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Jewish units in the British Army

Last modified: 2011-07-08 by andrew weeks
Keywords: israel | first judeans | hayil | hativa yehudit lohemet | british army | menorah |
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Jewish units in the British Army during WWI

In WWI, the Royal Fusiliers (a London regiment) formed three Jewish battalions in Jan. 1918. The 38th Bn was composed of Jewish immigrants from Russia. The 39th was composed of US and Canadian volunteers. The 40th was actually formed in Palestine when the battalions arrived there in June. Many of the 40th Bn had served in the Ottoman Jewish police, and therefore the 40th Bn appropriated the latter's "Hashomar standard". Collectively the three battalions were known as the "Jewish Legion". The badge of all three battalions was a menorah on a scroll inscribed in Hebrew "Kadima" (Forward). The battalions disbanded in Palestine in 1919, and most of the soldiers settled there.
T. F. Mills, 31 May 1998

Historama, an Israeli commercial web site includes also a page called: Israeli Militaria Primer: Flags, Colors and Standards. 
There are three photos which deals with Jewish units in the British Army during WWI. The photos are presumably taken from the book (which the site refer to as "Hadeni") so my calculated guess is that those are taken from a book named: "Am BeMilhamto: Shloshim shnot milhamtenu, MeGallipoli ad HaHAYIL" (Nation in its war: Thirty years of our war, from Gallipoli to the Jewish Fighting Brigade" by Aharon Ever-Hadeni (issued in 1953).

- The first photo show a group of soldiers with a piece of cloth (white?) on which there are two Magen Davids, the Union Jack and a scroll.
The web site describe it: " Two Zionist activists, Joseph Trumpeldor and Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, were influential in the creation of all-Jewish combat units of the British Army in the First World War. Both directly enabled the foundation of the Zion Mule Corps in 1915, which served in Gallipoli, and Jabotinsky in particular led the drive for the creation of Jewish battalions in the British Army. These battalions - the 38th, 39th and 40th Royal Fusiliers - are collectively known as the Jewish Legion. In this picture, Jabotinsky with crossed armed is seated in the second row, just above the right corner of the flag. The flag here is of the 16th platoon of the London Battalion, in training, which would shortly become part of the 38th Royal Fusiliers; it incorporates the Jewish Star of David surmounting the British Union Jack - a constant symbol of this era's British-affiliated Jewish armed formations."
I am not convinced that we are dealing here with a flag, in any case, not an official one.
The Zion Mule Corps is the first military unit of the modern era that was combined of only Jews spldiers (besides its commander....). It was founded in Egypt on 1 April 1915 and its 650 members were Jews that were deported by the Ottoman rule. The initial idea was to found a combatable force that will fight to conquer Palestine from the Ottomans, but the British Army agreed only to establish a supply unit.
At first there was a problem in translating the name to Hebrew (as by straight forward translation, it could be interpreted that the  mules are Zionists....) and therefore it was first call ZAMAK (following its initials). Later ut adopted the name Gdud Nahagei Hapradot (The mule drivers battalion). The unit took part at Gallipoli disastrous operation and lost eight of its members.
After it was evacuated from Gallipoli, the unit was dissolved in 26 May 1916.
As far as reported in sources, this unit didn't had a flag and its emblem was a lion inside a Magen David.
120 of its members re-join the British army and became the 16th platoon of the London Battalion which became the nucleus of the 38th Fusiliers.
Source: wikipedia.

- The second photo is described as follows: "The Jewish Legion of the First World War consisted of three battalions: one from British volunteers (the 38th Royal Fusiliers), another of North American volunteers (the 39th) and a third one of volunteers from Eretz Israel-Palestine (the 40th). Seen here is Dr. Chaim Weizman, the head of the British Admiralty laboratories, a leading Zionist figure instrumental in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration (1917) and future first President of Israel presenting the colors of the 40th Battalion to its members, 1918. The picture is not clear, but it looks like a triangular standard with a lion within a Star of David; the British Union Jack on the top right and a Hebrew legend just above the Star, which is not clear. A frequent legend in Legion regalia is "In Blood and Fire Judea Fell, In Blood and Fire Judea Will Rise", although the few clear letters in this picture suggest that the slogan may be different."
I guess that it is not triangular but rectangle and only seen like that because its bottom part is held folded. It is look like an home made gonfalon and not something official..

