JERUSALEM CHANNEL RECOMMENDED REPORT: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in remarks today said that Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson was “the commander of the first Jewish fighting force in two millennia and as such he can be called the godfather of the Israeli army.”
Netanyahu and his wife Sara attended the interment of the ashes of Lt.-Col. Patterson and his wife Frances at the cemetery of Moshav Avihayil.
In a special operation, the ashes of Lt.-Col. Patterson, the commander of World War I’s Jewish Legion, and his wife Frances Helena, were recently brought to Israel in fulfillment of the former’s dying request to be buried in Israel alongside his former Jewish Legion soldiers.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, who personally followed through on the request, made notes in an important letter and address to all those who were involved:
“Lt.-Col. Patterson was one of the founders of the Jewish Legion, the first Jewish military force since the Bar Kochba Revolt and the basis upon which the IDF was established. My parents always spoke warmly of Lt.-Col. Patterson, who worked alongside my father in the 1940s in the U.S. to promote the Zionist idea. When my older brother was born, my father called him Yonatan [Jonathan] after Lt.-Col. Patterson and my grandfather Natan. Lt.-Col. Patterson attended Yoni’s circumcision and gave him a silver cup engraved with the words ‘To my beloved godson Yonatan from Lt.-Col. John Henry Patterson.’ This was a link between the commander of the renewed Jewish force and one of the future military commanders of the State of Israel. As Prime Minister of Israel, I deem it to be a privilege to realize Lt.-Col. Patterson’s wish to rest in the Land of Israel alongside the soldiers of the Jewish Legion whom he commanded. His return to Israel does historic justice to the man about whom Zeev Jabotinsky wrote about ‘Never in Jewish history has there been in our midst a Christian friend of his understanding and devotion.'” Prime Minister Netanyahu added, “Patterson’s Jewish Legion, like the movements that arose in the Land – Hashomer and others – created for us the military force to realize Herzl’s vision of a Jewish army alongside a Jewish state. This is the existence of our state. It has always been the case but it is especially true now. It is impossible to imagine the country without the IDF.”
Photos: Haim Zach, GPO, via the Prime Minister’s Facebook page.
Col John Henry Patterson: ‘Mad for Zion’
Patterson rejoined the service in 1914, upon the outbreak of World War I, and saw service in Flanders. He was then sent to Egypt. In Alexandria, he met Joseph Trumpeldor and Ze’ev Jabotinsky who were attempting to form a Jewish military force.
In 1915, Patterson was made commander of the approximately 750 man Zion Mule Corps, organized in Egypt with a rank of “honorary Lieutenant Colonel.” Swearing in the new volunteers on March 31, 1915, Patterson invited them 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.” Of the training camp, he 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.”
He landed with the corps at V Beach, east of Cape Helles, Gallipoli in April of 1915, after the Mule Corps personnel had been in training for only about three weeks. About half the Mule Corps personnel were seconded to the Anzacs, who treated them discourteously and had them shipped back to Alexandria. The 300 men under Patterson landed April 27 off the Dundrennon. The Zion Mule Corps served with distinction. Among the 300 men who saw action, there were 14 dead.
Patterson told the Jewish Chronicle on September 15, 1915:
“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.”
The Mule Corps was disbanded either in January or May of 1916. Patterson had fallen ill at the end of November and was evacuated to Alexandria and thence to London. Patterson returned to Ireland where he commanded the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers and fifth Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
On July 17, 1917, he was made commander of the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, one of three battalions of the Jewish Legion, recruited from British and foreign Jews. Patterson was promoted to full Colonel.
In February of 1918, Patterson proudly led soldiers of the 38th Fusiliers Battalion, one of the components of the Legion, in a parade in the Whitechapel Road, before they were shipped off to British Palestine. They met a tumultuous and joyous reception among the Jews of London, as well as generating amazement among other bystanders, as related in this article about the parade of the Jewish Legion in London.