Turkish shore artillery and naval mines and the rest were forced to retreat.A subsequent amphibious landing of British, French, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli met with stiff resistance. A long eight month slug-fest ensued with an estimated 250,000 wounded and dead on both sides.
Ottoman soldiers departing Jerusalem through the Old City’s Lions Gate in 1915. Destination: Gallipoli
(Ottoman Empire Archives)
We discovered the picture above in the newly digitized Ottoman Empire Archives with a caption explaining the Turkish troops were heading off to fight on Gallipoli. The photo could explain the next two 1915 photos we found that were missing captions.
|Was this picture of soldiers taken at the same time
in front of the Al Aqsa Mosque? The Lion’s Gate is
very close to this location. (Ottoman Empire Archives)
|This group of soldiers, also in front of the al-Aqsa
Mosque, is identified as having come from Medina
in the Arabian Peninsula. Was it taken before they
went to Gallipoli? (Ottoman Empire Archives)
The Zion Mule Corps and Gallipoli
InThe Zion Muleteers of Gallipoli, the author Martin Sugarman, wrote, “In March 1915 the Zion Mule Corps became the first regular Jewish fighting force to take active part in a war since the defeat of the Bar Kochba Revolt 2000 years ago. Some of its men later formed the core of what was to become the modern Israeli army.”
The Jewish corps was formed in British-held Egypt and consisted of local Egyptian Jews, Jewish exiles from Turkish-ruled Palestine, and British officers. Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson commanded the unit; officers included Zev Jabotinsky and Yosef Trumpledor who were expelled from Palestine.
|A British soldier leading his pack mule with supplies for the front on Gallipoli(Imperial War Museum)|
|John Henry Patterson|
The new Corps, Sugarman related, “was officially designated a Colonial Corps of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and was to include a maximum of 737 men…. They were allocated 20 horses for officers and NCOs and 750 pack mules.”
The Corps’ mission was to take supplies, such as water and ammunition, to the fighting forces at the Gallipoli front. Often they were under heavy Turkish fire and bombardment.
Sugarman revealed, “Their courage even reached the ears of the Turkish Commander in Palestine, Djemal Pasha, who was indignant that a unit of Palestinian Jews were fighting against the Turks in Gallipoli. To placate the Turkish authorities” Sugarman continued, “the Jewish Community in Palestine proclaimed it wrong to fight for the British, and even organized a protest against them in Jerusalem.”
The Gallipoli War was an utter failure for the British. All British and ANZAC troops were withdrawn in December 1915. The disaster at Gallipoli stained the reputation of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, who resigned from government.
But the Corps excited the Jewish world, and while the Zion Mule Corps was but a colonial, auxiliary, supposedly non-combat unit, it served as the inspiration and training ground for the Jewish Legion, Haganah, and the Israel Defense Forces.
History of Jews involvement in the Conflict
In December 1914 in Alexandria there were perhaps 11,000 Jewish refugees, three quarters of them Russian-speaking and the remainder mainly Sephardim who had fled Palestine, or who had been expelled by the Turkish authorities. About 1200 , who were being cared for by the Egyptian Jewish community and the British military authorities, were housed in barracks at Gabbari and Mafruza under Mr Hornblower, Inspector of Refugees with the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior. Individual ration cards entitled each to three meals a day and to work inside, but not outside, the camp. Boats brought more refugees every few days from Palestine, most of them aboard an American war ship, the USS Tennessee , on which band music was played to maintain passenger morale. Many of the younger refugees were keen to help liberate Palestine from Turkish rule and so help realize the dream of a Jewish homeland, and were further encouraged by distressing news reaching Alexandria of Turkish ill treatment of Jews who had remained in Palestine .
On the evening of 3 March 1915 a Jewish committee of eight had met at the apartment of Mordechai Margolin, or Margolis, an oil-company representative, at the Gabbari barracks. The Zionist leaders Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor, who had met only a few days before, presented a plan for raising a Jewish Legion to Dr Weitz, a physician; Victor Gluskin of the Rishon Le Zion Wine Growers Association; G. Kaplan, an American businessman; Z. D. Levontin of the Anglo-Palestine Bank; and Akiva Ettinger an agronomist . Five voted in favour, two were against and one abstained. On 12 March, about 200 Jews met in a hall, consisting of converted stables, in the Mafruza barracks to discuss the proposal and, after a passionate speech by Jabotinsky, 180 signed a seven-line resolution written in Hebrew on a page torn from an exercise book.
Many on the British side believed it would benefit the war effort to have a Jewish fighting unit, not only because the myth of Jewish financial wealth was deep-rooted in British upper-class circles, still tinged with anti-Semitism, but because of widespread support by Christian Zionists for helping Jews reclaim their ancient homeland. The committee then took three representatives of the volunteers to Cairo, to see the War Office Minister responsible, Ronald Graham. He was sympathetic, but told them to approach the British Commander in Egypt, General Maxwell, who met the delegation, led by Jabotinsky, on 15 March. The General said he was unable, under the Army Act, to enlist foreign nationals as fighting troops, but that he could form them into a volunteer transport Mule Corps. They would be fully trained for combat, but he could not promise that they would be sent to Palestine rather than elsewhere on the Turkish front. The Act forbade their numbers exceeding 2 percent of any Army Corps to which they were attached and he suggested they be called ‘The Assyrian Jewish Refugee Mule Corps’ .
The delegation held an all-night meeting and resolved to reject the proposal, since many were being taught military drill by former Russian Jewish soldiers and felt it demeaning to enter the Allied armies as a ‘donkey battalion’. But Trumpeldor said, ‘we’ve got to smash the Turk. On which front you begin is a question of tactics; any front leads to Zion’ .
With three other members he called a meeting at the same Mafruza barrack room on 19 March and gave a rousing speech to the volunteers who were addressed also by Patterson, Hornblower and Major-General Alexander Godley. Captain Holdich spoke for General Maxwell and a Mr Gordon acted as Hebrew interpreter. They heard how it would be the first time in British history that non-Britons or non-colonials were to be admitted as a unit into the British forces. Patterson explained that the soldier who carries ammunition and supplies to the trenches requires no less courage than the man who fires a rifle and Godley declared that ‘Today the English People have entered into a covenant with the Jewish People’.
