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Zion Mule Corps Definition

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Zion Mule Corps - The Zion Mule Corps was a force of about 700 troops which fought in the British army at Gallipoli, under Colonel John Henry Patterson. It was the first Jewish fighting force since ancient times. The force later became part of the Jewish Legion and subsequently many of its members were leaders in the Jewish Yishuv  and founders of the Haganah and IDF.

When World War I broke out,  Numerous Palestinian Jews with Russian citizenship had been forced to flee Palestine and were living in Alexandria. Joseph Trumpeldor and Zeev Jabotinsky proposed to set up a Jewish force under British command. By December of 1914 about 11,000 Jewish refugees from Palestine had been gathered from Palestine. Most were expelled because they were Russian citizens, some were Sephardic Palestinian Jews.  They were interested in liberating Palestine from Turkish rule and anxious to cooperate with the British. At the same time, Zionist leaders understood the importance of practical military experience to Jewish self-defense and the future of the Zionist movement.

A small committee met in Alexandria on March 3, 1915, consisting of Trumpeldor, Jaobotinsky, Dr Weitz, Mordechai Margolin, an oil  company representative, Victor Gluskin  of the Rishon Le Zion Wine Growers Association, G. Kaplan, an American businessman, Z. D. Levontin of the Anglo-Palestine Bank and Akiva Ettinger an agronomist. On the initiative of Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky, it was decided to try to set up a Jewish fighting force.  On March 12, about 200 Jews met and 180 of them signed a brief resolution handwritten in Hebrew on a page torn from a notebook. .

The British Commander in Egypt, General Maxwell met with a delegation, led by Jabotinsky, on March 15. Maxwell pointed out that the Army Act forbade him from enlisting foreign nationals as fighting troops. He proposed to form them into a volunteer transport Mule Corps. They would be trained for combat, but he could not promise that they would be sent to Palestine. He suggested they be called ‘The Assyrian Jewish Refugee Mule Corps.’ The Jewish group initially rejected the demeaning proposal to form a "donkey corps," but Trumpeldor and Patterson and others persuaded them otherwise. Trumpeldor said, "We’ve got to smash the Turk. On which front you begin is a question of tactics; any front leads to Zion."

Trumpeldor organized a meeting on March 19. At the meeting, the group was also addressed by Lieut Col. Patterson and  Major-General Alexander Godley. Patterson pointed out  that the soldier who carries ammunition and supplies to the trenches requires no less courage than the man who fires a rifle and Godley declared that ‘Today the English People have entered into a covenant with the Jewish People’ [xvi] . 

General Sir Ian Hamilton, Commander-in-Chief of the Anglo-French Expeditionary Force in the Dardenelles, later wrote in his diary, ‘I have here, fighting under my orders, a purely Jewish unit - the Zion Mule Corps. As far as I know, this is the first time in the Christian era such a thing has happened. They have shown great courage taking supplies up to the line under heavy fire’ and proved ‘invaluable to us’

On  March 22, 1915 Patterson,  was appointed commander of the force he was to recruit, with Captain Trumpeldor as second-in-command. They left Cairo for Alexandria, where the Jewish refugees were living, to set up headquarters at 14 Rue Sesostris. With the help of leading members of the Jewish community, especially the Grand Rabbi Professor Raphael de la Pergola, he swore in the first 500 volunteers at Gabbari, just outside Alexandria, on 31 March. The Grand Rabbi officiated, with many other local dignitaries present, and an emotional telegram of encouragement was read out from Israel Zangwill, the British author and enthusiast for settling the Holy Land, who later described Patterson in the Jewish Chronicle of 28 August 1915 ‘as the soul of chivalry and gentleness’.

The Jewish Chronicle reported that Zangwill’s telegram had referred to this ‘Welcome omen for their happy return to Palestine’, but Zangwill wrote to the editor on May  7, 1915 that his ‘telegram had been toned down by the local military censor.’ Colonel Patterson had indeed invited the assembled troops 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’.

The Zion Mule Corps was officially designated a Colonial Corps of the EEF –Egyptian Expeditionary Force - and was to include a maximum of 737 men, 20 horses and 750 mules. Five British and eight Jewish officers were appointed, the latter receiving 40 percent less pay than the British, doubtless in line with payment of colonial officers. The Corps consisted of four troops, each with two officers, a troop including four sections each commanded by a sergeant, each section split into sub-sections under a corporal. Orders were given in English and Hebrew. The Grand Rabbi was nominated Honorary Chaplain.

Patterson’s second in command was Captain Joseph Trumpeldor. Trumpeldor was born in Pyatigorsk in 1880. A tall socialist graduate in law and dentistry, he left a distinguished career in Russia in 1912 to work at Migdal on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and was exiled by the Turks in 1914 as a Russian citizen and therefore an enemy alien. Trumpeldor had lost his left arm serving in the Russian army at the siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. The siege failed. Trumpeldor was imprisoned by the Japanese. When he was released he asked to return to duty rather than to be discharged as entitled. He was then commissioned, being only the second Jew to become an officer in the history of the Russian army. He received the Gold Cross of the Order of St George for gallantry no fewer than five times from the Czar. Patterson described him as ‘the bravest man I ever knew’.

Patterson set up camp at Wardian, 3 miles outside Alexandria, on 2 April 1915 and 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.’

After training for only three weeks, the Corps sailed on  April 17 in two ships, HMT Hymettus and HMT Anglo-Egyptian carrying thirty days of forage for the mules and rations for the men. They reached Gallipoli via Lemnos on April 25.