- The third photo is described as follows: "A picture of a "Hashomer" society flag being given to Hashomer volunteers serving in the 40th (Eretz Israel) battalion Royal Fusiliers of the Jewish Legion, 1918. "Hashomer" ("The Watchman") was a self-defense movement founded by Jewish settlers in Palestine in 1909 and outlawed by the Ottoman Turkish authorities during the First World War. The banner here depicts the British Union Jack (reflecting the Legion's British auspcies), and beneath it the Hebrew word for "Hashomer" surmounted above and below by the legend "In Blood and Fire Judea Fell" and "In Blood and Fire Judea Will Rise"."
HaShomer was a self-defense paramilitary organization that was founded in order to guard the Jewish community in Eretz-Israel. It was founded in 1909 by the members of its preceding secret organization Bar-Giora". During WWI it was outlawed and persecuted by the Ottoman regime. It was dissolved on 18 May 1920 in order to allow the founding of a much bigger organization later known as "HaHagana" (The Defense). Its motto  "In Blood and Fire Judea Fell, In Blood and Fire Judea Will Rise" is taken from a poem by Ya'aqov Cohen that was written after the government sponsored riots in Kishinau in 1903, inflicting the death of 49 Jews. As far as known, HaShomer didn't had a flag or emblem.  
Dov Gutterman, 20 September 2008


First Hebrew Battlion of Judea (First Judeans) (1920-1921)


image by Kazutaka Nishiura, 22 December 2009

I visited Tel Aviv in Februaty 2007 had a chance to see the Haganah Museum where I took this photo: blue over white holizontal bicolour flag, charged with yellow (or gold ) menorah in the center and "First Judeans" on white field. Some inscriptions in white are written on blue field.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 15 March 2007

This is the flag of the a military unit. The inscription in Hebrew is "HaGdud HaYivry Rishon LeYehuda" (First Judea Hebrew Battalion). This battalion was established in 1920 by veterans of the "Hebrew Battalions" which were incorporated within the British Army during WWI (most of them from the 40th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers). The "First Judea" was dissolved by the British Army on May 1921.
Dov Gutterman, 15 March 2007

There were three Jewish battalions, numbered 38th, 39th and 40th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, raised in 1918 from locals, British and Russian Jews. By this reckoning, the '1st Judeans' would have been the 38th, rather than the 40th, Battalion. But all were disbanded in 1919. Would this mean that if the HaGdud HaYivry Rishon LeYahuda was formed in 1920, then it is really an ex-servicemen's association flag, and not an Army flag?  
The menorah as shown on the flag, placed on a scroll with the motto 'Kadimah' was the cap badge of all three battalions.
Ian Sumner, 11 June 2007

I believe that the 1st Judeans was a new regiment composed of all three battalions. Thus, it would be a successor unit and not an ex-serviceman's association. Upon the disbanding of the 1st Judeans, many of its members went on to found the Haganah, which in turn led to the current IDF.
By the way, I think "numbered 38th, 39th and 40th Battalions...raised...from locals, British and Russian Jews" is also not correct. The 38th was British, the 39th local (Palestinian), and the 40th (which never saw action) Americans and Canadians. The cap badges were not the Menorah for "all three" as you wrote: The cap badges were a Star of David for each, red for the 38th, blue for the 39th, and purple for the 40th. (Actually, they may have worn the Fusiliers' badge and worn these on their sleeves.). After they were combined into the 1st Judeans, they wore the Menorah as a badge with the word "Kadima."
Nathan Lamm, 11 June 2007

Not Russian but American Jews. It was a regular army battalion which was combined from veterans of the three "Jewish" battalions. Since most of the soldiers of the 38th (the British Battalion) and the 39th (The American Battalion) decided to return home, those battalions were disbanded and the few that decided to stay join the 40th (The Israel-land Battalion) and it was renamed as the 1st Judea. The Battalion was disbanded in May 1921, right after 1921 riots, and this disbanding of the only Jewish force in Palestine brought to the establishment of the HaHagana, the Jewish underground.
Dov Gutterman, 11 June 2007

Incidentally, an article in Bulletin of the Military Historical Society, February 2000, p.161, states that the stars of David were sewn onto a khaki backing and worn on the sleeves. But it also gives the colours in a different order - purple (38th), red (39th) and blue (40th) - but doesn't give a source.
Ian Sumner, 12 June 2007

Could be. I got most of what I know from the Encyclopaedia Judaica and Vladimir Jabotinsky's book on the Legion, but I don't have either work in front of me.
Incidentally, in many sources, the entire enterprise (including the earlier Zion Mule Corps of Galliopoli, but especially the 38-39-40 Royal Fusiliers and the 1st Judeans) are called the "Jewish Legion", which, I believe, was never an official name and perhaps never even used at the time. This is not to be confused with the Jewish Brigade (Palestinian Jews) of the British Army during World War II.
Nathan Lamm, 12 June 2007

Historama, an Israeli commercial web site includes also a page called: Israeli Militaria Primer: Flags, Colors and Standards. 
There are two photos which deals with Jewish units in the British Army after WWI. The photos are presumably taken from the book (which the site refer to as "Hadeni") so my calculated guess is that those are taken from a book named: "Am BeMilhamto: Shloshim shnot milhamtenu, MeGallipoli ad HaHAYIL" (Nation in its war: Thirty years of our war, from Gallipoli to the Jewish Fighting Brigade" by Aharon Ever-Hadeni (issued in 1953).
The two photos (here and here) show the same flag with the following descriptions:
- " The Jewish Legion was disbanded after World War I, in 1919, but succeeded by another all-Jewish Eretz-Israel formation called the "First Judean Battalion". It existed from 1919 to 1921 and included former Legion members, particularly from the Eretz-Israel 40th battalion. Seen in this photo of a prayer ceremony is the Battalion's colors: a British Union Jack on the top right corner and a blue Star of David in the center, on a white background."
- "Another view of the flag of the "First Judean Battalion", this time during a veterans' march in 1943. During the Second World War the veterans movement as a whole was actively involved in promoting Jewish volunteerism from Eretz Israel in the war effort, and this picture was taken during one such support march."
Dov Gutterman, 20 September 2008

