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The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson

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The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson

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The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson
Irish Lion Hunter Led the Jewish Legion to Victory
By Denis Brian
Afterword by Alan Patterson
Syracuse University Press, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8156-0927-8

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - May 14, 2013

Colonel John Henry Patterson was not Jewish, but he was a Zionist, and he was instrumental in helping to lay the groundwork for the rebirth of the State of Israel. In The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson: How an Irish Lion Hunter Led the Jewish Legion to Victory, Denis Brian has written a compelling and highly readable biography of Patterson's life, and for the purposes of this review, his role as commander of the Jewish Legion.

This biography is very skimpy on Patterson's early life, for one very good reason - very little is known about his early upbringing. He was born in Ireland in 1867, but his story doesn't really start until 1885 when he joined the British army at the age of seventeen. His first several postings where in India, where he rose to the rank of sergeant and learned a smattering of Hindi. Patterson was a domineering figure who did everything gusto. This biography begins with Patterson's adventures in Africa, adventures that ranged from big game hunting to seeing action in the Boer War (South African War). In the realm of big game hunting, he not only hunted for sport, but also to help protect villagers and workers from marauding beasts. In one case he was called upon to solve a tricky problem in East Africa. Lions had taken to eating railroad workers, leaving more than one hundred workers dead. This had the effect of impeding the building of a railroad, then under construction. Patterson took on the daunting task of tracking down and eliminating the threat, a deed that he chronicled in his first book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo: And Other East African Adventures.

Following his African adventures, Patterson's military career took on a decidedly military veneer in 1900 when he was sent on to South Africa, where he honed his military skills. After the war he was transferred to the Colonial Office and named chief game warden of the East Africa Protectorate, and given the enormous task of surveying East Africa's northen and eastern boundaries. It was in 1907, while serving in this role as game warden that Patterson met President Theodore Roosevelt - a meeting that was to result in a lasting friendship. He also met Winston Churchill during this time, but their meeting had less friendly overtones . . . These adventures, while in Africa and during a visit to the United States, are covered with amazing skill in just a few, fast paced chapters, quickly taking the reader through the next seven years of Patterson's life.

1914 was a momentous year not only for Patterson, but also for the world, as it marked the official start of World War I. In October of that year, a group of British officers hatched a plan to drive the Turks (allied with Germany) out of Palestine. As part of their plan they organized the Zion Mule Corps, an all volunteer unit comprised almost entirely of Jewish men.

The earlier chapters of this book are interesting, and they help the reader to understand Patterson's background and motivation. However, it is not until chapter seven, when Brian provides an overview of the formation of the Zion Mule Corps, that the book really starts to get into the meat of the story. The story follows Patterson as he was given command of the Zion Mule Corps, and details the action that the Corps saw. The story than moves on to Patterson's efforts to form a Jewish Legion, an effort that was eventually successful. While commonly know as the Jewish Legion, the unit was officially called 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. The Jewish Legion saw action in many areas throughout the Great War, and they bravely fought in Gallipoli and during the Palestine campaign. The Jewish Legion was to serve as forerunner of the Jewish Brigade which served with the British army during during World War II. The Jewish Legion also served as the foundation for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

Following the end of World War One, the Jewish Legion was not disbanded. Instead they were posted to British Occupied Palestine, where they pursued traditional military duties, eventually morphing into a sort of homeland defense force. This transition is dutifully chronicled, as are the many people, from Chaim Weizmann to Vladimir Jobotinsky, that Patterson worked with in Palestine. Brian also explores the ingrained antisemitism that existed among much of the British administrative staff in Palestine, as well as back in England. Patterson's growing disaffection with the British, and his deepening attachment to the Jewish people is also examined.

Patterson retired from the British Army in 1920, and until his death in 1947, he fought for the creation of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. The final chapters in this book detail Patterson's life from 1920, until his death. The book concludes with an afterword by Alan Patterson, John Henry Patterson's grandson. This afterword provides comments on the book, as well as some additional insights in the man known to his family simply as the Colonel.

The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson is a detailed and riveting biography of a man who is little known today - yet who had an enormous impact on Jewish history. The focus of this book is, as you would expect, on Patterson. However it also provides fascinating details on the Jewish Legion, the Zionist movement, and the efforts that led to the rebirth of the State of Israel. This book also looks at other fighting units in Palestine - from the Irgun to the Betar - a sort of paramilitary boy scout-like organization. This book will delight not only those interested in Jewish history, but also anyone with an interest in military history as well as those that enjoy reading exciting biographies. This book would make a great addition to all public and private libraries!


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