By Mandy King
More than 250 people gathered at Bevis Marks Synagogue in London’s East End last Thursday evening to honour the thousands of British Jews, men and women, who served their country in the First World War, on the Centenary of June 30,1916, the night before the first day of fighting of the Battle of the Somme.
Representatives from across the community came together to remember British Jews whose lives were sacrificed in the carnage that followed, on the worst day in British Military history. Two young people, Daniel Gold, JLGB and Cdt Lance Corporal Ruby-Rose Mansoor read out the names of the 34 British Jews who fell on 1st July 1916.
Over 40,000 British Jews served in the British forces during the war and thousands more British, and specifically, London, Jewish men and women were involved with war work and support roles near to the battlefields and on the home front. They were patriotic, grateful to the country that had given them a home and became willing recruits to the cause.
Standard Bearers from AJEX and JLGB entered the synagogue and flanked Drummer Cameron Shayle while he lit a memorial candle. Rabbis Dweck and Morris, The Lord Sterling of Plaistow GCVO CBE, Rabbis Laura Janner- Klausner and Danny Rich, AJEX, JLGB, the President of the Board of Deputies, the Heritage Lottery Fund, We Were There Too, members of the Sephardi and Portuguese Community, Rabbi Livingstone CF, Principal Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed Services, and acting Jewish British servicemen all contributed to the ceremony. With readings and poems by Sassoon and Rosenberg, among others, the commemoration concluded with prayers and the emotive strain of buglers Adam Capel, JLGB and Drummer Cameron Shayle sounding the Last Post and Reveille.
All those attending repeated the last line of the exhortation, “We Will Remember Them”.
The moving ceremony was preceded by the launch of The Jews of London – We Were There Too, a unique Heritage Lottery Funded cross-community project. Its aim is to capture, record and preserve the impact, experience and contribution of London’s Jewish communities during the First World War era.
At the centre of the project is a digital archive and interactive website, which will become a permanent record of the lives of Jewish men, women and families, 1914-1919, with details of their military and Home Front activities, ensuring that their stories are not lost for future generations.
Volunteers from Jewish and non-Jewish schools, and informal education groups, will work with, and be trained alongside adult volunteers to develop the digital project and collect the materials that will be housed on the site. The findings will be interpreted imaginatively to attract, inform and educate visitors about the roles and sacrifices of Jewish Londoners. We Were There Too is supported by a wide range of religious and secular Jewish organisations, including the Board of Deputies.
Whatever your age, knowledge of the First World War, research experience or understanding of computers, if you think you have a family member who lived in London during the war, or are interested to research a name in the British Jewry Book of Honour, on a Synagogue Memorial Board, a gravestone or a host of other memorials, then you will be helped to find out more about them and build a Personal Record.
In keeping with Jewish tradition, the site will also enable visitors to permanently memorialize their ancestors so that their passing can be commemorated annually.
Alan Fell, Project Director, said ‘Never has it been more timely to remind ourselves and others that the Jewish community has contributed to the fabric of British society for a very long time and continues to do so.’
Photo: top L to R: Lieutenant Colonel Simon Soskin, Grenadier Guards, Able Seaman Dylan Marshall, Rabbi Major Reuben Livingstone, Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed Forces, Group Captain Philip Lester RAF, Hon. Vice Admiral The Lord Sterling GCVO, CBE, RNR, Alan Fell, We Were There Too, Drummer Cameron Shayle, Colonel Martin Newman, Brian Bloom RNR, National Chairman of AJEX. Bottom L to R: Cdt Lance Corporal Ruby-Rose Mansoor, Sub Lieutenant Ashley Sweetland MBE, RNR, Paula Kitching, We Were There Too
Photo: Blake Ezra
Mandy King is Marketing and Community Engagement Officer for We Were There Too. For more information visit jewsfww.london Twitter: @londonjewsww1