On 22 March 1915 Patterson, backed by Godley, was appointed commander of the force he was to recruit, with Captain Trumpeldor as Second-in-Command. They left Cairo for Alexandria, where the Jewish refugees were living, to set up headquarters at 14 Rue Sesostris. With the help of leading members of the Jewish community, especially the Grand Rabbi Professor Raphael de la Pergola, he swore in the first 500 volunteers at Gabbari, just outside Alexandria, on 31 March. The Grand Rabbi officiated, with many other local dignitaries present, and an emotional telegram of encouragement was read out from Israel Zangwill, the British author and enthusiast for settling the Holy Land, who later described Patterson in the Jewish Chronicle of 28 August 1915 ‘as the soul of chivalry and gentleness’. The rabbi referred movingly to Patterson as a second Moses who would lead the Children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land and distributed a booklet listing British favours to Jews and bidding them to be good soldiers. It contained rules for behaviour towards officers and apt quotations from the Bible.
The Jewish Chronicle reported that Zangwill’s telegram had referred to this ‘Welcome omen for their happy return to Palestine’, but Zangwill wrote to the editor on 7 May 1915 to say that his ‘telegram had been toned down by the local military censor’. Colonel Patterson had indeed invited the assembled troops to ‘Pray with me that I should not only, as Moses, behold Canaan from afar, but be divinely permitted to lead you into the Promised Land’.
The Russian Consul in Alexandria, Petrov, demanded that the Egyptian and British authorities send the Russian Jews back to Russia to enlist in the Russian army. But the Grand Rabbi used contacts to foil the plot, with the help of Jabotinsky and Edgar Suares, a local Jewish banker .
The new Corps was officially designated a Colonial Corps of the EEF –Egyptian Expeditionary Force – and was to include a maximum of 737 men, all of whom are named in The British Jewry Book of Honour[xx] . They were allocated twenty horses for officers and NCOs and 750 pack mules to be purchased in Alexandria. Wooden carriers to fit the pack saddles were made locally, each designed to carry four four-gallon water-cans, also made locally. Five British and eight Jewish officers were appointed, the latter receiving 40 percent less pay than the British, doubtless in line with payment of colonial officers. The Corps consisted of four troops, each with two officers, a troop including four sections each commanded by a sergeant, each section split into sub-sections under a corporal. Orders were given in English and Hebrew. The Grand Rabbi was nominated Honorary Chaplain.
Patterson’s most famous Jewish officer was Captain Joseph Trumpeldor, born in Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus in 1880, who had lost his left arm serving in the Russian army at the siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. The siege collapsed and he was imprisoned by the Japanese, yet on his release he asked to return to his duties rather than accept the discharge to which he was entitled, and in recognition was commissioned, only the second Jew to become an officer in the history of the Russian army. He received the Gold Cross of the Order of St George for gallantry no fewer than five times from the Czar. This tall, fearless, Socialist who had graduated in Law and Dentistry from St Petersburg University, sacrificed his career in Russia by leaving for Palestine in 1912 to work the soil at Migdal on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and was forced into exile in 1914. Patterson described him as ‘the bravest man I ever knew’.
Numerous testimonies to Trumpelor’s fearlessness are known and he frequently exposed himself to Turkish gunfire – even on horseback – to encourage his men. In his own words, Trumpeldor writes “And this is how I was wounded. At 2:15 p.m. the rifle and shell fire grew more intense…suddenly one of our men came riding up crying out that a man was wounded…I rode off to the spot…and when all this was done mounted my horse to ride back…when I felt as if someone had given me a hearty blow on the left shoulder. The stars on my epaulette tinkled and I thought the bullet …had knocked it off. When I arrived at the camp…they examined my shoulder and found a little hole in my tunic…I took off my tunic and to everyone’s surprise it turned out that the bullet had passed through almost the entire thickness of my shoulder and was sticking out on the other side…the doctor gripped at the end of the bullet with his pincers and pulled….but the bullet did not come out. He cut away a little of the flesh and pulled again….but the bullet would not come out. He cut away some more….but still it would not come out…finally the doctor took a good grip of the bullet and began to twist as if he were drawing a cork out of a bottle…then the bullet came out…!!
(Indeed, Major John Ford, formerly of the RAMC, in an interview given when he was aged 85 in 1984, related how, on an overnight train to Baghdad where he was spending leave during the Second World War, he had been wished good evening in broken English by a man in a shabby raincoat who then took it off to reveal an RAMC Colonel’s uniform. They began to talk about the Great War medal ribbons each was wearing and soon discovered that the Colonel, had been a private in the Zion Mule Corps on the Hymettus (see below) in 1915 at the same time as Ford. He was now the Middle East British Army Chief Malariologist! Ford was unable to remember his name and enquiries at the RAMC museum have failed to identify who he was).
Patterson set up camp at Wardian, 3 miles outside Alexandria, on 2 April 1915 and wrote, ‘never since the days of Judah Maccabee had such sights and sounds been seen and heard in a military camp – with the drilling of uniformed soldiers in the Hebrew language’ (in fact, Yiddish was also used, as 75 percent of the men were of Russian origin and Yiddish was their common language). Their badge consisted of the Star of David and Patterson noted in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle on 24 March 1916 how ‘sometimes I would meet a General who would be puzzled out of his life by the Magen David but naturally would not care to admit his ignorance. When he found out what it meant, he would say “Oh yes! I know – and very good work your Corps has done too”.’ The Corps also made a blue-and-white Zionist flag to fly alongside the Union Jack. Although it was a mule corps, all were equipped with rifles and bayonets, as they were expected to be a fighting unit as well. Some sources claim the rifles were captured from the Turks at the Suez Canal, but others say they were drawn from the stores of the Egyptian police.
Intense training went on for only three weeks as they were under orders to sail soon for Gallipoli to supply front-line troops with food, water and ammunition. The newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force to Gallipolli, General Sir Ian Hamilton, carried out a spot inspection and was delighted with the workman-like appearance of the Corps after so little training.
