Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sgt.Major Mick Goldstein, Royal Fusiliers and the Jewish Brigade

Photo shows: Mick as a Sgt. in the 22nd Battion Royal Fusiliers

Foreword by Ron Goldstein

In 1988 the Goldstein’s of Boreham Street decided to write a family history entitled “And Then There Were Eleven”. Under the direction of Esther, the oldest surviving child, this duly came to fruition.

The title of the book referred to the fact that there were eleven children in the family and eight of them contributed their own memories to this saga of family life.

One of the boys was Mick, who sadly passed away today, Saturday the 19th of November 2005.

As a tribute to his valiant service to both his country of birth and his Jewish faith I give below the section of his story that dealt with his military career.

Mick’s Story:

In the early months of the war I was called up to the forces.

I joined the 22nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in Kirkintilloch, Scotland, and spent the next four years serving all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most of this time as Sergeant Instructor; first as an infantry-man, and when the War Office needed more anti-tank units, I took courses on the 2-pounder, 6-pounder and eventually l7-pounder guns. I was selected to work with a Colonel Vaudrey, with whom I devised a miniature range with moving miniature tanks and a specially calibrated .22 rifle fitted on the 2-pounder gun, to simulate battle conditions.

When, frustrated at what I felt to be my relative inactivity in the fight against Fascism, I heard of the formation of the Jewish Brigade and volunteered to join it, I received a letter from this very fine man at H/O, 7O A/Tk, from which I quote: "Dear Goldstein, I was so sorry to have missed being able to say goodbye to you and to thank you for the excellent work you have done in this regiment. I appreciate only too well the difficulty of training these intakes. It is a soul-destroying job after a time, but you kept up to it. I would like to wish you every good luck not only personally, but on behalf of the Regiment. Yours very sincerely, K. Vaudrey."

Motivated by strong Zionist tendencies and my desire to be more involved in the fighting, I arrived in Naples on January l3th, l945, and after eight days in Eboli I joined the Jewish Field Regiment at St Bartolemeo, leaving there on my birthday, l5th March, for a regimental hide about lO kilometres from the front. The non-Jewish English personnel had been told that the original l65 Field Regiment which the Jewish Field Regiment was replacing was in any case to be disbanded, but they apparently still resented what they considered was our intrusion. It was the worst possible way to form a regiment of this sort, and bound to create ill-feeling; indeed it boiled over into antisemitic acts, such as the burning of our regimental flag by non-Jewish staff. As bad as that was, however, we were to experience even worse later on from the Poles; when fighting alongside them, they cut our lines of communication to the Observation Post!

Our Regiment was to be part of the Jewish Brigade, which consisted of three battalions of excellent infantry, all Palestinians. Israel was not yet created, and it is ironic to recall that all residents of Palestine, Jews, Moslems and Christians, were then called Palestinians - they had already been in action and fought superbly. We were in bivouacs near a dirty Italian farmhouse, close by some Polish troops, near Forli. Major Rosenberg commanded the battery and the troop captain was Capt. Henriques. Edmunds de Rothschild was a major in the unit, and a fellow-sergeant was Mike Evanari, professor of botany and later vice-president of the Hebrew University, to whom the men would bring flowers and botanical specimens from the surrounding countryside for identification.

My sub-section consisted of Bombardier Uri, a grand, bespectacled dark-haired boy from Germany; Lance-Bombardier Weihrach, a tall, smiling blond lad from Vienna; Judah Weinberg, whose family perished in concentration camps in Germany; Mattius Bedrooms, a hard-working chatterbox from Poland, the sub's "old man," about 36 years old; also Blondie Bernstein from Poland, who had just had his first combat crop, and our non-Jewish English driver, Langley, a friendly lad.

It was wonderful to receive letters and parcels from home. While still in England, I had been visiting my Goldstein cousins in Hackney Road when on leave, and my friendship with Sylvia had developed into a romance. Her letters meant a great deal to me, but I found it particularly amusing when she sent me an Italian dictionary to help along my command of that language, at the very time when I was struggling to learn Sephardi Hebrew - my pronunciation was Ashkenazi, but to converse with my gun crew I needed to speak fluently in the Sephardi pronunciation.

