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Biography - John Henry Patterson - Commander of the Jewish Legion

Biography - John Henry Patterson - Commander of the Jewish Legion - "Mad for Zion"

Colonel John Henry Patterson (1867-1947) was a pioneer Christian Zionist, commander of the Jewish Legion, British colonial soldier and administrator, author and friend of Zionist leaders. He was born Nov 10, 1867 at Forgney, Ballymahon, South County Longford, Ireland to a Protestant family. He left school at 16, but was very widely read, especially on the Bible and Jewish history. In March 1885 he joined the third Dragoon Guards, claiming falsely to be 19 years old, and in 1888 he was sent to India. In 1892, having attained the rank of Sergeant, he was transferred to the 16th Lancers in Lucknow. In 1895, he returned to England where he married Francie Helena Gray, a doctor in Law from North Belfast.  In 1898 he undertook to oversee the building of a bridge in East Africa. The work was plagued by man-eating lions. Patterson killed the lions and wrote a book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, which brought him some fame.  He retuned to the army to fight in the Boer war with a commission as a lieutenant, serving under Allenby. While he was serving in East Africa as a game warden, a fellow soldier under his command, Corporal Audley Blyth, died or committed suicide under mysterious circumstances. A son, Bryan, was born in March 1909, possibly to Byth's wife Ethel, who may have been Patterson's mistress. Bryan was raised by the Pattersons as their own son. Patterson was on the "retired" lists from 1908-1911. He left the army in 1911.

Col John Henry Patterson: 'Mad for Zion'

John Henry Patterson

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 Zeev 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 in March. 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.’

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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 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 Londont

Jewish Legion on parade

Jewish Legion on parade under Col. Patterson in the Whitechapel Road, February 22, 1918.  

 

It is falsely stated in several histories that the Jewish Legion never saw service in Palestine. It is true that British commanders were often anti-Semitic and tried to keep the Jewish Legion out of the fighting.  Patterson and the 38th Battalion were kept out of the fighting in Palestine until June of 1918, when they arrived from Egypt and were stationed in Sarafend camp. They were then sent to relieve the Grenadier Guards in Jaljulya, and then attached to the 60th division and sent to the Jordan valley, where they formed a key pivot of the British line along the Melhallah rift. On September 19, 1918, the battalion crossed the river at Umm Es Shert. They advanced and held Es Salt in what later became Transjordan.

Following the armistice with Turkey on October 31, 1918, the 38th Battalion was sent to Rafa and Patterson was made commander of the Rafa area in February of 1919, commanding Sinai, Gaza and southern Palestine. In May of 1919 the 38th battalion was amalgamated with the 39th and 40th under the Lahore Division. It was renamed the "First Judeans" and assigned garrison duty in Palestine. In January of 1920 Patterson retired and was replaced as commander of the Judeans by Col. Eliezer Margolin. The Judeans were disbanded in 1921, after Margolin had used them to defend Jews under attack in Jaffa.

Patterson wrote two books about his experiences as commander of Zion Mule Corps and Jewish Brigade, With the Zionists at Gallipoli (1916) and With the Judeans in Palestine (1922).

Following the war, Patterson became active in supporting the Zionist cause in collaboration with his friend, Zeev Jabotinsky who had served under him in the Zion Mule Corps and Jewish Legion. Patterson was a very important part of a Keren Hayesod delegation in the United States in 1921-22, led by Jabotinsky. Jabotinsky wrote "I make the appeal for funds, then they begin the collection, and no one leaves the hall because they are waiting for Patterson to speak." (Katz*, pp 786-787)

In his preface to The Story of the Jewish Legion, Colonel John Henry Patterson wrote of Jabotinsky that his mentality was "void of the peculiar inhibitions of a Jewish mind influenced and twisted by the abnormalities of centuries of life in dispersion. That was probably the main reason why his political philosophy was so healthy and simple, and why, with all his tremendous popularity, he never became the recognized leader of the Jewish people." (Katz*, pp 1788)

Patterson also traveled to Palestine in 1933 at Jabotinsky's request and sat in at the Arlozoroff murder trial.

In 1934 Patterson sought and was granted a British disablement pension. He remained close to revisionist Zionist leaders. In 1936 and 1937 he traveled to Palestine to inspect Irgun forces there. In 1939 and 1940 together with Robert Briscoe and others, Patterson was involved in fund raising for the Irgun in the USA. In 1940, Jabotinsky and Patterson were trying to raise a Jewish army of 100,000 in the United States to fight Nazi Germany. The plan won support from

In 1940 he moved to California with his wife Francie. He was close to Ben-Zion Netanyahu, father of Benjamin Netanyahu. In 1947, he suggested the Irgun hit at British bureaucrats in Palestine. He died June 18, 1947. His wife died six weeks later in a California nursing home. Both were cremated and their ashes sent to Palestine, but their place of burial is not known. .

Ami Isseroff

Notes:

*Katz, Shmuel, Lone Wolf: A Biography of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky, New York 1995. Thanks go to Joe Hochstein for these quotes and information.

I am grateful to Tom Carew for supplying Patterson's service record, and to Steven Schoenherr for an article about the Zion Mule Corps http://history.sandiego.edu/gen/ar/340/zionmule.html. (Access Restricted)

See also: Significant Anniversaries: Jewish Legion, Colonel Patterson, 6-Day War

Additional reading:  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/gallipoli.html

Patrick Streeter, Mad for Zion: A Biography of Colonel J.H. Patterson, 2004.

 

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