At Passover, which began on 30 March 1915, Patterson, known to his men as the ‘Collon-el’, fought unfriendly attitudes in high places to procure his men Kosher food and Matzah for the celebrations in which he participated. At the end of their training the Corps paraded and marched 3 miles to the Great Synagogue in Alexandria where they were blessed by the Grand Rabbi and cheered by the local population. The Corps then sailed on 17 April in two ships, HMT Hymettus (which took the two ‘Palestinian’ troops and the HQ company) and HMT Anglo-Egyptian (with the two local Alexandrian troops), carrying thirty days of forage for the mules and rations for the men. As they left Alexandia harbour the band of the USS Tennessee played a farewell march. But the men of the Zion Mule Corps on the Hymettus could be heard singing the Hatikvah, the Zionist anthem.
The voyage to Lemnos – springboard for the attack on Gallipoli – was uneventful save for an unsuccessful submarine attack on the French transport ship Manitou, just in front of those of the Mule Corps. The volunteers did learn, however, that the Jewish officers were not permitted to eat in the British officers’ mess, at which Trumpeldor protested strongly to Patterson, but in vain.
They reached Lemnos on 20 April where the Corps astonished English soldiers by chatting freely in Russian with the crew of the Russian cruiser Askold anchored with them in the harbour of Mudros. On 23 April Patterson was informed that the Corps was to be divided into two, the Hymettus group (about 300 men) to accompany the 29th Division as planned, and the remainder, mostly Palestinian volunteers, to be assigned to the Anzac Division. Patterson foresaw that since he was not with the Anzac group, the men – unused to soldiering, with little English and with unfamiliar officers – would become demoralized; and after several weeks at the front they were indeed returned to Egypt. The remaining men, with their equipment and animals, were transferred after the Hymettus had run aground to HMT Dundrennon with the help of Indian and New Zealand troops already aboard, and sailed for Gallipoli at 9am on 25 April 25 1915.
Patterson discovered only in late May what had happened to those detatched to the Australians; the Anzacs had demanded that the Corps hand over their animals, after which they were sent back to Alexandria. Second-Lieutenant Zlotnik, who had been with them, related how the Corps had worked well with the Anzacs for several weeks, but that when a ship arrived with other men and animals who disembarked, the Corps troops were ordered aboard; clearly, someone did not approve of the Zion Mule Corps being at Gallipoli. On arrival at Alexandria, when they were not permitted ashore to visit their families, they mutinied and sixty were arrested and seventy-five demobilized. Despite sustaining ten casualties, the Corps had been discourteously treated by their British officers.
At 11am on 25 April the men of the Zion Mule Corps aboard Dundrennon approached Cape Helles at the extreme southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula in the slowly clearing mist, hearing clearly the dull roar of the guns of Allied ships and the Turkish shore batteries. They saw the smoke, flames and debris as high explosives smashed into the beaches and cliffs and saw the circling aircraft and prowling submarines. One, S. Nissenbaum, described how ‘the faces of our comrades grew grim and sombre. It is impossible to describe what was felt.’ The landings had just begun and the battle resembled a scene from hell.
Patterson issued an Order of the Day in Hebrew, saying he ‘trusts everyone will do his work with the utmost speed. Then the 29th Division of the British Army will look with admiration on the Jewish Legion which now has the singular honour of going into battle…to fight side by side with British comrades after only one month of training….
The Dundrennon put the Zion Mule Corps ashore on 27 April at V beach, just to the west of Cape Helles, under the deafening roar of artillery, machine guns and rifles. It had been unable to do so earlier owing to the congestion on the beaches and shortage of tugs. It took them three days to unload in the badly organized shuttle of lighters moving to and from the shore, and carrying ammunition boxes was made more difficult by the behaviour of the animals which, terrified by the gunfire, were running and stumbling into craters and over muddy beaches, having to be pursued and calmed before they were fit for service.
By this time the Corps were badly needed to take up supplies to the front-line trenches holding the bridgehead, and once ashore they went straight to work, forming a human chain from ships to shore passing supplies and water onto land, all the while under enemy fire. In the War Office Order of Battle they were defined as a ‘Line of Communication Unit’. Colonel Patterson, with 200 mules, was ordered to W beach first with water and ammunition, while the remainder finished unloading at V beach under heavy fire. From W beach the Corps worked all night and through the next day taking supplies up to the front, now in pouring rain and biting winds which made the rough paths into mud slides. Men and animals walked up and down wadis and hillsides, through thick bush and across rock strewn slopes, often unknowingly passing through the wire and trenches into the no-man’s-land between the Turkish and Allied lines and being shot at by both sides in the darkness, rain and constant shellfire. Yet by the following dawn, when they were stood down exhausted, only a few men and mules were found to have been wounded.
The following night one man went missing in action, his tunic being found the next day on the battlefield, and few days later Farrier Abraham Frank was killed and Mamoun Makaryov seriously wounded. By 9 May, Moscowitz and Meir Peretz had been killed. When Patterson asked his Commanding Officer, General Hunter-Weston, if fifty volunteers from the Corps could join a frontal attack on Achi Baba hill, permission was refused on the grounds that they were too badly needed to keep the trenches supplied.
Colonel Patterson described in the Jewish Chronicle on 10 September 1915 (while recruiting in Alexandria) how ‘These brave lads who had never seen shellfire before most competently unloaded the boats and handled the mules whilst shells were bursting in close proximity to them … nor were they in any way discouraged when they had to plod their way to Seddul Bahr, walking over dead bodies while the bullets flew around them … for two days and two nights we marched … thanks to the ZMC the 29th Division did not meet with a sad fate, for the ZMC were the only Army Service Corps in that part of Gallipolli at that time.’
They made their first camp and mule lines in a gully near the front where, by a stroke of luck, Sergeant Farrier Leib Schoub discovered a well hidden in the corner of a demolished Turkish farm house, solving the problem of water for the mules. While some slept, parties of men and mules took turns bringing up forage, water and ammunition from the beaches to the front throughout the day and following night. The Corps were the only transport available and were constantly at work.
