Lest We Forget

November 6, 2017 by J-Wire Staff
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Roger Selby president of NSW Association of Jewish Service and Ex-Service Men and Women has announced the organisation has been expanded to include all currently serving Jewish members of the ADF.

Selby told a packed venue at the Sydney Jewish Museum that there are over 400 Jewish men and women serving in the Australian Defence Force.

Peter Wertheim

The keynote speaker at the commemoration was the executive director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim who addressed the meeting following the laying of wreaths, kindling of memorial lights, and prayers introduced by Rabbi Dr Ben Elton recited by Robert Goot, scouts, school students, State MP Ron Hoenig, Waverley Councillor Sally Betts, Rhondda Vanilla and Charles Aronson.

Peter Wertheim said: “Each year at this time we gather to mark Remembrance Day – November 11 – the day in 1918 when an armistice came into effect and brought to an end the fighting in World War I. We remember and honour the members of Australia’s armed forces who died in the line of duty in that war, and in other wars in which Australia has been engaged.

The First World War cost Australia more than any other war in terms of deaths and casualties. Of the 416,809 Australians who enlisted, approximately 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. At that time Australia’s total population was less than five million.

Sally Betts

On Remembrance Day nearly one hundred years later, it is appropriate to ask how deeply embedded in the public memory today is the part played by Australian forces during World War I?”

Wertheim enumerates of means of remembrance before saying: “It is about how key events that shaped Australia’s national character, and helped define the values we cherish, have become conventionalised and memorialised through public ceremonies and popular culture.

Some of the events of World War I have fared better than others in Australia’s public memory. Gallipoli was and remains the primary focus of Australian public commemorations of World War I.   Anzac Day, the public holiday on which Australia commemorates the war service of its citizens of all generations, occurs each year on April 25, the date of the first landings of Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli. Dawn services are held throughout Australia and also on

Ron Hoenig

site in Turkey. Dignitaries from the Australian government, including the Governor General and the Prime Minister, participate, along with Australia’s military leaders and representatives of other countries.

To those unfamiliar with Australian culture, it might seem strange that we give pride of place in our national memory to a military defeat in which 8,709 Australians made the supreme sacrifice. The Dardanelles campaign achieved none of its aims and made no discernible difference to the outcome of the war.

Yet the heroism and the poignant tragedy of the young men whose lives were lost at Gallipoli continues to speak as powerfully as ever to Australians, more than 100 years after the event.

In conventional military history, the main theatre of the First World War was in Europe and more specifically, on the western front.   From March 1916, following their withdrawal from Gallipoli, Anzac forces were redeployed to positions in France and Belgium where they faced the main foe, the Imperial German army. By the end of the war in November 1918 more than 295,000 Australians had served in the Australian Imperial Force on the western front. Of these, some 132,000 became casualties and 46,000 lost their lives. Unlike the failed Gallipoli campaign, the outcome of the fighting on the western front had significant long-term consequences. Among other things, it produced the Europe we know today, made up of independent nation-States rather than Empires.

During most of the war, the fighting on the western front was bogged down in the impasse of trench warfare. In 1916-17, Australian troops fought in unsuccessful attempts by one side or the other to break that impasse – at Fromelles, the Somme, Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Villers-Bretonneux. But it was only after helping to stop the German offensive in March and April 1918, that Australian forces started to achieve notable battlefield successes – at Hamel on July 4 and then, with the commencement of the allied offensive on 8 August, at Amiens, Mont St Quentin and Péronne.

Many of these places became household names in Australia, commemorated in books, diaries, documentaries, and the names of streets and other public places. It’s true that Australia’s military contribution to the battles on the western front is not marked specifically by a national holiday, in the way that Anzac Day features Gallipoli. It is also true that the role of Australia’s General Sir John Monash in pioneering the military methods that produced victory against Germany tends to be under-stated in our public commemorations.


That the epic battles of the western front continue to feature prominently in Australia’s public memory has also been attested to in recent years by a noticeable increase in the number of Australians participating in guided tours of the western front battlefields, and by the increase in the number of tours available.

The third theatre of operations in which Australians fought in World War I was the Middle East. The fighting here was utterly different to that at Gallipoli and on the western front. The Australians in the Middle East fought a mobile war against the Ottoman Empire in conditions completely different from the mud and stagnation of France and Belgium. The light horsemen and their mounts had to survive extreme heat, harsh terrain, and water shortages. Nevertheless, casualties were comparatively light, with 1,394 Australians killed or wounded in three years of war.

Roger Selby

This campaign began in 1916 when Australian troops participated in the successful defence of the Suez Canal against a combined Ottoman and Arab offensive. That was followed by the allied reconquest of the Sinai peninsula. Late in 1917, Australian and other allied troops advanced into the Palestine region and captured Rafah, Beersheba, Gaza, Jaffa, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. By October 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria, and Turkey sued for peace.

