By Alex Rowland, Department of History & Archaeology, University of Chester
By the early 20th century the county of Cheshire had accumulated a small yet prosperous Jewish community. The 1911 census shows that many Jewish people had arrived from Poland and other areas of the Russian Empire to escape pogroms, state sponsored violence directed against Jews, their property and their businesses. These arrivals integrated into the existing Jewish communities of Stockport, Birkenhead and Chester.
The history of the Jewish community in Cheshire is poorly recorded until the late 19th century, with the Jewish Chronicle making occasional references to the activities of the small Jewish community in the City of Chester. By the early 1900’s, there were a number of organised Jewish congregations (predominately Ashkenazi Orthodox) in areas of the Wirral, Stockport, Altrincham, Macclesfield and synagogues in Birkenhead and Widnes.
The British Jewry Book of Honour lists the names of all Jewish servicemen who participated in the First World War in any military service branch. The book lists those killed in action as well as those who received awards and decorations. It mentions 7 officers and over 200 non-commissioned officers and men of Jewish faith who served in the Cheshire Regiment in the years 1914-18. Four Jewish soldiers are listed as receiving decorations: Lance Corporal I. Sillender of the 9th battalion was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) the second highest award for bravery available for NCO’s and men during this period, and Captain R. Abrahams of the 16th battalion is noted as being Mentioned In Dispatches, meaning he was referenced in a report by a senior officer as having displayed bravery and gallantry in the face of the enemy. Sadly there is no record of the actions for which Sillender and Abrahams received their decorations, but the book does offer a brief description of the actions for which Second Lieutenant Sampson Adler was awarded the Military Cross (equivalent to the D.C.M. but only awarded to commissioned officers). His citation reads as follows:
“For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership during operations near Jenlain [France], on the 3rd November, 1918, on the occasion of an enemy withdrawal. After his company commander and other officers had become casualties, he reorganised the company and pushed forward under intense shell fire though out of touch on both flanks, making ground and capturing prisoners. He remained in command of his company for a considerable time after being wounded.”
The British Jewry Book of Honour (along with the Jewish war graves website) also lists 13 servicemen who died in the service of the Cheshire Regiment from 1914-18. The Cheshire Regiment found itself across a number of battlefields, not just on the Western Front but also in Northern Italy, Macedonia, Turkey, Palestine and Iraq. By the end of the war the regiment had suffered thousands of dead and wounded and despite meticulous military records leading to almost all men being identified by name and rank, there is often very little detailed information on individual soldiers, though officers often had detailed obituaries and service records. However there are several soldiers on whom I have been able to piece together a narrative from information online, in the Chester county record office and from the Cheshire regiments own records.
Of the 13 men listed as being of Jewish faith who were killed whilst serving with the Cheshire’s, Captain Wilfrid Max Langdon was the only officer, with the other 12 all being the rank of sergeant or below.
Captain Wilfrid Max Langdon secured a commission as an officer in the Cheshire Regiment in the closing months of 1914 and went to Northern France with the 10th (service) Battalion in September 1915. Born on the 14th of February 1889 in Manchester, to parents Edward and Ada, Wilfrid studied at Rugby school, New College Oxford and Munich University. Graduating from Oxford as a history scholar with a first class in classics, he considered a career in law, passing the bar just before the outbreak of war. Wilfrid’s story offers a fascinating example of the new class of British military officers that came to the fore during the First World War. In the past, the bulk of officers (especially in the army) were drawn from the upper classes. However, the demand for men in the armed forces led to large numbers of well-educated young men from middle class, professional backgrounds securing commissions as officers, and amongst these newly commissioned officers, thousands belonged to the Jewish faith. The British Jewry Book of Honour lists the service records of the 50,000 Jewish officers and men of the British and colonial forces during the First World War, with several hundred officers listed as having been killed during the course of the conflict. Captain Wilfrid Max Langford is listed among them, and his service record states that he was killed in action, whilst leading an attack against German position at Vimy Ridge on the 21st of May 1916 aged 27. He was buried at Ecoivres military cemetery in Northern France.