In a strict sense, at the period we are talking about, all British regimental flags (and I mean flags, not regimental colours) were unofficial, because they were not included in King's Regulations. They were the sole responsibility of each regiment or corps. The colours of the flag, and the devices displayed on it, were governed only by regimental tradition and good taste. Their descriptions are usually only to be found in Regimental Standing Orders, a document which was usually only distributed within the regiment.
Not many regiments carried a flag with a Union canton; the Royal Irish Rifles did in the early 1920s, but that's the only one I've seen. So, the style is not unique, but it is unusual.
Ian Sumner, 2 October 2008


Jewish Brigade Group (1944-1946)

[Formation sign of British Army independent Jewish Brigade Group]
emblem
image by T. F. Mills

An old-timer told me he was in the British Army during World War Two, serving in a few units. He said that companies of Jewish soldiers from Palestine used to have an unofficial flag - a Union Jack with the blue-white flag in canton. Some of the British commanders forbade the use of the flag, some ignored it.
Nahum Shereshevsky
, 30 June 1997

According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia, white and blue flag was adopted by Jewish Brigade Group in WWII.
Jaume Ollé
, 31 May 1998

I am not sure what flags are being referenced here, because British brigades do not carry flags. Battalions carry a King's Colour and Regimental Colour, but I don't think these Jewish units of the British Army were every issued any because they disbanded too soon.
In WWII, the British Army formed The Palestine Regiment in Palestine in Sept. 1942, consisting of Jewish and Arab battalions. Their badge was an olive tree in a circle inscribed "Palestine" in English, Hebrew and Arabic. When the badge was issued, some 60 Jews mutinied because it contained an Arabic inscription, but there was no further trouble in the regiment. In Sept. 1944 the three Jewish battalions were grouped into the independent "Jewish Infantry Brigade Group" in Egypt. The Palestine Regiment disbanded in Aug. 1946, and its personnel provided a trained nucleus for the Israeli army. British divisions and independent brigades wore shoulder sleeve "formation signs". The Jewish Brigade formation sign was a yellow Star of David on a blue-white-blue vertical tricolour square patch. In most photographs the blue stripes are barely visible whereas the star is very evident. This leads me to believe that the star must have been heavily fimbriated, or heavily embroidered so as to cause shadows.
The brigade held a victory parade in Antwerp, Belgium at the end of the war. A photograph shows them saluting a dipped Zionist flag as they march past. I would guess that this flag (which was not the brigade's) was blue and white like the current Israeli one, but the stripes are a little thinner, and the lines of the star are very thin.
T. F. Mills
, 31 May 1998

Nimtza-bi 1948 (Ha-Degel) shows a photo of that white and blue flag and the text "Flag hoisting ceremony at the Jewish Brigade Grup HQ, at the presence of Moshe Shertok (later Moshe Sharet, first foreign minister of Israel) and Brigadier Benjamin. The flag was not used as a unit flag but as a national flag and it was carried by the Brigade in the victory parade in London."
Nahum Shereshevsky
, 2 June 1998

In the celebrations of the Liberation Day (April 25, 1945) in Italy at <www.corriere.it> there was a band of "La Brigata Ebraica".
Francisco Santos
, 1 May 2003

The "HYIL" (Hativa Yehudit Lo'hemet = Jewish Fighting Brigade") was a British unit of then "Palestinian" Jews. This unit was active in the Italian front in WWII.
Dov Gutterman
, 1 May 2003


Arthur Szyk's "Jewish army" Emblem

At <stampcircuit.com> there is a badge of Jewish military unit, I guess.
Željko Heimer, 28 May 2009

I did some research  and found out that it was made by Arthur Szyk, a Polish-born Jewish American artist, famous for his Anti-Axis political illustrations, caricatures, and cartoons during World War II, as well as his illustrations for magazine and newspaper articles and books. More about the artist at wikipedia.
This artwork is quoted as:  "Arthur Szyk designed this poster in 1941 to publicize and mobilize support for the creation of a Jewish army to fight against the Axis powers and to rescue persecuted Jews in Europe..... The Star of David is inscribed with Roman-era Rabbi Hillel’s famous adage, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”—a phrase that appears frequently in Szyk’s work as an individual and national injunction. "
See also <www.ushmm.org>.
This website allows a close up on the emblem and it reveals that besides the: "Im Ein Ani Li, Mi LI" of Rabbi Hillel, there are three dots and one line below the "V", the Morse code for this letter (based, of course on Beethoven's fifth symphony).
So, imaginary emblem it is.
Dov Gutterman, 1 June 2009