The Jewish soldiers in 1/17th Battalion, The London Regiment in the First World War

The London Regiment, of the Territorial Army, consisted of a number of separate battalions, many based on a particular district of the capital. Usually the name of the district was incorporated into the title of the battalion; I am interested, in this article, in one such, the 17th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Poplar and Stepney Rifles). Since this regiment was based on a part of London with a large Jewish element, it is not surprising that there was a number of Jews in the unit. One can get some idea of the numbers from the nominal roll of those who served in the various battalions of the London Regiment which is printed in the British Jewry Book of Honour (1922, reprinted 1997). There are a couple of deficiencies in this source. First, those who served in the various battalions of the London Regiment are all listed together, so that one has to separate them in order to see who served in each battalion. Then, they are not in strict alphabetical order which takes some disentangling. It is not a completely accurate list; there are duplications, for example. This is in part excusable as in 1916 each battalion of the London Regiment was allocated a block of serial numbers for its men, the six-figure digits taking the place of the four-digits previously in use. Thus the BJBH sometimes includes entries for a man with both numbers, which is in addition to actual duplications of the same number. Sometimes the battalion was wrong, perhaps because the man had been transferred to another battalion. And there were omissions.

Allowing for these factors there were probably something like 200 Jewish Other Ranks in the four units of the battalion (the 3rd and 4th battalions were home-based and used as sources for reinforcements for the 1st and 2nd). There were six Jewish commissioned officers. Jewish casualties in 1/17th included one officer and 19 Other Ranks who were killed in action or died on active service1.

The 1/17th battalion's history in the First World War has been published2 and while not many individuals are identified one of the six Jewish officers, A. B. Walters, is mentioned. His full name was Arthur Baraf Walters, the middle name being also sported by his father, Nathan, who was born in 1865 in Botosani, then in the Ottoman Empire. In 1877, when Romania declared its independence, it was located in that country3. In his application for naturalisation he lists five addresses in the East End of London where he resided from 1883 (presumably the year he immigrated), settling in his long-term residence, and the site of his confectionery manufacturing business, at 122 High Street, Poplar, in 18964. Strangely, the police report in the naturalisation papers stated that he was a Christian5. In fact he had been married at the East London Synagogue in 1891 and became President of the Poplar Associate Synagogue, and in later life was a member of the council of the United Synagogue and also of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, as well as being active in many Jewish affairs.

The first of his seven children, Arthur, was born in 1892, and took up employment with his father. At the 1911 Census, aged 19, his occupation was given as 'Manufacturer's son travelling for the business' in the confectionery trade. I take that to mean he was a commercial traveller, presumably selling to the retail trade. The important military point is that he joined his local Territorial battalion, the 17th London before the 1914 war, and was commissioned as 2Lt in March 19136. It was not, I think, unusual for a local man to be commissioned in his Territorial unit, except that this was a working-class area and it is true that most commissioned officers before 1914, and in the first years of the war, were middle class7.

Soon after the war began he was promoted Lt and in that capacity he was in command of a Jewish religious service, held at the headquarters of the battalion, at Hatfield8. He was with the unit when it went to France in March 1915 and remained with the 17th London for most of the war, being promoted T/Capt in September 19159. The first Jewish deaths in action of men from 17th London were written up in the Jewish Chronicle, 4 June 1915, pp. 10 and 19:


Rifleman B. B. Harris, 17th London Regiment, 2nd Division, Territorial  Force, British Expeditionery Force, writes to us as follows: 'I write to you of the sad news that Sergt. M. Gordon, of the above regiment, was killed in action on May 16th last, being fatally hit by a bursting shrapnel shell. His death was much regretted by the whole battalion (officers and men) of which he was a valuable unit. He was buried with all Jewish rites and the burial was conducted by the Jewish soldiers of the battalion. The service was impressively carried out by Lieut. A. B. Walters and Rifleman L. Strauss. I am sorry to say, but assure you in saying so, that the country has lost one of the finest soldiers and men, and one who upheld the good reputation of the British Army and Jewish race.'


The following postscript appears on the letter: 'The Censor regrets to add that Rifleman Louis Strauss was shot by a German sniper on May 23rd, 1915, and this letter was found on him.'