A part of the men were detached and sent to the Anzacs. without Patterson there to fight for them, they were abused and eventually sent back to Alexandria.

Patterson issued an Order of the Day in Hebrew, saying he ‘trusts everyone will do his work with the utmost speed. Then the 29th Division of the British Army will look with admiration on the Jewish Legion which now has the singular honor of going into battle…to fight side by side with British comrades after only one month of training…' .

The entire Gallipoli land operation, from start to finish, was a nightmarish British war fiasco. A loss of nerves prevented forcing of the Dardanelles by sea in 1914, and instead a combined land and sea operation was envisioned. However, no troops were made available in time for the land operation, which was delayed until the Turks and Germans had organized an effective defense on Gallipoli. Gallipoli became a disastrous hell hole that cost hundreds of thousands of casualties for no strategic benefit. The delay in opening a passage from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean choked Russia and helped precipitate the Russian revolution. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was popularly blamed for the fiasco, but it was apparently the fault of Kitchener, and of Fischer, who was First Sea Lord of the Admiralty. The Zion Mule Corps saw action against this historic background.

The Dundrennon put the Zion Mule Corps ashore on  April 27 at V beach, just to the west of Cape Helles, under heavy enemy fire, after delays due to congestion in the beaches.  It had been unable to do so earlier owing to the congestion on the beaches and shortage of tugs. It took them three days to unload. The mules, terrified by the gunfire, were running and stumbling into craters and over muddy beaches, and had to be pursued, caught and calmed. The Corps was pressed into immediate service, taking badly needed supplies to the front-line trenches holding the bridgehead, forming a human chain from ships to shore passing supplies and water onto land, all the while under enemy fire. Colonel Patterson was sent to W beach with 200 mules, carrying water and ammunition, while the remainder finished unloading at V beach under heavy fire. From W beach the Corps worked night day taking supplies up to the front, in pouring rain and biting winds which made the rough paths into mud slides. Yet by the following dawn, when they were stood down exhausted, only a few men and mules were found to have been wounded.

The following night one man went missing in action, his tunic being found the next day on the battlefield, and few days later Farrier Abraham Frank was killed and Mamoun Makaryov seriously wounded. By 9 May, Moscowitz and Meir Peretz had been killed. When Patterson asked his Commanding Officer, General Hunter-Weston, if fifty volunteers from the Corps could join a frontal attack on Achi Baba hill, permission was refused on the grounds that they were too badly needed to keep the trenches supplied.

Colonel Patterson was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle on  September 10 1915 as saying, how ‘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.’

They made their first camp and mule lines in a gully near the front where, by a stroke of luck, Sergeant Farrier Leib Schoub discovered a well hidden in the corner of a demolished Turkish farm house, solving the problem of water for the mules. While some slept, parties of men and mules took turns bringing up forage, water and ammunition from the beaches to the front throughout the day and following night. The Corps were the only transport available and were constantly at work.

A few days later the Zion Mule Corps took part in a pitched battle against the Turkish trenches with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, although they were officially forbidden to do so. Reaching their lines with supplies, the Corps saw that the Inniskillings had been so depleted by casualties that they would need help to attack the Turks. Led by Corporal Elie Hildesheim [xxviii] - later known as Leon Gildesgame, a graduate of the Herziliya Gymnasium – they took part in a charge that routed the Turkish soldiers.

On one occasion the men refused to unload sides of bacon on the jetty until the Grand Rabbi granted dispensation. The rabbi also allowed them to eat it if necessary.

On 11 May the Corps moved to a new bivouac two miles inland which became their base for the next seven months.

In June the Corps were once again posted to the front line at Achi Baba. When they heard the British singing as they returned to the rest areas, Trumpeldor, dordered his men to sing while marching to the way to the front.

Patterson received dozens of letters from senior officers to whom Zion Mule Corps men were attached, testifying to the excellent and fearless work of his men. Word of their courage even reached the ears of the Turkish Commander in Palestine, Jamal Pasha. Jamal was enraged that a unit of Palestinian Jews were fighting against the Turks in Gallipoli. To please the Turks, the Jewish community in Palestine proclaimed it wrong to fight for the British, and organized a protest against them in Jerusalem. Yet Turkish mistreatment of the Jews became increasingly oppressive and they lost Jewish support.

There were numerous individual stories of bravery under fire and sacrifice. Trumpeldor himself was wounded in the shoulder at this time, but refused to be evacuated. By the end of July, casualties and illness had brought the Zion Mule Corps to less than half its original strength, although it had to carry out the same volume of work. Patterson was ordered back to Alexandria to recruit more troops and bring more mules. Trumpeldor and Patterson returned with more recruits and mules after a triumphal welcome in Alexandria. However, the corps continued in action only until December of 1915. Patterson had taken ill in November, and was evacuated on November 26. Trumpeldor was left in command. The corps was disbanded the next month. Fourteen or fifteen men had died in service in the Zion Mule Corps and scores were wounded.

Patterson fought in vain for regular British army pensions for the men of the Zion Mule Corps. These were granted only to the officers. The men received a one time grant of 150 pounds.

Patterson later returned to command the Jewish Legion, which included about 150 veterans of the Zion Mule Corps.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/gallipoli.html   Jewish Legion

Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

a- sounded like a in arm

ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ah sound.

o - close to the French o as in homme.

th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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