In one strange incident on V beach, a Zion Mule Corps soldier who had been left guarding the baggage was arrested by some French soldiers. Since he could speak only Russian or Hebrew, which must have sounded like Turkish, and was armed with a captured Turkish rifle and bayonet, he was taken for a spy, court martialled and condemned to be shot. It was only when he was about to be executed against the wall of a nearby ruin that a Zion Mule Corps sergeant realized what was happening and, since he could speak French, averted the tragedy.
That night the Corps slept so well that one man awoke next day to find he had been shot through the leg and had not even woken up. On the night of 1 May the British were saved by a Turkish shell which landed near the mules and caused forty of them to gallop off into the darkness. Turkish soldiers had been creeping in three waves for a surprise night attack on them when the terrified mules, dragging their clanking chains and some of them wounded, careered into the Turks who took them for charging British cavalry. By opening fire they gave away their positions and the British, now aware of the danger, repelled the attack. On 5 May, near Krithia, Private M. Groushkousky distinguished himself by exposing himself fearlessly to Turkish fire while preventing a number of mules from stampeding during an attack. He had been shot through both arms, but kept hold of his mules and delivered his ammunition to the trenches. He was decorated in the field with the DCM by General Stopford personally and promoted to Corporal.
In one strange incident at about this time an English soldier, Sergeant James Matin was carried to a field hospital where doctors found his shin bone splintered. By making a graft from the bone of a dead Corps mule his leg was saved.
A few days later the Zion Mule Corps took part in a pitched battle against the Turkish trenches with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, although they were officially forbidden to do so. Reaching their lines with supplies, the Corps saw that the Inniskillings had been so depleted by casualties that they would need help to attack the Turks. Led by Corporal Elie Hildesheim [xxviii] – later known as Leon Gildesgame, a graduate of the Herziliya Gymnasium – they took part in a charge that routed the Turkish soldiers.
Trumpeldor wrote of the men of the Zion Mule Corps:‘we move in a long line towards the front. Bullets zoom and shells explode … the men are showered with lead fragments … they straighten up … you say more courage? There is courage here indeed!’
On another occasion the men refused to unload sides of bacon on the jetty until the Grand Rabbi granted dispensation. He not only did this, but allowed them to eat it if necessary, whereupon they applied – unsuccessfully on this occasion – for their rejected unkosher rations. A New Zealand officer later wrote how thereafter it always amused the troops to see the Jews of the Zion Mule Corps returning to their cookhouse with little bags of bacon.
Captain Arthur Behrend, a Jewish officer serving with the East Lancashire regiment, wrote in his diary how on 10 May he was sent to enlist the help of the ZMC: ‘I found the Mule Corps in an open meadow. With much saluting I was taken to the C.O., Colonel Patterson … and he handed over a corporal, six men and fourteen mules. “Take great care of my men and dont expose them”, he said as he wished me goodbye. “The mules dont matter so much because they can be replaced more easily.” I returned to our lines followed by the stolid Zionists and the equally stolid mules, and handed all over to our astonished Transport sergeant … half an hour later I strolled across to see how they were getting on and found them all sitting round a big fire with our own transport section, a dixie of tea boiling merrily in the middle. East Lancashire Arabic quickly became the lingua franca because our men had picked up a number of Arabic words in Egypt; equally quickly too the Zionists won respect and affection because despite their over fondness for saluting, they showed a curious disregard for shell fire.’
On 11 May the Corps moved to a new bivouac two miles inland which became their base for the next seven months. Here, several were evacuated like hundreds of others with battle fatigue and disease. During intense shelling on 20 May the Turkish guns, now well ranged in after trench war had been established, seriously wounded several more men and killed a dozen horses and mules. Arthur Behrend wrote that on Sunday 23 May, as the padre arrived to take a service in his lines, a Turkish shell landed, dispersing the congregation. The only soldier who did not move was a Zion Mule Corps man grooming his mule; sadly, a second shell killed him as the mule ran off. According to Colonel Patterson’s list of casualties this was probably Private Katznelsohn  , whose death in action is given as 30 May, just seven days later [xxxiii] .
Around this time, in fighting near The Nek, reports reached Anzac headquarters that Allied Indian troops had been mistaken for Turks. Since the shout, ‘Don’t shoot – Indian Troops!’, had been used as a ruse by Turks raiding Allied trenches, it was briefly feared that Turkish agents were operating behind Allied lines and shouting to trick allied sentries. This brought the ZMC under such suspicion that steps were arranged to withdraw them. However, it transpired that nervous Australian sentries were to blame and the matter died.
In June the Corps were again in the front line at Achi Baba, and when they heard the British singing as they returned to the rest areas, Trumpeldor, determined to go one better, ordered his men to sing on the way up to the front.
During the heat of May, June and July the ZMC doggedly continued its dangerous work in the ever deteriorating situation at Gallipolli. Patterson received dozens of letters from senior officers to whom Zion men were attached in small groups, testifying to the excellent and fearless work of his men, and Corporal Nechemiah Yehuda was often singled out for praise. Their courage even reached the ears of the Turkish Commander in Palestine, Djemal Pasha, who was indignant that a unit of Palestinian Jews were fighting against the Turks in Gallipoli [xxxv] . To placate the Turkish authorities the Jewish Community in Palestine proclaimed it wrong to fight for the British, and even organized a protest against them in Jerusalem. Yet their loyalty was misplaced, for Turkish treatment of the Jews became increasingly oppressive and their Jewish support soon evaporated.
On 4 and 5 June the ZMC distinguished itself taking up ammunition and evacuating the wounded during the Third Battle of Krithia. Private Ben Wertheimer, who was seriously wounded during this month, was the son of a poor Orthodox Jerusalem family. Physically frail and timid, he had arrived in Alexandria with his elderly father in March 1915, incongruously stooped figures with their black gabardines, beards and side curls, and when he was taken to Trumpeldor’s tent to sign up said he was ‘ready to fight for the Land of Israel in the name of the Lord’. The father and son embraced on parting after which young Ben showed himself ready to make sacrifices, shaving his beard and curls and even eating non-kosher food. The men held a party the night before embarking for Gallipoli, but Wertheimer stood and watched from a distance. When Trumpeldor asked him why, he said he was afraid of not measuring up to expectations under fire; Trumpeldor reassured him all would be well.