The following is a letter sent to Mrs. Gordon, the mother of Sergt. Morris M. Gordon, who has been killed in action. The letter was written on behalf of the Jewish members of the battalion:-

DEAR MRS. GORDON, - I herewith write this letter of condolence on behalf of the Jewish comrades of the late Sergt. Gordon, your son, and whose death we all grieve and mourn as if he was our own brother. This loss to us is more than mere words can say. All through life he was our best friend and helper, our idol, in fact one, who we would look to as a guidance of all our wants. The country has lost a fine man, a splendid soldier. It is such a regret that the country's best men should be first to go, but God knows His work best, and our faith and trust should be placed in Him for He alone knows for what good these circumstances occur. We all mourn his death with you, but don't take the bereavement too much to heart as you will always have the pride and honour in knowing that he died a glorious death, fighting for King and country. He had our best respects until his interment which was carried out according to the Jewish custom and had a true Jewish burial. We all wish you long life and every happiness for the future.

Your dear friend,


P.S. If the boys are spared till after the war we will be able to come and see you.

Mrs. Gordon has also received a charming letter from Sergt. Gordon's Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Col. James Godding, praising him 'as a most competent non-commissioned officer'.

A minor problem concerns the burials. Wilcox describes what appears to be the first deaths in action of the battalion, which included a sergeant, presumably Sgt Gordon (who is the first sergeant who died, according to Soldiers died in the Great War.) He says they were buried by the Brigade chaplain10. Yet the Jewish Chronicle account clearly states that Lt A. B. Walters conducted the burial. Wilcox then goes on to say that 'Further burials took place at Bridge House, Lt A B Walters officiating in place of the brigade chaplain'. Did he act in this capacity for a number of Jewish burials at Cuinchy, at what were or were to become Woburn Abbey Cemetery and the Guards' Cemetery? At that period, the burial (later in those cemeteries) included two Jews from 17th London, one from 21st London, three from the King's Liverpool Regiment (one being commissioned), and a Major from 6th London. Or did it mean that he acted for all soldiers, whatever their religion?11

Little is known of A.B. Walters' service for the rest of the war, except that he survived, but there are two mysteries. The first is an entry in the Jewish Chronicle (19th January 1917, p. 15) that he had been Mentioned in Dispatches. I have been unable to find a confirmation of this in the London Gazette. The second is a statement on his Medal Index Card that he was a Captain in the RAF. This came into existence on 1 April 1918 and again I have been unable to confirm this. In the meantime, in January 1918 he married Minnie Konskier whose father was sometime Vice-President of the Poplar Associate Synagogue (the President being Arthur Walters' father.) At the end of the war Arthur Walters was, not unexpectedly, transferred to the army's unemployed list12, but he remained in the Territorial Army Reserve and in 1921 was promoted T/Major13. He used this rank thereafter, eg, when his father's business, now transferred to Acton, became in 1928, Walter's Palm Toffee Ltd, and Major Arthur Baraf Walters (now living in Wimbledon) became joint managing director with his brother John14.

His army rank of Major continued to be used, as in a report of the annual meeting in 1939 of the South London Jewish Ex-Servicemen's Association. A month later he presided at a meeting on 'Jews and National Defence', at a time of growing anxiety about Germany's intentions. The various speakers urged those present to participate in the different branches of national service, and 'a large number' enrolled in the Territorial Army, the ARP, and other Defence Forces. Early in 1940 he took over the chairmanship of the British Maccabi Association, a sporting organisation, for the duration of the war15.

Thereafter little is known of his connection with the army except that he was accorded the title of Honorary Colonel. In 1961 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Middlesex, the announcement describing him as 'Major (Honorary Colonel16)'. Four of his Poplar-born brothers were also commissioned. In 1944, their father, living in Jerusalem, sent New Year greetings to his children, including his sons, described as 'Colonel Arthur, Lieut.-Colonel Charles, and Captain and Controller Richard; to his sons Leslie and Stanley (Officers, Home Guard17.)' It is not known if Arthur was active in uniform in some capacity18.



Ron Wilcox gives a detailed account of the history of the bn but while he mentions the number of casualties he does not generally give names. However, he does mention that Rfn Arthur Albert Embery was the first to die, on 15th April 1915. The first Jewish casualties were, as mentioned, Sgt Morris Gordon and Rfn Arthur Louis Strauss in the following month. Like most soldier deaths they died by artillery bombing. But one can locate some of the deaths, in the following list, according to particular battles.

