In what Haaretz newspaper called a “modest but impressive ceremony” Thursday, John Henry Patterson, commander of the Jewish Brigade in the British army in World War I, was reburied in Israel. The man whom Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “the godfather of the Israeli army” had expressed a wish to be buried with his soldiers.
Patterson, born in 1867 in Ireland to a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, rose to fame in England after killing two man-eating lions during the construction of a bridge under his supervision in what is today Kenya. His exploits there inspired three movies. He later went on to command the Zion Mule Corps and the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (also known as the Jewish Brigade) in World War I. There, he became enamoured with the idea of a Jewish State.
Zionist hero Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who co-founded the Jewish Brigade and fought alongside Patterson, said of him, “In all of Jewish history we have never had a Christian friend as understanding and devoted.”
Netanyahu shared his personal connection with Patterson, telling attendees that the man had been a personal friend of his father’s, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, and was godfather of his older brother, Yonatan, who was also named after the British soldier. Yoni Netanyahu fell in a rescue operation of Jewish hostages in Entebbe in 1976.
“[Patterson] had absolute confidence that the Jews would make remarkable soldiers – not adequate soldiers, but remarkable soldiers. And I think he had a lot to do with that. He began the reconstitution of the ability of the Jews to defend ourselves,” Netanyahu said. He also pointed out Patterson’s legacy as the first commander of a Jewish fighting force in 2,000 years, linking him to such heroes as King David and Bar Kochba.
Patterson’s remains were originally buried in California, where he lived out the final years of his life with his wife. He passed away in 1947, one year shy of seeing his dream of a Jewish state realized.
Patterson’s grandson, Alan, initiated the transfer of his grandfather’s remains after reading about him in the archives of the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv. The younger Patterson was surprised to discover the importance of his grandfather’s role in Israel’s history. In 2009, he came up with the idea of reburying his grandfather in Israel, in accordance with the wishes he had expressed.
Alan reached out to Yossi Ahimeir, head of the Jabotinsky Institute, who agreed to take the request to the Israeli government. Once the government was on board, a special delegation was sent to California to complete the legal process required. Patterson’s remains were re-interred Thursday at Moshav Avichayil near Netanya, a moshav (cooperative settlement) established by fighters from the Jewish Brigade in 1932.
“In bringing his ashes to Israel and laying them to rest here, beside the soldiers of the Jewish brigades that he established, we come full circle historically, and we repay a very great debt to one of the heroes of our people, one of the greatest supporters that Zionism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel ever had,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “We salute you, John Henry Patterson.”
With input from BBC News, The Independent, Haaretz and Israel HaYom
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