During the June battles, when a serious situation developed in an area of the front, two mules with urgent supplies of ammunition and food had to be taken up under intense fire. The men were reluctant to volunteer, but Ben Wertheimer stepped forward and said he would go. British troops, including many Jews, watched silently as the stooped figure of this courageous and deeply religious young man left the safety of the trenches with his two laden mules under heavy fire from the Turkish guns. He crossed open terrain that was swept by fire, and fell when he was almost at his goal, struck by shrapnel. But he was dragged into a trench, with the mules and the vital supplies, and then evacuated by hospital ship to Egypt. As he was carried away he said to Trumpeldor, ‘Now, sir, I shall never know the meaning of fear’. He later died of his wounds in Alexandria .
Trumpeldor himself was wounded in the shoulder at this time, but refused to be evacuated. This surprised few people, as he was often seen in the midst of shell and rifle fire, quietly writing letters to his friends as the raw material for the history of the Corps [xxxviii] . (He later died fighting Arab raiders at Tel Hai, northern Palestine, in March 1920.)
Private Nissel Rosenberg, who also brought his supply mules through to the front line under intense fire, although many other reinforcing troops were retreating and being killed, was recommended for a DCM for his bravery and promoted to sergeant, but instead received a Mention in Despatches (announced 18 August 1915), as did Lieutenant C.J. Rolo. Sergeant Mayer Erchkovitz received the DCM as well as being Mentioned in Despatches (7 January 1916).
By the end of July, casualties and illness had brought the Zion Mule Corps to less than half its original strength, although it had to carry out the same volume of work. The intense heat and flies were almost as effective as Turkish shells in producing casualties (by the end of the campaign, over 100 mules had been killed in action), so Patterson was ordered to Alexandria by Hamilton to recruit two fresh troops.
By now, considerable stir had been created among Jews in many parts of the world by the raising of the Zion Mule Corps and by news of its courage in Gallipoli. But the Jewish Chronicle first mentioned only on 9 April 1915 that a ‘Jewish Volunteer Force was in existence in Alexandria among the Jewish refugees from Palestine’. A feature article about the Corps appeared on 30 April.
Private Aaron Ben Joseph was born in 1878 in Baku, South Russia, and spoke Persian and Turkish as well as English, serving as a sharpshooter in the Russo-Japanese War before emigrating to Palestine . He was married and had a carpet business in Jerusalem until his shop was looted by the Turks when war broke out, at which point he fled to Alexandria on an American ship sailing from Jaffa. He never saw his wife again. Here he joined the Zion Mule Corps and writing from Gallipoli described ‘the masses of killed and wounded, dysentry and malaria, the scant food, mostly biscuits. It is summer time and I am lying there, swollen from hunger and lousy, lying among the dead . The Indian troops came to bury us with their shovels. I am weak and am half buried before I manage to say something in Persian. They take me out and give me milk; take me to a hospital ship and then to Lemnos and Alexandria. I get malaria even till now. At Alexandria I get discharge papers and come to England on a ship. In 1916, I enlist again in the RAMC and the Labour Corps and go to Belgium and France. I help the Royal Engineers as I am an expert engineer especially in water. I am discharged because of malaria and neurasthenia.’
On 4 June the Jewish Chronicle reported that Lance-Sergeant Harry Schoenthal, a Jewish soldier with the 29th Cycle Company serving in Gallipolli, had explained in a letter to his father in London that ‘there is something still more interesting, because there is a Jewish battalion here with us …they do not come from home. Have not had a chance to get to speak to anyone of them yet …it is splendid to see so many Jews serving here.’
On 18 June a Jewish naval officer, who before the War had been manager of the Oxford and St George Jewish Youth Club in Stepney, described in a letter to his Club Leader, Sir Basil Henriques, [xliii] how he had heard Yiddish being spoken in the trenches at Gallipolli and on investigation had discovered the Zion Mule Corps. When they refused to believe he was a Jewish British naval officer he showed them his club badge. They were astonished and gave him a captured Turkish bayonet which he claimed as ‘the Club’s property as it was obtained by means of the Club badge’. When he later asked some non-Jewish officers about the ZMC he reported that they said ‘they were most excellent fellows and though they were nearly all merchants and shopkeepers in private life and had no experience of outdoor life, yet they made splendid soldiers and had suffered many losses’.
Yet again on 23 July, a young engineer from Headingley attached to the Royal Naval Division was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post as having ‘met on landing a party of Russian Jews from Palestine who lent us their mules for transport and carried out some wonderful but unostentatious work for us at the Gaba Tepe landing’.
On 25 July, Colonel Patterson, Trumpeldor, Rollo and Groushkowsky sailed to Egypt to recruit a new company, as Hamilton had asked them to expand the Corps. But on arrival they encountered opposition from men who had been returned to Cairo and particularly from the widows for whom Patterson had been unable to obtain War Office pensions.
It would be pertinent here to describe something of the hostility of those in high places in the military establishment to the Jewish Mule Corps and War Office documents kept at the Public Records Office give a rather shameful and yet not unexpected insight into the struggles Col. Patterson had in obtaining equal treatment for his men in the Zion Mule Corps and the racist and stingy attitudes he met at the War Office and Treasury in Whitehall. Much of the debate centered on Patterson’s insistence that the men volunteered on the clear understanding that they would be treated like all other British soldiers, in particular with regard to pensions, and the British Government’s insistence that this was never agreed.
The Roll of Honour reveals the death in action of several Russian Jewish men in the Corps, who had been living in Turkish Palestine in 1914 having fled persecution by the Czar. Writing on Aug 7th 1916 from Portobello barracks in Dublin, home of the 4th battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers, Col. Patterson pleads with Treasury official HW Forster “to once more look kindly on the claims of the Fatherless and Widows of the Zion Mule Corps. Leaving right and justice out of the question, surely it would be good policy to grant pensions to the dependents of the few Russians who were killed or died in England’s service in Gallipolli. The Russian (Jews) who we now ask to serve can point the finger at us and say we have already broken faith with their brothers who died for us fighting the Turks”. He continues, “May I earnestly beg of you to raise your voice on behalf of my dead Zionists and get this little but most important question disposed of favourably”.
