The Jewish Battalions at Crownhill Fort, our latest audio



Our latest audio is a little hidden and out of the way, it is part of Devon Remembers, a series of events celebrating the centenary of the first World War. ripple have created an audio to accompany a small exhibition that’s on view in the Guards Room [to the right of the door above] at Crownhill Fort on the outskirts of Plymouth.

On the 23rd August 1917 there was an official announcement from Lord Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, for the formation of a new regiment, eventually made up of four battalions, the 38th to the 42nd; the unofficial name – the Jewish Legion and there was a camp located on the outskirts of Plymouth, at Crownhill Fort.

Lieutenant Colonel James Patterson was asked by the war office to organise a Jewish Legion and become the Commanding Officer.  He believed that raising a Jewish legion should mean they would be catered for in a Jewish way “for the only way to make good Jewish soldiers of the men was by first of all treating them as good Jews;” [Patterson, page 39]. Through his insistence the battalions were able to take the Sabbath off to go to synagogue and provision for Kosher food was made. 

Having worked with the synagogue on their cemetery audio trail we created a different audio, a patchwork of sounds and stories that we found from the archive and various books.

One of these stories was about Morris Smith [most probably changed from Schmidt] who was stationed at Crownhill and sent to Egypt and Palestine. Wounded in action he returned to Plymouth to recover in the military hospital and once recovered decided to make the city his home and he relocated his whole family from London. Sadly Morris left Plymouth after the 1941 WW2 Plymouth blitz tragically claimed his mother and sister’s lives, they were the first victims and their double gravestone can be found at the Gifford Place Jewish Cemetery, Plymouth. Morris moved the remaining family to Exeter where the Exeter blitz forced them to move again, to North Devon.

His story and that of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Ben Gurion who were both stationed at Crownhill Fort in 1918 and who were instrumental in the history and establishment of a Jewish State, [Ben-Gurion, who loved Crownhill Fort so much, became the first Prime Minister of Israel] play a part in our audio.

Crownhill Fort Open Days 

Friday 21st August & Friday 28th September at 12-4pm. Friday 26th October Time TBC as this is part of the Museums at Night event.

We used these books for reference

Susser, Bernard (1993) The Jews of South-West England: the rise and decline of their medieval and modern communities. The Exeter University Press:Exeter

Fry, Helen (2915) The Jews of Plymouth Halsgrove: Somerset

Ben-Gurion, David (1968) Letters to Paula, Valentine Mitchell & Co: London 

Lawer, Diana (2007) Get Your Skates On, Three Towns Publishing: Plymouth

Patterson, John Henry (1922?) With the Judæans in the Palestine Campaign, Hutchinson & Co : London

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