First Prime-Minister of Israel trained at Windsor's Fort Edward
first printed in The Valley Today: Independent News for the Annapolis Valley
Most Valley residents know of Fort Edward as part of the 18th century British network of blockhouses that dotted Nova Scotia, providing protection for early settlers.
But did you know that Fort Edward was still used by the military into the 20th century? During World War I the British Army used the fort to establish a training depot for Jewish men training to fight against the Ottoman Turks in Palestine.
Known as The Jewish Legion, this unit, was "stood up" for service in 1917 manned by Jews from around the world who came to Windsor for training on the slopes of the fort under Major W.F.D Bremner. Bremner lived in Castle Fredericks and is an ancestor of Falmouth’s James Bremner, who still lives on the family farm. Pictures and first-hand accounts of the time indicate that the men lived in tents on the hillside below the blockhouse.
Many of these recruits came with Zionist ideals and dreams of a restored Palestinian homeland for the Jews. 1,100 Non-commissioned officers were trained in Windsor, Nova Scotia. The first arrived in Egypt on April 29, 1917 aboard the steamer Empress of India, with General Sir Edmund Allenby.
By September 1917 the Jewish Legion composed 4 scout battalions, 2 signals battalions, and one infantry brigade.
"The Son of the Young Lion"
One Zionist who trained here was a man named David Green. Green was born on October 16, 1886 in Plonsk, Poland. In his childhood he was inspired by his father, a Zionist, to dream of someday living in Palestine. Young Green studied biblical history, politics and geography, and he learned Hebrew. By the time he was fourteen he had organized a Zionist youth group in Plonsk.
In 1906 Green, then 20, set out for Palestine as a pioneer settler. He found work as a farm labourer and continued to promote the ideal of an independent homeland. In 1910 Green became the editor of the Palestinian Labour Party’s magazine. One day he signed one of his articles "Ben-Gurion" or "son of the young lion"; a name that he would later be best known by.
"I will never forget Windsor where I received my first training as a soldier and where I became a corporal."
-David Ben-Gurion, former prime-minister of Israel.
When world war broke out in 1914, Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The Turks, who had allied with Germany, arrested Green and expelled him from the country. He first found refuge in Egypt and then eventually found his way to the United States.
By 1915 he had begun encouraging Jews to immigrate to Palestine as settlers.Since the Turks still occupied the region it would have to be liberated before any settlers could attempt to make homes there. So in 1917 Green played a lead role in organizing The Jewish Legion. It was a long hard road from Poland to a liberated Palestine and Windsor was just one stop along the way.
Not long after the unit was formed recruits began to flood into Fort Edward to be trained as soldiers; Green was one of them. Within a year Corporal David Green was in Palestine fighting the Turks. When the war ended in 1918, he threw himself into Zionism and politics. Over the next 20 year he would promote the Jewish dream of an independent Palestine; a home for the Jews.
In May 1948, that goal was realized when the British Mandate governing the region expired and Palestine declared its independence as the fledgling nation, Israel. The same day Arab Palestinians declared war on the Jewish settlers; a war that threatened the establishment of the new country. The Arabs were swiftly defeated by a Jewish army that Green helped build. A year later, in 1949, Green, now known as David Ben-Gurion, was sworn in as the first prime minister of Israel and a national hero.
In 1966, a 70 year-old Ben-Gurion fondly recalled his days at Fort Edward in a letter to then Windsor mayor Robert C. Dimock. He wrote, "I will never forget Windsor where I received my first training as a soldier and where I became a corporal."
David Ben-Gurion died in 1973.
He was 97.
Another Zionist who trained here in Windsor was a young Ukrainian journalist named Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Born in Odessa, Ukraine in October 1880, Jabotinsky was raised in a traditional Jewish community. As a youth he became fascinated with the Zionist movement in the city.
Jabotinsky also began writing as a youth and his first writings were printed in Odessa papers when he was just 16. After his schooling Jabotinsky went to Switzerland and then Italy where he reported for the Russian press. It was there that he first wrote under the pseudonym "Altalena"; the Italian word for "swing".
In 1903 he joined the Zionist movement. He quickly gained notoriety for his talent at speaking. When World War I broke out Jabotinsky conceived the idea of forming Jewish units to fight with the British Army against the Ottomans. With another Zionist, Joseph Trumpeldor, he founded the Zion Mule Corps; a unit which fought with distinction in Gallipoli.
The mule corps was disbanded soon after and Jabotinsky traveled to London to continue to lobby for the formation of Jewish fighting units for service in Palestine.
In 1917 the British government approved the establishment of three units. The Jewish Legion was one of them and Jabotinsky served as its Regimental Sergeant-Major.He fought in the Jordan Valley and in 1918 was decorated for bravery. At the end of the war Jabotinsky was discharged from the British Army for being and "indiscreet political speaker". He then led an open effort in Palestine to train and arm Jewish men for self- defense against the Arabs.
In 1920 the British searched Jabotinsky’s home and found weapons and ammunition. An inquiry blamed unrest in the region on Zionist provocation of the Arab population. He continued to promote a Zionist state in Palestine with such fervour and militancy that the British eventually exiled him from the region in 1929.
He died in New York on August 4 1940.
Copyright 2007 Kel Hancock