The British Jewry Book of Honour
To mark the centenary of the beginning of the First World War I thought I’d write about the British Jewry Book of Honour. I have mentioned this in some of my previous blog posts but today I want to tell you more about it.
The British Jewry Book of Honour, or the BJBH, permanently records and honours the contribution made by the 50,000 Jews who served in the British and colonial forces during World War I. It was compiled and edited by Reverend Michael Adler, senior Chaplain to the British Armed Forces and published in 1922.
Its main aim was to create a permanent written record of the part played by Anglo-Jewry in the Great War, to help counter claims by some that the Jewish community were ‘shirkers’ and did not do their bit in the War.
“Jews care for peace and for liberty as much as others; they are not less ready than others to fight, if need be, in their defence. This book furnishes the proof”. Sir Herbert Samuel
The BJBH was welcomed by many notable figures in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. The Chief Rabbi, The Very Reverend Dr Hertz wrote “I earnestly hope that British Jewry’s Book of Honour will find a place in every Jewish home throughout the Empire”.
And the Right Hon Winston Churchill – “It is with great pleasure that I accede to your request to contribute a message to the British Jewry Book of Honour…this record is a great one, and British Jews can look back with pride on the honourable part they played in winning the Great War.”
All Chaplains and officiating clergymen working in different parts of the world deposited their official records of serving Jews with Reverend Adler and all information sent to the Jewish Press was carefully noted. Detailed lists prepared by the Jewish War Services Committee were also utilised for the book.
Despite these efforts, the BJBH is an incomplete record of Jews on active service during the war. The names of all the Jews who served can never be accurately known due to the difficulty in finding Jewish soldiers some of whom did not declare their religion when enlisting in the armed forces.
The BJBH records Jewish enlistment, Jewish Units and the work of Jewish hospitals and other Jewish institutions and agencies. It contains a personal account written by Reverend Adler, entitled ‘Experiences of a Chaplain’, which has given us a vital insight into the difficulties faced by Jewish Chaplains during the First World War.
Importantly, it contains alphabetical lists of those killed in action
those who were awarded military honours,
and the nominal rolls of all Jews who served, listed by service and by regiment.
The BJBH is still regularly used and viewed today. Here at the JMM we have numerous copies which our visitors frequently request to see. Visitors who had relatives that served in the war are always keen to look up their names in the book. It is clear to see the immense pride on their faces when they find their family member listed among the thousands of names. It is for this reason that I believe Reverend Adler dedicated himself to compile the BHJBH and it will always be a lasting memorial to all those Jewish servicemen who fought for this country.
About half of the BJBH is given to photographs of Jewish soldiers and regiments as well as pages of memorial plates. Here are a selection of these images.