In March l945, while we were fighting in Italy with the Eighth Army, our brigade celebrated Passover, and the Army Commander Jewish Brigade, Brigadier Benjamin, sent greetings - "From the Brigade HQ now in the lines of the 8th Army on the Italian front, to all Jewry. As in the times of Pharaoh, our people show their strong will for freedom and liberty and their readiness to fight for it together with the soldiers of other freedom-loving people. Let the Jewish people know that the soldiers of the Brigade are standing well in the trial of battle, and their spirit is unconquerable. I am confident that their efforts and sacrifices will bring honour to our people. To no other soldier is there more justification to be here in the Front against the Nazi enemy than to the soldiers of this Brigade...Pray God that this Passover may bring the dawn of freedom and liberty to Israel and all humanity."

There were inevitable mishaps in providing Passover provisions - the matzot failed to arrive in time for the Seder Service, which was kibbutz style, but they did turn up next day with the rations - together with the bacon! Another time they arrived with hot cross buns! We had a welcome respite from action when Moshe Shertok came to speak to us for the Jewish Agency, and another highlight was entertainment by Hannah Rovina, the star artist of the Habima Theatre, a beautiful woman whose performance thrilled me.

My diary of the war in Italy has been carefully preserved, from which I quote now some of my notes: "A duty in town (Faenza) brought strange contrasts, women in furs and others in rags, modern limousines and oxen-drawn farm carts, well shod children and bare-footed urchins. We passed both a British and German war cemetery, rows on rows of neat white crosses like a regiment on parade. War has ravaged and scarred this country, whole villages are rubble, and no bomb damage I have ever seen can equal the devastation caused by deadly shelling. The letters D.D.T. painted in black on the walls of almost every house puzzled me until one of the lads explained it was the name of a de-lousing process and signified they'd all been disinfected. Every now and then we'd pass a notice 'Out of Bounds' or 'Malaria, no camping, next site l5 miles on'.

"Despite the rain, the roads were terribly dusty, and I dread the prospect of a summer campaign over these roads. The NAAFI was well up to the standard of the previous one, and we stood on the balcony like Il Duce and surveyed the motley throng. Multi-coloured uniforms were in abundance, since clothes are so scarce nearly all the men have retained their Italian uniforms, and the Carabinieri (police) look like ruddy generals.

"The majority of the traffic to town, apart from military, was horse-drawn; jigs and carts, horses and donkeys in the main being in their last stages. What buildings there are left are gaily coloured pastel shades, and here and there elaborately painted with galleons etc. In town everyone seems to have cash, but even this is pretty valueless since most commodities are unobtainable. It is for this reason that one of the most heinous crimes is to sell cigarettes etc to civilians.

"Looking at the terrain one marvels how we ever captured it, and since they say it gets worse and worse going up to the front, the present lull is understandable, particularly since they're reputed to be in five inches of snow. The women work hard to keep clean, and one can see them scrubbing clothes in the most primitive way, down at mountain streams, and lines of washing, mostly ragged, hanging from the inevitable balcony.

"March 27th. We moved up at 9.45, route Faenza, the Sword Route about lO kilos to Brisighella. In action by lpm behind the Senio at Brisighella, a Bailey Bridge over a small river on our left and hills all round, with the main road to the front in our rear. Wonderful to see so much of the Magen David, Infantry, Royal Engineers, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Ordnance, etc. We were very lucky, found our gun pits, slit trenches etc., dug for us, and even ammunition on site.

"Saw the Ghurkas, mostly youngsters, though they have a wonderful reputation as soldiers. BBC announced the Brigade had been in action. Had sent home a copy of the 'Eighth Army News' giving a good write-up to the Brigade._"April 9th - D-Day. After Orders of the Day from Gen. Mark Clark, Alexander and McKeery, we've had the dope from Henriques. THE PLAN - Poles start at approx. l4.OO, we create diversion with Italians, our infantry to cross Senio.

"April lOth. We commenced firing again at 4.2Oam. Zero hour 4.3O. Worried about my brother Ron who's also in the region with the Eighth Army. All five boys of our family in the services.

