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'A good Jew and a good Englishman'

Jewish Lads´ Brigade

In April 1891, the Jewish Chronicle published a letter from Reverend Francis Lyon Cohen headed ´But what about the boys?´ in which he called for the creation of a Jewish youth group, modeled on the Boys´ Brigade, to channel the energies of working class youth in the East End of London at the crucial period ´Between their leaving school and their attainment of manhood´. Colonel Albert Goldsmid brought this idea to fruition in the form of Jewish Lads´ Brigade.

The Brigade was founded, after a lecture by Colonel Goldsmid before the Maccabaeans, at a meeting held at the Jews' Free School in the East End of London, on 16 February 1895, when the first company of boys was enrolled; and six weeks later the first weekly drill was held. Recruits were drawn from JFS, the Norwood Orphanage and local elementary schools. In 1896, the first summer camp, with nineteen boys, was held at Sandhills, Deal (near Kent), and social and athletic clubs were organised.

In its First Annual Report in 1897, the main object of the Jewish Lads´ Brigade was defined  as to instil in the rising generation, from earliest youth, habits of orderliness, cleanliness, and honour, so that in learning to respect, so they will do credit to their Community.

The Brigade was organised and drilled as a military body. Clubs for sports athletics, social, and intellectual objects, were formed amongst the members.

Companies proliferated and, in the East End, they existed by street: Deal Street, Underwood Street, Old Castle Street, Christina Street, Gravel Lane, and more.

It was not only in London that success was enjoyed. Companies opened in Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff- and even Montreal and Johannesburg.

In 1904, Colonel Goldsmid died to be succeeded by Colonel Montefiore as Commandant, and then by Sir Frederick Nathan.

The growth of the Brigade made the quest for space more urgent. The original JLB offices were at 63 Finsbury Pavement in the City. In November 1904, they moved to 20/21 Bucklesbury. The premises were shared with the Russo-Jewish Committee and the Jewish Athletics Association. Eventually, in 1913, the purpose-built JLB centre named Camperdown House was opened. This premises was situated in Half Moon Passage, Aldgate, in the heart of the Jewish East End. The name of “Camperdown House” is a relic of the very fine house, about 200 years old, which was standing on the site at the time of its acquisition by the Trustees. Judging by the size of the rooms it must have been occupied at one time by some important personage, possible in connection with the military training ground adjoining.

First World War

By 1907, Richard B Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, knowing war was inevitable, wanted all youth organisations to affiliate to the Cadet Forces to create a direct link to Army recruitment. The JLB, Boys Brigade, Church Brigade and Scouts all refused to join it, as they did not want to be seen as military organisations. In March 1915, six months into the war, the Brigade applied for recognition by the Territorial Forces Association and, for the remainder of the war, the London Battalion styled itself ´1st London Cadet Battalion, Jewish Lads´ Brigade´ and Manchester, the ´1st Manchester Cadet Battalion JLB´.

All JLB Companies, except Dublin, transformed themselves into Cadet units and adopted uniform of regulation ´service pattern´. Accordingly, a ´Khaki scheme´ was drawn up for the Brigade as a whole. This decision was not taken lightly. It was a way to keep the Jewish boys together rather than being scattered across the army.

This strong emphasis on duty bore tragic fruit during the First World War. Former members of the Jewish Lads´ Brigade made the expected sacrifices with 535 men losing their lives. Their names appear on the JLB Roll of Honour. This figure accounts for almost one-third (27%) of all British Jews who died for their country during the conflict (1,949). It represents 80% of casualties amongst Jewish serving officers. The British Jewry Book of Honour notes that 80 out of a total of 90 JLB officers joined up as volunteers in 1914, 38 of them never returned.

Despite these tragic results, there were Brigade Boys who survived the war; VC Izzy Smith and Victor Baron Barnett, amongst others.

The Brigade was at the forefront of the recruitment drive at the beginning of the war.

In September 1914, a recruiting meeting at Camperdown House, attended by a representative of the War Office, the Mayor of Stepney and Stuart Samuel MP, netted 150 Jewish volunteers for the British Army. The JLB was represented, through its chairman Max Bonn, on the Juvenile Organisations Committee, set up by the Home Office to encourage voluntary war work amongst young people.

Ernest Woolf, who joined Hackney Company in 1914, remembered ´marching round the streets of Hackney with the band playing, finishing up on the steps of the Town Hall. I was a bugler at the time and we were all blowing away like mad to attract the people to come and listen to an Army Officer making his speech calling for recruits´.

In March 1917, Camperdown House was used as the venue for a public meeting called by the militantly anticonscriptionist Foreign Jews Protection Committee. Day to day Brigade activities were inevitably reduced, many Companies collapsed, and the 1914 Summer Camps were hastily curtailed on the outbreak of hostilities. Full camp was not resumed until 1918 (for London at Wallingford and for the provinces at Penrhynside, Llandudno; Birmingham Company held a separate camp at Stoneleigh Park).

The Sandhills site at Deal was appropriated by the War Office. However, small camps were held in August 1917 for about 60 lads at Goring and 150 lads from Manchester at Kettleshulme in Derbyshire. The Manchester JLB Scout Company also held weekend camps at Marple during the war and the Glasgow Company held two camps of its own. During this fallow period, the JLB was kept going largely owing to the dedication of older officers and those ineligible for army service, especially Joseph and Ernest Hallenstein, and the acting paymaster, Max Bonn.

1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

Outbreak of hostilities.

Camp at Sandhills, Deal, near Kent.

Camp strength: 689.

Camp broken up on 4th August and returned to London.

JLB uniform revert to KHAKI.

Camp Commandant: Col. E.M. Halsted.


No camps held.

JLB is affiliated to Cadet Force. May 1915

Camp held at Greenford.

Camp strength: 600

Camp commandant:Major C.W. Tabhush.

Camp at Goring.

Camp strength: 60.

Camp Commandant: Major C.V. Tabhush.

Sgt. Jack White. Manchester JLB. awarded Victoria Cross. V.C.

French Government presents JLB (amongst other Cadet Corps) with Medal.

Camp held at Wallingford

Camp strength. 400

Camp Commandant. Col E.M. Halsted

War terminates November. IIth Armistice.


In 1919, the JLB like the country as a whole, applied itself in earnest to the task of post war reconstruction. The Annual Report for that year noted that the Brigade was ´faced... with the task of creating itself afresh. Commandant Sir Frederic Nathan returned from war service to find the organisation badly depleted of both officers and funds.

100 years after war, the JLB, now JLGB still exists today and can be found at www. jlgb.org


Compiled extracts from:

  1. ´A Good Jew and Good Englishman´ The Jewish Lads´ & Girls´ Brigade 1895-1995. Sharman Kadish, 1995.
  2. Wikipedia  www. wikipedia.org/wiki/JLGB
  3. The Jewish Lads Brigade First Annual Report 1897
  4. Jewish Lads´ Brigade supplement, Jewish Chronicle, 27 October 1972
  5. Camperdown House brochure, 1913

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London Jews in the First World War - We Were There Too

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