|home | about this site | stories | the gallery | schools | migration histories | tracing your roots | search|
Tracing Jewish Roots
Jewish Perspectives on UK Records
Service Records of Jews
Records in Other Countries
Pulling It All Together
This outline focuses on areas where Jews may have been prominent in the armed forces. Link here for a more general introduction to Service Records.
Many are known to have served in the armed forces with Wellington, in the war against Napoleon, as well as in the Crimean war. Jews were prominent as volunteers in the 11th Tower Hamlets Rifles up until the unit ceased to exist in 1864 when it disappeared from the Army List. Many immigrant Jews served in the Armed Forces in the Anglo-Boer war, the First World War and the Second World War.
In the Anglo-Boer War (South African War, 1899-1902) between 3,000-4,000 British Jews served and 127 are listed as killed in action. Many were colonials, such as Colonel Sir David Harris, who fought in the Diamond Fields in 1878. An estimated 300 Jews, mainly from Russia, fought on the side of the Boers.
Comprehensive records of military service in the British Army exist. One of the main pitfalls when researching in this area is that your ancestor may have changed his name. This was not uncommon immediately after the First World War, as many Jews experienced anti-semitism in the ranks.
British Army pre-1914 Soldiers Records in the War Office Archives in the National Archives (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) include many personnel records before 1914.
The National Archives record series (PRO) WO97 Soldiers' Documents (Attestation and Discharge Papers) archive is the main series of personnel records for long-service soldiers. For those discharged between the years 1882 to 1913, however, the documents are listed alphabetically for all soldiers who had survived an Army career, and not just those discharged to pension. These documents are a wonderful supply of information about the soldiers and contain a lot of detail about their careers.
The Imperial Yeomanry was formed in late 1899 because of the need for mounted infantry in South Africa. Records are held in the National Archives record (PRO) WO129/1-7 and give similar genealogical information to that found in (PRO) WO97.
Awards of campaign medals between Waterloo and the Second Boer War (South African War) are recorded on the medal rolls in the National Archives in (PRO) WO100. Campaign or war medals were awarded to members of the armed services for taking part in a campaign or for service in time of war.
The Medal Rolls in (PRO) WO100 are usually arranged by:
Medal rolls do not give detailed information about individuals: they record the recipients' regimental or service number and a note of the clasps to which he or she was entitled. Before 1914, there are no indexes to the Medal Rolls; details can be difficult to find unless you know your ancestor's service records.
For the Second Boer War, the records for the Queen's South Africa Medal (1899-1900) and the King's South Africa Medal (1900-02) give more information about the service of the individual recipients. In addition, the archives in (PRO) WO32/7960 and (PRO) WO108/136-717 contain information about recommendations for awards.
The number of enlisted Jews in the First World War was estimated at around 50,000, and a high proportion of them were either foreign-born (including those who had arrived in Britain as children) or, if British-born, had foreign-born parents.
Five Jewish soldiers won the Victoria Cross. One of these men was Sergeant Issy Smith (Shmulevitch) who was the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Others who were the sons of immigrants from Eastern Europe included Captain Robert Gee, Lieutenant Frank Alexander de Pass, Private J White (Weiss) and Leonard Keysor. Fifty Jewish soldiers received the Distinguished Service Order.
In addition, Jews formed their own unit, the Zion Mule Corps, fighting at Gallipoli and the Dardanelles in 1915. The Jewish Chronicle published an article in November 1921 to commemorate the Zion Mule Corps and the Jewish Battalion who fought in Palestine.
Later, in 1918, three Jewish units, the 38th, 39th and 40th battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were in the Jewish Legion under General Allenby in Palestine. These regiments were disbanded after the First World War.
Many Eastern European Jews were in the Pioneer Corps, working as labourers on the trenches. The number of foreign Jews in the Labour Corps is estimated (from the British Jewry Book of Honour) at over 4,600, including those who served in the Middlesex Alien Companies and the Egyptian Labour Corps.
