Of Guns and Mules
By D. Lawrence-Young
Gefen Publishing House (2010), 147 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 2, 2010
The story of the Jewish participation in the First World War is important because we should know the general history of the war and that this was the first Jewish army in close to 2000 years. The last Jewish military was the armed forces led by Simon Bar Kokhba in Israel in 132-136, when Bar Kokhba fought against Rome 62 years after the Romans destroyed the second Jewish Temple and lost.
D. Lawrence-Young, a lecturer on English and history and the author of four other books, two of which, like this one, are novels, tells the tale of the Zion Mule Corps, which the British formed to help them fight against the Turks in Gallipoli, a peninsula in European Turkey where the British engaged in a disastrous naval and land campaign in 1915-1916. The British lost 46,000 troops who died in the futile campaign, plus thousands more who were badly wounded.
The British used the Jews in this campaign to ferry ammunition, food, and drink to the fighting forces on mules. The Jews tried to join the actual fighting because they felt that this was an opportunity for them to help rid their country, the Land of Israel, from the Turks, the Ottoman Empire, which had held control over their land for some four hundred years. Several of the Zion Mule Corps were killed at Gallipoli, over twenty were badly wounded, four Jews were awarded military honors, and one received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The British were so impressed with the Jewish forces that they disbanded the Mule Corps and formed the Jewish Legion, the first Jewish fighting force in close to two millennia. The Legion fought in Israel against the Turks and accomplished their goal of ridding their country of these foreigners. It took six years from the start of the Mule Corps before the Legion was disbanded.
Lawrence-Young describes the battles in an easy to read and suspenseful manner, as seen through the eyes of a fictitious young Israeli that fought in the Mule Corps and the Legion. He introduces us to the non-fictional heroes of the battles, the one armed Joseph Trumpeldor; the scholarly Ze'ev Jabotinsky who was discharged from the army by General Allenby after he charged Britain of treating the Jewish soldiers in an anti-Semitic manner; Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, later the second president of Israel, who took a more moderate approach to the British; the non-Jewish leader John Patterson; and many others. He also tells us how after the Jews joined the British in ridding the land of the Turks, the British grasped hold of the Land of Israel and mistreated its Jewish inhabitants.