Forster’s reply was negative, writing on August 23rd that there is “not sufficient reason to extend the same (ie pension) terms to a Corps which was enlisted under special conditions…..and any such concession is…impossible. General Sir John Maxwell was in the best position to judge its suitability”.
Patterson responded somewhat angrily that “you appear to base all your objections on the fact that Sir John Maxwell recommended so much (ie pay, pension and compensation). May I however point out that the men fought not under General Maxwell but General Hamilton, and he very strongly recommended pensions to be paid the same as for British soldiers. If you have not been shown General Hamilton’s recommendation, I will gladly forward you a copy. General Maxwell knew nothing of the Zion Men’s work in Gallipolli, or he indeed would have made a similar request”.
However, what Col. Patterson probably did not know was that Maxwell was not so kindly disposed, and typically for a man of his class and rank of the time had written to the War Office (13th August 1915 ie a year before) stating that the ZMC was “raised from Russian and Syrian Jew refugees” and that although they “had done and continue to do excellent work on the Gallipolli Peninsula and had incurred many casualties from the enemy and disease” and that “the dependents…..are almost without exception destitute”, he felt able to recommend pensions only for officers and a one off gratuity for other ranks. Indeed a war Office Secretary, B Cubitt, writing to Maxwell on Oct. 12th said, “that to grant the ZMC pensions that would be granted to enlisted British soldiers and their families would be unduly liberal” as they were “only temporary employees”!! They were of course not too temporary to die for the Allied cause.
The parsimonious, racist and classist attitude of the War Office (not to mention their ignorance, as one memo of 21st Aug 1915 referred to the Zion Mule Corps as an Indian unit!) – in complete contrast to Patterson’s efforts for equal treatment – is shown in further correspondence concerning 2nd Lt. Gorodissky. He had died of acute pancreatitis on Aug. 11th 1915 on board the hospital ship “Dunluce Castle” off Cape Helles, leaving a mother in Alexandria. He had been promoted in the field from Sgt Major by Patterson on May 6th, but without reference to higher authority and it had not been officially approved, resulting in refusal of a pension to his family. In correspondence continuing till Jan. 10th 1917, Patterson appealed to General Altham (Inspector General of Communications, EEF) who in a letter to the War Office on Oct 19th 1915 wrote that Gorodissky “had performed the duties of an officer for 4 months and belonged to a well educated middle-class family” and that “the maximum compensation of £75 allowed for an NCO….be increased to £200 in this, a very special case”.
The Treasury finally agreed on £150 – but no pension.
In a further file, correspondence deals with the case of No. 19 Private Polani. On July 16th 1916, Altham – again supporting Patterson – appealed for an increase in Polani’s 50% disabilty gratuity from £18-5s (25p) or one year’s pay at 1s. (5p) per day for “wounds and injuries through war service”, to £50. In a reply on Aug. 23rd, the Treasury agreed to £30!
In a final example, correspondence describes the case of Corporal. Farrier Abram Frank from Jaffa. He had been killed in action at Sidel Cain, Critiya, Gallipolli on June 14th 1915, aged 29 years, leaving a wife, Esther, and four children. She received £38. She could not, however, make a living in Egypt and so was given free passage to join her parents who had emigrated to the USA. Col. Patterson, as well as the USA branch of the Soldiers Civil Re-establishment Section, the Council of Jewish Women and the Committee of Immigrant Aid and Americanization all entered into long correspondence with the War Office in London between July 1922 and April 1923, pleading for a widows pension for her whilst she lived in great poverty in a New York tenement.
Frank had studied and worked at Wagner’s engineering factory in north Jaffa, then one of the largest in the Middle East; and they had sent him to Alexandria in 1913 to supervise a port construction program. Whilst he later served with the British in the ZMC, his older brother Meir had been forcibly conscripted into the Turkish army and served two and half years in Anatolia, though later returning to Israel. Though Frank has no known grave, Trumpeldor described in his diary (page 64) how they gave him a burial “just as though he was in the Land of Israel”. On May 14th he wrote “ 9.30am – shells exploding everywhere; Corporal Frank is wounded seriously in the stomach……… I do not believe he will live”. At 4pm he adds, “ The four soldiers that carried Frank returned from the casualty station……… he has died. Sgt S.and Menaseh Milisten are in tears……… they were his close friends in Israel”.
Franks’ pension was refused on the grounds that “the terms of the enlistment of members of the ZMC did not provide for the grant of pensions to the dependents of men dying through military service – only a gratutity”.
So it remained, but Col. Patterson persisted. He told the War Office he would go to the press and House of Commons on the matter. In a compromise, the Government agreed a gratuity payment of three years pay for the dependents of NCO’s killed on active service in the Zion Mule Corps. The surviving members, on returning to Alexandria (quoted in Patterson’s book), had, after all, each been given £1 “as recognition of good service in Gallipolli”.
However, this is to run ahead of events and we should now return to the raising of the new troop in Alexandria.
On 31 July at a meeting at Wardian, Trumpeldor was accused of achieving little to liberate the Holy Land or to form a real fighting Jewish Legion as he had promised, and of failing to relieve British negativity towards the Corps which they regarded as if it were a Labour Unit. He responded by praising what the Zion Mule Corps had so far achieved and assured them of results if the community stood by him. A meeting in the main Cairo synagogue produced 150 new recruits from the local Egyptian Jewish population, that would be known as the ‘Cairo Troop’ of the ZMC, who had the oath read to them in Hebrew, Arabic and French by the rabbi. They raised their hands and repeated the words after him. Trumpeldor and Patterson were careful to pick reliable men, and the new troops remained separate from the Gallipoli veterans and had their own NCOs. Another 100 mules were also obtained.
