Patterson’s Ashes Brought to Israel

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The Jabotinsky Institute in Israel is honored to report that the ashes of Colonel John Patterson have now been brought to Israel for reinterment. Patterson, renowned for commanding the British Army’s Zion Mule Corps as well as the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (“the Jewish Legion”) during World War I, served as the right-hand man of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of both the battalions. An account of the Jabotinsky Institute’s efforts to bring Colonel Patterson’s ashes for burial in Israel was first published in Institute News in March 2014.

Following a complex operation initiated by the National Heritage Department of the Prime Minister’s Office headed by Reuven Pinsky, the ashes of Colonel Patterson and his wife Frances Helena were brought from the Los Angeles mausoleum where they had been buried since the colonel’s death in 1947. Ronen Peretz, advisor to the Israeli Cabinet Secretary, was dispatched to Los Angeles to carry out the mission.

The operation to bring Colonel Patterson’s ashes to Israel actually began in 2010. At that time, the pro-Zionist’s grandson Alan Patterson approached then-chairman of the Jabotinsky Institute, the late Peleg Tamir, and Institute director Yossi Ahimeir with the desire to reinter his grandparents’ ashes in the Avihayil Military Cemetery alongside the colonel’s fellow legionnaires.

Alan Patterson, who resides in the US, first connected with the Jabotinsky Institute in Israel on a personal visit there in 1999. At the time he met with Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the grandson of his namesake, for a close-up look at files on Colonel Patterson in the Institute’s archives. Following a subsequent letter from Alan Patterson, the Jabotinsky Institute director sent this message to then-Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser:

I am turning to you on an unusual matter which reached my desk from far-away Boston, Massachusetts. Mr. Alan Patterson is the grandson of the commander of the Jewish Legions in World War I, Colonel John Patterson. The colonel, a Christian British Army officer, was a friend of the Jewish People and a supporter of its national aspirations, and served as Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s right-hand man at that time.

Patterson’s grandson approached me with a special request to explore the possibility of bringing his grandfather’s ashes for reburial in Israel “alongside his comrades, the Jewish Legion soldiers.” Colonel Patterson died in 1947, and his cremated ashes are interred in a mausoleum in Los Angeles. “This was my grandfather’s wish, for his eternal resting place to be next to the commanders of the Jewish Legion,” Alan Patterson told me. “I greatly wish to realize his dream, to bring his urn for burial in Israeli soil.”

In his letter to Zvi Hauser, Jabotinsky Institute director Yossi Ahimeir continued, The prime minister’s late brother Yonatan Netanyahu was named after Colonel John Patterson. This, of course, is not the primary issue. The fact that John Patterson was a British officer who contributed to the military preparation of the Jewish forces at the onset of the previous century and to the national liberation of the Jewish People is of utmost importance. Who more than yourself is aware of this point. Thus, in my humble opinion, I believe that the government must respond to this special wish by paying homage to the truly righteous gentile and true friend of our People, a commander and magnificent persona whose legacy should be cultivated within us, and a man who served and fought alongside Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor, in the British Army, to liberate our country from the Turkish conquerors.

From the moment that Ahimeir approached the cabinet secretary, the process began to take movement. Attorney Hauser, who had spearheaded the National Heritage program under the aegis of the Prime Minister’s Office, immediately grasped the significance of the effort to bring Col. Patterson’s ashes for burial in Israel. A team was appointed that included Mr. Yehezkel Sibak of Moshav Avihayil, who determined the precise location in the cemetery for Patterson’s final resting place. The Prime Minister’s Office has announced that the official government ceremony will take place in November.

Together with Orde Wingate, Josiah Wedgwood, and Richard Meinertzhagen, Colonel John Patterson holds the distinction of being one of the few major British figures to aid the Jewish People in realizing their dream of independence.

The Jabotinsky Institute Archives contain a great deal of historical material related to Colonel Patterson, including personal correspondence from the 1930s revealing a close relationship between Patterson and Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his movement. Researcher Yossi Kister noted that Patterson was even a member of the executive board of Keren Tel Hai, and on a 1937 visit to Israel was closely involved in the creation of Metzudat Ze’ev. In 1940, Colonel Patterson came to Jabotinsky’s assistance in garnering support from the U.S. government for the establishment of a Jewish Army.

Nearly a century has passed since Patterson and Jabotinsky joined forces to found the Jewish legions during World War I. At this point in time, events have come full circle. Fifty years ago, Jabotinsky’s remains were brought from America for burial in Israel. Today, as well, the ashes of his non-Jewish comrade and partner Colonel John Henry Patterson have been brought for burial in the Land of Israel.