National Register of Jewish Memorial Boards
At the end of the First World War the whole country was grieving. Everyone had either lost a family member, a friend or neighbour and particularly with so many loved ones buried far from home, they needed somewhere to go to be able to reflect and grieve for those who they had lost.
Never had a nation, let alone an Empire as vast and multicultural as the British Empire, attempted to commemorate all their war dead from a given conflict. No template existed for the task of commemorating the dead on such a mammoth scale. Everything we now take for granted, every facet of remembrance, had to be worked out, debated, costed and delivered.
It had been agreed that British and Empire soldiers should be buried where they had fallen. One of the problems was that at the end of the war hundreds of thousands of war dead could not be identified, as many of the records were inaccurate or missing. Some of those men are buried under headstones which state ‘Known only unto God’, some have gravestones stating ‘Believed to be’ and then a name. Many, many more are mentioned by their names on memorial walls around the cemeteries of the battlefields. One such Jewish soldier is Harry Abrahams of Broughton Park, Manchester; his name is engraved on the famous Thiepval Memorial, in northern France, as well as Higher Broughton Synagogue Memorial Board.
The Jewish community’s response to that loss reflected that of the rest of Britain, and during the 1920s memorials were erected in public places, for example, the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The obvious place for the Jewish community to erect permanent memorials was in the halls of their synagogues and prayer halls of cemeteries.
The boards included on the National Register of Jewish Memorial Boards include some from the Imperial War Museum website, some from the British Jewry Book of Honour and some from various Jewish cemeteries around Britain. Most of these boards still exist, and whilst some were destroyed during the Blitz in the Second World War, like the board, although not the candelabra, of the Central Synagogue, some have been placed in cemeteries or archives where the public might not be able to access them, like the Sunderland Synagogue board.
As the team work through the lists of names on the boards we find that not only servicemen are included but also names of civilians; including women who were killed during Zeppelin bombing raids. Kate Bonny is such a woman, memorialised on the Board of Bevis Marks Synagogue in central London.
Another example is Dame Beatrice Lever, who died after contracting sepsis while tending the wounded as a nurse. She is memorialised on the West London Synagogue Board.
Many names appear on more than one board, as families donated to memorials in several synagogues to which the wider family belonged, as well as cemeteries where later parents were interred. Whilst most appear on one or two boards, some, like Captain Nathaniel Marks, a career soldier who also died of sepsis in 1918, appears on at least 4 boards, including the board of the Jews Orphanage Asylum, indicating that at some point in his childhood he must have been one of their boys.
Some of the boards were updated after the Second World War, and we have noted these individuals who also gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
These boards are very much a work in progress and we will continue to add more as times goes by. If anyone comes across a board we do not know about, please contact us so that we can add it to our collection.
If British Jews in the First World War is about anything, it is a modern-day memorial board for those of the Jewish Community in Britain who lost their lives in the Great War.
By Lola Fraser, WWTT volunteer
Hidden Treasures: Celebrating the documents, photos and artefacts in British archives that tell the story of Jews in Britain