It should be pointed out, however, that not all the ZMC were as well disciplined as others and that relations between officers and men and officers and officers were not always harmonious. There were some shirkers and grumblers and Trumpeldor deplored this – especially among the more Levantine Egyptian Jews. The Russian Jews were far more committed and made better soldiers but with typical over reaction the English Officers frequently enjoyed applying corporal punishment with Patterson’s blessing, sometimes even bringing in the necessary implements and men from neighbouring British camps. On at least one occasion, 2nd Lt Rollo seized a whip from a man administering a sentence, and accusing him of being lax, completed the flogging himself with great brutality. Trumpeldor could not abide this and openly opposed it but was over-ruled and forced to watch the procedure – which he described as barabaric and shameful – outwardly calm but inwardly seething. However, some of the poor behaviour was caused by news from Alexandria that many of the mens’ families – who should have been maintained by the Government as agreed – were suffering from lack of food and clothing and were in general need. Patterson sympathised and intended to send Trumpeldor to investigate whilst recruiting more men; but the rank and file made demands and disturbances broke out. Casualties, ill treatment and humiliation by English officers, exhaustion and lack of leave whilst other units were getting leave – led to a hunger strike by the men and on June 15th 1915 they met and 75 of them petitioned Patterson to be sent home. He angrily rejected this and ordered the troops to assemble the following afternoon. He brought several officers from other units with whips and again ordered 3 of the troublemakers to obey orders. They refused, were tied to posts and flogged, then tied to the wheels of wagons for three hours and then confined on bread and water for three days. Patterson appears to have been left with no option but to punish the offenders. Even Trumpeldor thought it reluctantly advisable, for if the Corps was to become the nucleus of a Jewish Army, there must be discipline. Afterwards, life returned to normal.
On another occasion Patterson “seriously affronted Trumpeldor’s honour and accused him of running unacceptable personal risks and failing thus to supervise his men ,especially the shirkers. Once when he found two misplaced forage sacks, he accused Trumpeldor of idling. When Lt Gorodissky translated this, Trumpeldor lost his temper….and he sent in his resignation….the Colonel angrily replied that Trumpeldor could prepare immediately for the journey to Alexandria and offered Gorodissky the post – which he refused. Trumpeldor went to pack his things…..as news of his journey spread through the camp…..dozens of men surrounded his tent, crying “Let’s all go! We don’t want to stay here without our Captain!”……after many apologies and much persuasion from the Colonel, Trumpeldor agreed to stay” (Lipovetsky pages 55-57 and Gilner 61-6). In a letter in Russian to a Mr Kaplan (Tel Chai Archives, Israel) translated by Liz Zendle, Trumpeldor writes, “Rosenberg has been arrested and given 14 days ‘confined to barracks’ by the Colonel…. this happened when the English captain Srusight (?) wanted to take a number of us and frankly he treated us like pigs (says Rosenberg). But I saw the soldiers bearing everything and carrying out their duties in the proper manner. We were marching by the right and then an English corporal suddenly shouted to me ‘look to your left!’ and kept shouting……at rest time I told the corporal, ‘if you give me a command like that again I’ll smash your head; I am not a madman that you can have a good laugh at’. For this I was given 14 days CB. The Colonel said I should have really gone to a military court”.
To return to the raising of the Cairo Troop, on the night of Saturday 21 August, according to the Jewish Chronicle, a Torah Scroll was presented to the new recruits in the synagogue at Rue Nabi Daniel that was packed for the occasion. Three troopers rose to accept the Scroll from the Grand Rabbi who said: ‘May this Scroll of the Torah which has guarded us for thousands of years preserve and bring you back home safely. May our common cause triumph and may it hasten the day of universal peace.’ The troops set sail for Gallipoli on 1 October.
On 20 August 1915 the Jewish Chronicle had reported that Israel Zangwill, who had been in close correspondence with Colonel Patterson, had introduced an emissary from Egypt to Major-General Sir Alfred Turner at the War Office in London bearing funds to recruit Jews from various countries into the Zion Mule Corps, especially from Italy. But the idea was rejected and the young Jews were taken by the Italian army instead.
On returning to Gallipoli, Patterson found that Second-Lieutenant Alex Gorodissky had died of illness on 11 August ]en route to Alexandria for a well-earned rest and had been buried at sea (see above) . He had been promoted from the ranks since enlisting on 23 March 1915 and was a grave loss to the Corps . Gorodissky, the only son of a widowed mother, had been a railway engineer and mathematics teacher at the Lycee in Alexandria and had turned down a senior engineering post to serve in Gallipoli. His death greatly affected Patterson and Trumpeldor noted in his diary that the Colonel sat for along while by himself ignoring all around him, greiving for his friend. Corporal Zalman Cogan, writing for the Jewish Chronicle from hospital in England on 11 November 1915, said, ‘he had been an officer and at the same time best friend of all the soldiers. Owing to his knowledge of English he was the intermediary between us and the Colonel … I never heard from him one complaint … an honest and just man …we have lost one of the best men of the Corps …promoted in the field to Lieutenant.’
On 6 August the Jewish Chronicle reported that Sergeant S. I. Luck had written to his father at 164 Commercial Road, Whitechapel, from the 1st Australian Base Hospital in Gallipoli of ‘patients reaching us from the Zion Mule Corps …the censorship officer asked “why the devil don’t these men use the English language? How can I censor this rubbish?” But he was only telling his dear wife away in Russia that he was sick. “It’s either TB or malaria” he cooly explained …it became rather ludicrous when German is the only language the patient can understand … one spoke Arabic, his bullet was extricated and wrapped neatly in a piece of bandage, he hung it from his wrist. “Would you like to go back and fight those Germans and Turks?” I asked. “Certainly, as soon as I get well. Have I not got all my friends there?” And the man lived in Turkey and spoke German. The irony of fate. But who knows, perhaps the last two factors were the cause of his enlistment in the first place!’
In early September a lull in shelling suggested the Turks had run out of heavy ammunition and dancing around Zion Mule Corps camp fires became possible, with songs in Hebrew and Russian. These always ended with the British national anthem and the Hatikvah.
By now, since deep communication trenches had been dug, the Corps could ride their mules up to the front, and they were dubbed the ‘Allied Cavalry’ or ‘Ally Sloper’s Cavalry’ . Patterson related how the men found a slab of marble with a large Star of David carved on it while excavating a dugout in October for the coming winter and immediately erected it as a talisman. It appears that the dugout was never hit the whole time they spent there, even though shells fell all around them. Also in October the first leave home was granted and fifty muleteers sailed for Alexandria.