The other 12 enlisted Jewish men’s burial sites reflect the diverse theatres of combat during the First World War, as whilst the majority are buried or commemorated in the United Kingdom, Northern France and Belgium, others fought and died further afield.
For example, Lance Corporal Harry Roscoe is buried in Basra, Iraq. He took part in the Mesopotamian campaign, where the 8th battalion fought a determined campaign against the Ottoman Empire forces with the assistance of British colonial troops. Interestingly, Roscoe’s service record shows his parents to be “Abrum and Betsy Wosskow, of 146 Broad Lane, Sheffield.” The 1911 census does not list a Harry Roscoe as living at the address, but there is however one Heyman Wosskow, who was born in 1897 in Glasgow, meaning that Heyman and Harry Roscoe are quite possibly the same person. Why Heyman Wosskow changed his name remains a mystery, but perhaps he chose the more anglicised name “Harry Roscoe” in an attempt to better assimilate into his regiment, at a time when possessing a vaguely Germanic name often brought about hostility and suspicion (even the royal family changed their family name from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor). Aside from this, there is very little information on Roscoe’s life other than the brief summary on his service record, stating that he died on the 5th of April 1916 at the siege of Kut al Amara in Mesopotamia aged 18.
Private Barnet Dalinksy is buried in the Giavera British Cemetery in North Eastern Italy. He was killed in action along with two other members of the regiment on the 10th March 1918. Dalinsky was a member of the 1st battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, which was briefly sent to assist Italian forces in the Alps, after a series of disastrous defeats at the hands of German and Austro Hungarian troops. The battalion served in Italy from December 1917 until April 1918, before returning to France where it served until the end of the war. There is a reasonable amount of information on Barnet Dalinsky in the 1911 census, where he is shown to work as a cap cutter whilst residing in Prestwich, Manchester with his parents, five siblings and brother in law. He was also a second generation Russian, with both of his parents’ being naturalised British citizens in 1889, having been born in the Russian Empire.
Finally, Sergeant Myer Berkson is listed on the Cape Helles memorial in Turkey. He was one of the tens of thousands of British and colonial troops who died during the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean. Berkson’s battalion (1/4th territorial) was one of several Cheshire Regiment battalions attached to the 53rd(Welsh) infantry division, which landed at Gallipoli on the 9th of August 1915 Repeated attempts to attack Turkish positions failed, with Berkson killed during the Battle of Scimitar Hill on August 21st. During the battle, the British forces failed to capture a key Ottoman position, suffering around 5,300 casualties in the process. By the time of its withdrawal from Turkey on 1 December 1915, the 53rd Division, to which the battalion was attached, was reduced to just 15% of its full strength, with only 162 officers and 2428 men remaining.
There is significant evidence to suggest that during the First World War a significant number of the young men in Cheshire’s Jewish community joined the armed forces. A brief notice in the Jewish Chronicle dated 22 February 1918, states:
“Military Medal awarded to Gunner Barney Coss Royal Field Artillery. Awarded for gallantry in Palestine. His parents live in Stockport”
It is important to note that aside from the more than 200 Jewish officers and men who served in the Cheshire Regiment, a number of other Jewish men who were born, lived in or had a significant connection to the county of Cheshire undoubtedly served in other regiments and branches of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.
1911 Census, via Ancestry, http://www.ancestry.co.uk/1911census [first accessed 15/05/15]
Barr, R., The Cheshire Regiment (Stroud: Tempus, 2000).
British Jewry Book of Honour (Ed. Rev. Adler, M.,) (London: Caxton publishing house Ltd., 1922)
Crookenden, A., The History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War
(Chester: Evans, 1939).
Forces War Records https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/ [First accessed 17/05/15)
Jewish communities and records – United Kingdom, http://www.jewishgen.org/JCR-UK/ [first accessed 22/05/15]