These military victories were full of portent for contemporary world affairs. Out of the defeated Ottoman Empire emerged the independent Arab States that lie to the east of the Mediterranean Sea and also, in 1948, a new Jewish commonwealth in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, the first polity of the Jewish people to exist in more than 1800 years.

Robert Goot

Last Tuesday, October 31, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attended commemorations in Israel to mark the centenary of the famous charge of the Australian Light Horse 4th and 12th Regiments which resulted in the Allied forces capturing Beersheba after overcoming its well-entrenched Ottoman defenders. The great dash and courage with which the charge at Beersheba was pressed home was the key to its success.

Daniel Silver

In fading light just after 4:30pm, while units of the 20th British Infantry Corps and Yeomanry Division attacked Beersheba from the south and west, some 800 bayonet-wielding Australian Light horsemen won immortal fame by charging from the south-east across a 6 kilometre plain over bare ground on a slight downwards slope and over-running Turkish defences before entering the town.

Due to the capture of Beersheba, Gaza was taken a week later. Two earlier attempts to capture Gaza prior to the victory at Beersheba had failed. After the victories at Beersheba and Gaza the entire coastal plain up to Jaffa rapidly fell to British and Imperial forces.

On the day Beersheba was captured, the British War Cabinet approved the text of a declaration of sympathy for Zionist aspirations by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, which was published two days later. Its terms were subsequently incorporated into the League of Nations Mandate by a resolution of its 51 member States, authorising British rule in Palestine and the fostering there of a Jewish national home with unanimous international endorsement. This occurred a generation before the Holocaust.

Surely the achievements of Australian troops in the Middle East theatre in World War I are just as deserving of annual, public recognition as the major stories of battle at Gallipoli and the western front.   It would only require the Australian government to designate one day each year on which Australian government and military dignitaries will attend in Israel at a formal ceremony to honour the memory of Australian soldiers who served in the Middle East theatre between 1916 and 1918, and to commemorate their extraordinary achievements.   We need to this both for their sake and for our own self-understanding, and that of future generations of Australians.”

The room stood in silence when Moriah student Daniel Silver played “The Last Post” shortly followed by “Reveille”.

Prize winners

Roger Selby announced the inaugural NAJEX Youth Leadership Awards.

Harvey Baden paid a tribute to the late Major General Paul Cullen.

Major General Cullen had changed his name from Cohen when fighting in WWII fearing he may be captured by the Germans.

Harvey Baden told the story of the Japanese campaign in Papua New Guinea saying “Unfortunately for the Japanese Army, it then found itself having to deal with a prince of the Sydney Jewish community named Paul Cullen, later Major General Paul Cullen AC, CBE, DSO & Bar, ED. Born in Australia into a family that had been here since convict days and with a father who was a knight and the lay leader of Sydney’s Jewish community, Paul went on to become a Major-General, a business leader who pioneered the unit trust industry in Australia, a grazier, an accomplished equestrian, a founder of the Emanuel Synagogue, and a philanthropist.

Harvey Baden

He was a major force behind the creation of Austcare and became its first national President. He was the first President of the Refugee Council of Australia. He was awarded the Nansen Medal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, its highest honour. He was the President of the Royal Blind Society for 17 years.

Overall he served in the armed forces for over 78 years and worked for refugees for 60 years.

Emblematic of Cullen’s character was his experience when the Australian 6th Division was evacuating Crete after it had tried and (almost succeeded) in stopping the massive German airborne invasion of that island.

Paul Cullen

Paul was the last man to board the last boat on the last night of the evacuation and it grounded. The Royal Navy coxswain in charge of the boat called out for the last man on to get off and so company commander, Major Paul Cullen, did just that and started pushing the over-loaded boat off the sand. As the boat moved away, Paul’s quick-thinking batman seized a rope and hurled it to him and he was then dragged on to the boat as it proceeded to safety. This was the man who was shortly to lead the 2/1st Battalion as it drove the Japanese away from Australia’s doorstep.

After the Australians had withdrawn down the Kokoda Track, it fell to the 16th Brigade, which included the 2/1st battalion commanded by Paul Cullen, to force the Japanese back. Indeed on a visit to Papua as this operation got under way, General Douglas MacArthur met Paul and said to him “Cullen, by some act of God your battalion has been chosen for this job. The eyes of the western world are upon you and your men. Good luck and don’t stop.”

It was a horrific trial that followed – fighting the jungle, the Owen Stanley mountain range – so steep and unforgiving that it was regarded as impassable for an army, fighting extremes of temperature, disease and of course the enemy and culminating in the savage battle of Eora Creek. Here after days of fighting, the Australians saw something that had never been seen before – Japanese soldiers dropping their weapons and running away.

In the end it was one of Paul Cullen’s proudest moments to march out of this campaign with 91 men, out of the 580 who had started just three months earlier. Cullen and one other officer were the only officers of the battalion who had not missed a day of duty in the whole campaign. Such was his physical fitness that he was the only battalion commander to lead his men from the start to the finish of the Kokoda campaign without relief.”

Lest we forget….

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