1891 Sgt GORDON, Morris. 13th May 1915

2860 Rfn STRAUSS, Abraham Louis. 24th May 1915

3141 Rfn SPERO, Morris. 17th September 1915} [These were 2 of 5 men killed and 28 wounded by a heavy armour-piercing shell: Wilcox, The Poplars, p. 52

2520 Rfn WOOLF, Nathan. 17th September 1915}

2022 Rfn BENJAMIN, Pizer. 26th September 1915.Probably killed at Loos.

2718 Rfn MINSK, Mark. 26th October 1915. [His brother, Harry Minsk, 1 Connaught Rangers, was killed 23rd November 1914]

571065 Rfn SARLUIS, Solomon. 1st October 1916. Probably killed at Eacourt L'Abbaye

5427 Rfn GOLDBERG, Louis. 15th October 1916

2142 L/Cpl COHEN. Jack. 30th October 1916

5978 Rfn LIPMAN, William Robert. 8th November 1916

574302 Rfn SIMONS, Abraham. 14th March 1917

573826 Rfn HART, Woolf. 7th June 1917 [His brother, Solomon Hart, RFA, was killed 1st February 1917]

573544 Rfn COHEN, Alexander. 27th August 1917

576157 Rfn ABRAHAMS, Sidney. 29th November 1917. Probably killed at Bourlon Wood

572484 Rfn MYERS MM, Joseph M. 3rd December 1917 [His MM was listed in LG, 11th November 1917, p. 13018]

570657 L/Cpl SELMAN (SOLOMON), Benjamin. 6th December 1917

576884 Rfn FLAUM, Sidney. 29th March 1918

2Lt CARO, Jacob Pisa. 2nd May 1918

572559 Rfn SIMMONS, Solomon. 24th August 1918

589356 Rfn WOLLMAN, Emanuel. 1st September 1918

Published in the Bulletin of the Military Historical Society, vol 64, no. 256, May 2014, pp. 178-182.

1  This does not include Rfn Hyman Goodfriend who was killed in action in November 1917. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his regiment as 17th London, but he was killed in Palestine and was buried in Gaza War Cemetery. He was in 2nd/17th London Regiment, part of 60 Div, which served in the Palestine campaign.

2  Ron Wilcox, The Poplars. What life was like on the Western Front in the First World War as experienced by the 1/17th London (Poplar and Stepney) Battalion, the East End Regiment, 2005.

3  The name 'Baraf' was probably a form of the Hebrew Ben-harav, ie, 'son of the rabbi'. This may mean that there was a rabbi among the ancestors but I have not attempted to locate him. In his naturalisation papers he gives his birth date as 17th February 1865: The National Archives, HO144/441/B29408, naturalisation papers of Nathan Baraf Walters.

4  He states that he was at 252 Whitechapel from 1886 to 1889, and then at 44 Whitechapel Road from 20th December 1889 to 25th March 1894. Yet in the 1891 Census he was still at 252 Whitechapel Road and 44 Whitechapel Road was uninhabited.

5 Ibid.

6  London Gazette(henceforth LG), 25th April 1913, p. 2982, 17 County of London bn, Arthur Baraf Walters to be 2Lt wef 19th March 1913.

7  Harold Pollins, 'Jewish Officers in the British Forces in the First World War', Siegfried's Journal, Newsletter of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship, no 17, Winter 2010. The was reproduced as 'Jewish Officers in World War I', in http://www.hellfirecorner.uk/snillopofficers/htm

8  Jewish Chronicle (henceforth JC), 18th December 1914, p. 23.

9  LG,29th October 1915, p. 10660. Appointment dated 14th September 1915.

10  Wilcox, The Poplars, p. 30. Bridge House Cemetery apparently was temporary and the bodies were later removed to Woburn Abbey Cemetery nearby. Both Sergt Gordon and Rfn Strauss were buried in Woburn Abbey Cemetery.

11  Wilcox, The Poplars, p. 29 (for Brigade chaplain) and p. 30 (for Walters)

12  LG, 28th March 1919, p. 4039

13  LG, 24th May 1921, p. 4164

14  JC, 8th June 1928, p. 38

15  Ex-servicemen's meeting, JC, 14th April 1939, p. 18; National Defence, ibid., 19th April 1939; Maccabi Association, ibid., 15th March 1940 p. 36

16LG, 13th June 1961, p. 4377

17  JC, 22nd September 1944, p. 16. Note that in 1944 Arthur was already described as 'Colonel'. I have been unable to find a reference to this promotion. Charles Edwin Walters was appointed a 2Lt in 17 London, wef 22nd May 1937. But the brother of Arthur Baraf Walters was born in 1905 while the new 2Lt was described in 1937 as late cadet Perse School contingent to the junior division OTC [LG, 21st May 1937, p. 3300]. He was promoted Lt wef 10th May 1939 in the Tower Hamlets Rifles [ibid., 30th June 1939, p. 4450]. In that regiment, his chaplain's card is at the Jewish Military Museum, but his rank is given as Capt and the last entry is dated 5 November 1940

`8  I checked the London Gazette for the period of the Second World War, looking for entries for Walters. There were many of them but I was unable to locate any for this family.

This article was originally publisged in: Siegfied's Journal. Newsletter of the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship, No. 17, Winter 2010.

Copyright © Harold Pollins, 2010, 2014

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