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Jewish Victoria Cross Recipients

The Victoria Cross (VC) was introduced by Queen Victoria in 1857 as the highest award for gallantry. It has only been awarded to 1,555 recipients, 628 of whom served in the First World War. Five of those awarded VC’s during the First World War war were Jewish soldiers.

Frank's Victoria Cross

The Victoria Cross was initially created to recognise valour in the Crimean War, regardless of the class, rank or race of the recipient. Prior to this, there had been no real system for honouring the ordinary working-class soldier. The only stipulation for the award was that the recipient demonstrated ‘most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy’. 

Queen Victoria was a vocal advocate of the idea of honouring the ‘common’ soldier and gave her name to the award.


The First World War saw a huge rise in the number of ‘ordinary’ men fighting in the armed forces, with enlistment and conscription increasing dramatically as the scale of the conflict rose to unprecedented proportions. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the Victoria Cross was awarded more times in the First World War than in any other single conflict before or since. 

Consistent with the Award’s inclusive nature, transcending race, class and rank, the five Jewish recipients of the VC in the First World War were from a diverse range of backgrounds.  

In 1914, Lieutenant Frank de Pass, who had served in the Poona Horse Regiment before the war, was not only the first Jewish officer to receive the VC for his brave actions at Festubert but also the first officer in the Indian Army. His courage under fire, fighting enemy soldiers at close quarters, was hailed by both his comrades and the press. 

In the years of war that followed, fellow Jewish soldiers Issy Smith, Leonard Keysor, Jack White and Robert Gee were also awarded the VC, becoming part of an elite group of British soldiers honoured with the highest medal for their service.

 

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

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