On 29 November, Patterson fell ill and had to be evacuated to Alexandria and thence to London where he arrived on 26 December 1915, leaving Trumpeldor in command with Lieutenant Gye as his translator. As the men battled with the biting wind and cold of Gallipoli, Trumpeldor himself was wounded in the left shoulder by a rifle bullet on 19 December, but refused to be evacuated and remained in command. By then the Zion Mule Corps were down to 5 British and 2 Jewish officers and 126 men.
The order for disbandment came on 28 December and at the last parade on 31 December Trumpeldor addressing the men in Hebrew, [xlix] saying: ‘We are leaving tonight; our work is done. We have a right to say; well done … we and the Jewish people need never be ashamed of the Zion Mule Corps!’
In January 1916, before they left, the Jewish muleteers paid formal tribute to their fourteen dead comrades. Sergeant H. L. Gordon led prayers at the graves, and then, having slashed the throats of those mules that were too ill to evacuate, they departed [l] ??. One group of Mule Corps men (see Appendix) were torpedoed on their way to England xlx but although the ship sank, the men survived.
Others arrived in Alexandria on 10 January 1916. Here they were told they would be leaving for Ireland to help quell the revolt but they refused on the grounds that they had enlisted to fight the Turks and not Irish patriots, and on 26 May1916 were disbanded. Patterson died only in 1947 in La Jolla, California, almost living to see the establishment of the State of Israel.
Over sixty men of the Zion Mule Corps had been wounded and fourteen killed, Private Y. Rotman and Private Bergman being buried at Lancashire Landing Cemetery, Gallipoli, and privates Bardin, Halimi, Kirshner, Wertheimer and Zaoui – all of whom died of wounds – in Chatby Jewish Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, Alexandria. The remaining seven have no known graves and although their names so far appear on no memorial, they will be included on the Helles memorial in due course.
General Hamilton wrote to Jabotinsky on 17 November from his home at 1 Hyde Park Gardens to say that ‘The men have done extremely well, working their mules calmly under heavy shell and rifle fire, and thus showing a more difficult type of bravery than the men who were constantly in the trenches and had the excitement of combat to keep them going’ xlxiii .But he confided less generously in his diary that ‘the Corps may serve as ground bait to entice the big Jew journalists and bankers to our cause; the former will lend us colour, the latter the coin’. In the light of such frank anti-Semitism in the Army it is unsurprising that the Corps’ promised Kosher food was often deliberately not provided; that Jewish officers were paid 40 percent less than their British counterparts despite the official rates published (see above ) and that they had to eat at separate tables from them as well as being eligible for lower pensions. Neither were they shown military courtesy by junior British officers, despite Trumpeldor’s protests.
The plaudits for their work were, however, unanimous. Sidney Moseley, a War Office representative in Gallipoli complimented the Corps for being ‘an indispensable unit in that campaign’ [xlxv] . Brigadier-General Aspinall-Oglanden wrote that ‘Special recognition is due to the Zion Mule Corps for their untiring energy … bringing up ammunition and water to the forward positions and carrying back the wounded, under very heavy fire [xlxvi] while a New Zealand officer, Major F. Waite, wrote of ‘the risks run by the ZMC … they carried their lives in their hands … for the enemy had the range to a yard of every landing stage, dump and roadway’ which they used [xlxvii] . On 15 December Sir John Maxwell wrote to Trumpeldor at his billet, Pension Tewfiq, Rue Moghrabi, Cairo, praising ‘the personal fighting value of yourself and the Jewish volunteers of which … the behaviour of the Zion Mule Corps under fire in the Gallipolli Peninsular gave ample proof.’ [xlxviii].
Clearly it can be seen that Patterson had used his influence to procure the Corps its promised name, badge and flag, fighting army prejudice probably at the expense of his own career. He had made them famous and even ex-President Teddy Roosevelt had heard of their exploits; he had written to Patterson, asking if the ZMC had made as good soldiers as those Jews in the US Army. Patterson’s popularity is evident from Corporal Cogan’s remark (JC 11 Nov 1915) that ‘His relations with us reminded me more of the care of a father for his children than that of a commander for his subordinates … the organization of the Corps meant a good deal of hard work for him and thanks to him … the Corps was in such excellent condition’. Patterson’s name is much honoured today in Israel, in street names, military museums, text books and on postage stamps, among others.
One last word of praise comes from the Revd Dr Ewing, of the Grange United Reform Church in Edinburgh serving as a Chaplain to the EEF, who is reported in the Jewish Chronicle of 28 January 1916 as saying ‘The Zion Mule Corps has done most excellent transport work since the landing … strange it is when you ask a man where he is from to have him say the Holy City (Jerusalem) … and very earnest these Sons of Jacob are in their endeavours’.
On 3 March1916, as the Jewish Chronicle reported, a memorial to the fallen of the Corps was unveiled at the Chatby Jewish Cemetery, Alexandria, in the presence of representatives of all the Allied nations and of hundreds of veterans and others. In 1926 the name of the unit was among those inscribed on the inner wall of the British Gallipoli memorial on the lonely headland at Cape Helles, overlooking V beach where they had first come ashore on that fateful April morning in 1915. In Tel Aviv today there is a Rehov Lohamay Gallipoli (‘Gallipoli Fighters Street’). Document PRO WO/329/2346 at the Public Record Office contains the Medal Roll of the ZMC and it shows they were all awarded the 1915 Star, War Medal and Victory Medal. It also shows that they were distributed via the Grand Rabbi in Alexandria from 1921 onwards but that some were not issued until as late as 1938!
No fewer than 120 of the Zion Mule Corps men re-enlisted and, thanks to the intervention of Patterson and Major Leopold Amery, 60 were placed in the 20th Battalion of the London Regiment as platoon 16 stationed at Hasely Downs near Winchester. They then became the core of the soon-to-be-formed Jewish Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers (38th-42nd) who were to fight in Palestine as the Jewish Legion or ‘Judeans’.