"April l2th. We move to point North East this side of Senio. News from home, my brother Jack, an Air Gunner with R.A.F., is missing from a flight over Nurenberg.

"The action in Italy cost the Jewish Brigade 3O lives. 7O men were wounded, 2l military distinctions were awarded and 78 men were mentioned in despatches. On Wednesday, May 2nd, l945, the war in Italy ended. The Jewish Brigade's expertise and personnel became important elements in the establishment of the Israel Defence Forces."

On Wednesday, May 2nd, l945, the war in Italy ended, by which time we were already in Klagenfurt, Austria. There the Brigade commenced its unofficial role of assisting displaced personnel and concentration camp victims. The British members were in many instances withdrawn, and after leave in England, a very welcome break, I was sent out to India as Battery Sergeant Major Instructor of Gunnery, in which position I remained until the war ended in the Far East. I was posted to Deolali and instructed officer cadets in 25-pounder Field Gunnery, needing all the gunners we could get as we were still at war with Japan.

India was a fascinating country, a mixture of wealth and extreme poverty, and the scenery was breathtaking. Contact was made with the Bombay Jewish community, among whom I was fortunate to make good friends, and I spent a memorable Seder Night at the Malabar Hill home of a Jewish tea planter. It was a veritable Arabian Night's dream in its opulence of gold, silver, ivory and ebony, with red-sashed bearers waiting on us at each end of the table, and punkah wallahs pulling ropes that wafted fans above us as we ate.

By sharp contrast to our opulent Seder in the Malabar hills, we saw the other side of life in Byculla, the Jewish slum quarter, a mixture of East End of London alley and Naples cul-de-sac, with all the smells, noises and garbage, and a cosmopolitan population of Muslims, Hindus, poor-Whites, Chinese, Portugese, B'nai Yisraeli, Iraqui Jews and refugees of every conceivable nationality.

The synagogue was built like a church, with the Jewish school beside it. There we found an amazing B'nai Yisraeli schoolmaster rehearsing a Leslie Henson farce with teenagers - he was almost black with white hair, genial and learned. He believed these coloured Jews had been resident in India for some thousands of years; their Hebrew was Sephardi and they were extremely orthodox, but since they had been in India before the destruction of the Second Temple, they had no knowledge of the festivals of Chanukah or Purim, nor of the name Yehudi - Jews.

In the courtyard at the rear of the synagogue we saw an incredible sight - a community of some three hundred Afghan Jews who had trekked thousands of miles from Afghanistan to escape a massacre, housed in abject poverty in ramshackle basketwork structures about the size of cycle sheds. All were haggard and dispirited, under- nourished and in rags; and emaciated, dishevelled children covered with sores crowded round us; since it was Passover they were living mainly on rice and matzos. I spoke in Hebrew to a bearded patriarch in a caftan and he told me of their desire to escape from their horror and misery to Palestine. We returned to army quarters and organised a collection amongst the lads, and with the lOO rupees raised we went back to the refugees loaded with fruit and eggs - it was hard to restrain tears at the sight of their faces when they saw the food. Fearful of the coming monsoons, I approached the Chaplain about food and accommodation for them, and was told the situation was delicate, as they were supposed to be passing through the area and might be sent back to Afghanistan if attention were drawn to them. Food was being provided, and their plight had been mentioned to Sydney Silverman, the Jewish M.P. when he was in Bombay, but their chance of visas for Palestine was very remote. I often wonder what happened to these tragic people.

During our stay in India there was political turmoil, too, since the Indians were fighting for independence - but fortunately I was not involved in that particular fight. The Atom Bomb was dropped on Japan while I was at Deolali, which led to the surrender of Japan and the final cessation of World War II. When at last I was demobbed in l946, I received the magnificent sum of £64 Gratuity, £4O Post-War Credits, £36 for 67 days' leave pay and £lO Ration Allowance! With this total of £l5O when I married my darling Sylvia on 6th November l946, we started our married life together, over forty years blessed with happiness, with two wonderful daughters Naomi and Susie, whose husbands Maurice and Uri and our beloved grandchildren David, Danny and Gaby have enriched our lives.

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