Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Jewish Legion

On August 23, 1917, the British government announced that they would create a military unit specifically for Jewish enlistees. The goal of the British government was to recruit the Russian-Jewish immigrants in England who had thus far refrained from joining the British war effort. The goal of the Jewish advocates who had been lobbying for its creation for several years was to create a regiment that could help defeat the Ottomans in Palestine.

The quest for what would come to be referred to as the Jewish Legion began in 1914, after the Ottomans had begun persecuting the Jewish population of Palestine and had exiled many thousands of them. In March 1915, Vladamir Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor proposed the idea to British General John Maxwell in Alexandria, Egypt. They were told that England would not enter Palestine and that the British could not recruit foreign nationals. The British did, however, allow them to form a brigade that became known as the Zion Mule Corps. The Corps served at the Battle of Galliopi, where the mules were essential for water transport. The majority of the corps were either killed or wounded.

After Galliopi, which was, ultimately, an unsuccessful campaign, the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded at the end of 1916, and Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor returned to lobbying the British government for a full fighting legion. When the Jewish Legion was created in August 1917, it was titled the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and was composed, primarily, of British and Russian-immigrant Jews. A second brigade, the 39th Battalion, was comprised of American and Canadian Jews (and a few non-Jewish volunteers). In 1918, the 40th Battalion was organized with Jews from Palestine. A 41st and 42nd Brigaide was created for Ottoman Jewish Prisoners of War, who served as depot battalions in England. The Jewish Legion only saw action toward the very end of the war, when they fought north of Jerusalem and participated in the Battle of Megiddo (September 1918). 

After the war, the 5 brigades were reduced to one battalion known as "The First Judeans," and were finally given a distinct badge with a menorah and the Hebrew word Kadima. The Mandate government, however, gave them very little support and they saw little action. Several members of the Legion founded their own moshav in Israel named Avichayil. 


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