The men undertook any labouring task required of them, they:
Others looked after services in the towns and camps where front line soldiers were sent for rest. In parts of France and Belgium the men of the Labour Corps worked unarmed within the range of German guns. The web sites below are useful if you are interested in learning more about the men of the Labour Corps.
The British Jewry Book of Honour, compiled by Reverend Michael Adler, DSO, the Senior Jewish Chaplain, is a useful, although not always accurate, source to commence research with. The National Archives record series (PRO) WO363 and (PRO)WO 364 contain the surviving records of around one third of the men eligible for pension.
The Ministry of Defence has released First World War soldiers' records in the British armed services to The National Archives for those serving in 1914 up to 1921. The original documents cannot be viewed due to their fragile condition. The records are available in the National Archives microfilm reading room as follows:
If the serviceman or woman survived the First World War and served long enough overseas to qualify for campaign medals, records may be in the Medal Rolls. These rolls have little or no personal information listing the:
The National Archives record series (PRO)WO 329 has rolls of record service (campaign) medals, honours and awards.
Royal Flying Corps (RFC), Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and Royal Air Force (RAF) Jews were active in all areas of the air force. Read more on RFC, RNAS and RAF Medal Roll Records in the National Archives.
These men and women were contacted by Jewish Chaplains, and their names have appeared in authentic and checked nominal rolls. (This excludes Dominion personnel and the 30,000 men and women that voluntarily enlisted in the British Forces in Palestine.)
British Jews bore their full share of the Second World War in every quarter of the globe: in the operations on sea, on land and in the air. They continued to do so in later conflicts, in Malaya, Kenya, the Falklands and other areas of war.
Some 4,000 Jewish refugees enlisted in Alien Pioneer companies and many were transferred to first-class fighting battalions, some becoming commandos and paratroopers, and others commissioning and awarding decorations.
Palestinian Jews served with the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. They were in France in 1940, in the campaigns in Greece and Crete, in the Western Desert and again in Europe.
The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, commanded by Brigadier E.F. Benjamin CBE, fought in Italy, and its members won 4 MCs, 7 MMs, 2 OBEs, 4 MBEs, 2 American awards and 72 Mentions in Dispatches.
Polish Jews served with the Army and RAF. Many fought in the Battle of Britain and at Monte Cassino.
Casualties and Honours
According to the latest records 2,954 British Jews and 694 Palestinian Jews gave their lives in the Second World War.
The number of those that were killed, died in service or who remain missing are:
Read more about Second World War Awards to Jewish Servicemen for their bravery and loyalty.
The British forces in the Second World War spawned many special, or unconventional, units. Some were well known, such as the Army Commandos, the SAS (Special Air Service) and the LRDG (Long Range Desert Group), but among the most ambitious, daring and mysterious were the Jewish commandos of the special interest groups who went behind the enemy lines. Many were immigrants or refugees. One example is No. 3 Troop of No. 10 Commando.
The Jewish Military Museum and Memorial Room represents British Jewry's contribution to the Armed Forces of the Crown from the Crimea to the present day and has:
The museum commemorates the contribution made by British and other Jewish men and women over the last two centuries who have taken part in the various military struggles. However, the museum inevitably focuses on the two world wars.
The museum receives memorabilia donated by veterans and their families, is a resource centre for serious researchers and also helps veterans' families find out about their military past. It also holds details of the Jews who fought:
(Most of these documents are also available at the Imperial War Museum).
AJEX Jewish Military Museum and Memorial Room can be contacted at:
off Victoria Rd
Tel: 020 8802 7610
Phone: 0208 202 2323
Call to arrange your visit. Opening hours Monday - Thursday 10 - 4pm
Web site: www.ajex.org.uk
The expert advice and assistance of Harold Pollins, Ivor Lee, Henry Morris and Martin Sugarman is gratefully acknowledged.
Creators: Dr Saul Issroff
|Religious Records||Records in Other Countries|
|contact us | help | site map||copyright | privacy|