War and Remembrance

12 Dec 2014

Jewish Care has a number of clients who are 100 or even older. In the year when we commemorate the start of the Great War, Careline looks back at how it, along with the Second World War, affected their lives.

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This year saw the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. Many Jews served and lost their lives in World War One.

One name in particular, stands out to those interested in Jewish Care’s origins: Gerald Samuel, honorary secretary of the Jewish Board of Guardians (the forerunner to the Jewish Welfare Board which evolved into Jewish Care) was killed in action in June 1917.

His father was Lord Bearsted – the founder of Shell Oil. In Gerald’s will, he bequeathed a house in Stepney to the Board of Guardians to look after 10 boys who needed care, in the finest traditions of tzedakah – traditions that are cemented in everything Jewish Care does today.

A few Jewish Care residents born during those war years (1914-18) are still alive, and some can even recall events at that difficult time. Dorothy Conway was born on March 4th 1914. Dorothy, or Dolly as she likes to be known, does have memories of the war. Now living at Rosetrees in Friern Barnet, she says: “I remember the Zeppelins coming over, and I didn’t recognise my father when he came home from the war.”

She grew up near Nottingham. One of her earliest wartime recollections is of an explosion at the Chilwell ammunition factory in July 1918, in which 134 Nottingham workers were killed, and dozens more injured. It was Britain’s worst ever disaster involving an explosion. “We ran out into the street,” says Dolly. “There were people running, holding towels over their heads, and carts with people on – there were not many ambulances then. It was awful.”

Dolly left school at 14, and worked in a knitting factory. She met her future husband, Leonard, during the Second World War, and they married in 1947. She has two daughters – Janis and Gillian – five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, and puts the secret of her longevity down to “a sherry now and again, and I’ve always got Baileys.”

Trudie Burke celebrated her 100th birthday in August. Once a volunteer at Rubens House in Finchley, she now receives support from Jewish Care’s community support and social work team. She too, recalls the advent of air warfare: “I remember the Zeppelins flying in the sky and my dad carrying me to the shelter and wrapping a fur coat around me to keep warm, when I was only three.”

Trudie has enjoyed a long and fascinating life. “Before I married,” she says, “I worked as a secretary at the Jewish Agency. It was next to the British Museum which I loved exploring on my lunch breaks. Then I raised my family in Shrewsbury where there was one other Jewish family and my sons had their barmitzvah

lessons at Wolverhampton shul and had their barmitzvahs at Golders Green Synagogue. Once [my husband] Samuel retired, we moved to London and enjoyed travelling around. When he died, I joined a friendship club and later started to volunteer at Rubens House to chat with the residents. On a good day I still like to go over to Rubens House for a chat.”

Julia Gilbert is 106 and now lives at Vi & John Rubens House in Gants Hill. She was born in 1908 and grew up in the East End of London, living in Stoke Newington. She lost her husband in World War Two, leaving her with two young sons. Now she has nine grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

She was a keen volunteer at Stepney Jewish Community Centre after her retirement, and is eager to stress the value of volunteering: “More young people should volunteer and visit homes and community centres, it’s very important.”

David Arkush was born in Glasgow in June 1914, just before the outbreak of the war. Now he is a regular at the Michael Sobell Jewish Community Centre, where he once volunteered. He says: I have been very happily married to Shirley for 62 years, we married in February 1952. We have six grandchildren, and we have two great-grandchildren. The children are devoted to us… and to Shirley’s cooking!”

It was the Second World War which had a major impact on David. “I served as a dentist and was captured by the Japanese as a prisoner of war in Singapore for three and a half years,” he explains. “Luckily I was treated quite well and worked as a dentist. I used to organise weekly Shabbat services for the Jewish boys. The news that we were being liberated and would be allowed to go back home was the best piece of news I ever had.”

War has, without a doubt, had a significant impact on the lives of many Jewish Care clients. For most of them, it was the Second World War which proved to be a life-changer. But there are those who had their earliest years shaped by the Great War, even if their memories remain vague. We know now, that it was not “the war to end all wars”. At Jewish Care, people living in our homes or attending our community centres know that there will always be others with whom they can share their stories and memories of those difficult times. 

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