Medals for the museum

August 1, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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The NSW Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women (NAJEX) has acquired at auction the medals of Captain John Harris Samuels (z”l) a surgeon struck by enemy fire as he was operating during the Battle of El Alamein.


Captain John Harris

Captain John Harris Samuels

Born in Sydney in 1914, Captain Samuels was tragically killed by a German shell, whilst operating on a wounded private soldier in the front line at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October  1942. He was 28. The soldier also subsequently died and the two men are buried side by side in the El Alamein Military Cemetery.

At the time of his death Captain Samuels was the Regimental Medical Officer of 2/15 Battalion of the Australian 9th Division. By then he had served in Palestine, Syria and Egypt and had also been one of the immortal “Rats of Tobruk”. His medal collection includes the unofficial Siege of Tobruk Medal.

Captain Samuels was educated at Newtown North Public School and Sydney Boys High School, where he had an outstanding record as a scholar and sportsman. He represented his school and university in rowing, rugby, athletics and cricket.

He graduated from the University of Sydney in Medicine in 1938 and became a resident medical officer at the Royal Women’s Hospital, Paddington. He then served as a medical officer in hospitals in Queensland.

In 1945 his aunt, Mrs R. Gardiner established a scholarship in his memory at the Faculty of Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and it was awarded annually until 1958.

The foyer of Cremorne Synagogue is named after him, thanks to the Balkind family.

NAJEX expresses its thanks to Mr Tony James, numismatic expert and consultant to Sydney Jewish Museum for the enormous help he gave in enabling NAJEX to acquire the medals and records of Captain Samuels. They will be donated to the Sydney Jewish Museum for its Military History Exhibition.

By way of historical context, NAJEX notes that the First Battle of El Alamein was fought in July 1942 and halted the German advance towards Egypt. Had it been lost, the Jews of Palestine would almost certainly have fallen into the Nazi extermination machine. Indeed the situation was then so dire that the British military and consular offices in Alexandria, some 100 kilometres away from El Alamein, had started burning their files. (When smoke and cinders filled the air in Cairo from the burning papers at the British Embassy, they called it “Ash Wednesday”.)

The Second Battle of El Alamein in which Captain Samuels was killed, broke the German lines and turned the tide in the North African Campaign. After the war, Winston Churchill wrote: “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.”


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