September’s Last Post was preceded by the annual Jewish commemoration ceremony at Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45, organised by our friends of partner organisation The Secret WW2 Learning Network.
As a result, we had a Jewish theme to our Last Post and were honoured by representation from the Israeli Embassy in London – Dana Erlich, Acting Chargée d’Affaires and Political Counsellor, accompanied by the embassy’s Defence Attaché and Naval Attaché who have consistently supported us. Our other consistent supporter and attendee over the four years of our theme, Ambassador Mark Regev, has completed his term of office and has returned to Israel. We wish him well and thank him for his interest. We were also pleased to welcome several members and standard bearers from AJEX, the Jewish Military Association in the UK, headed by the association’s President, Mike Bluestone.
The three men we individually remembered had all served with Britain’s wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) and are commemorated at Brookwood, having no known grave. They were: were Captain Enzo Sereni, Captain Alec Rabinovitch MBE and Volunteer Baruch Jacobson.
Captain Enzo Sereni was born in Rome in 1905 where his father was physician to the King of Italy. He grew up in a traditional Italian Jewish household, but after obtaining a PhD from the University of Rome he embraced the Zionist ideal and emigrated to Mandate Palestine in 1927. He helped found kibbutz Givat Brenner and, as a committed socialist, was also active in the trade union movement. He was a pacifist who advocated peaceful coexistence and the integration of Jewish and Arab society in Mandate Palestine.
Sereni was sent to Europe in 1931–1934 to help bring people to Palestine and was arrested briefly by the Gestapo. He was also sent to the United States to help organise the Zionist movement there.
During the Second World War, Sereni joined the British Army and was involved in disseminating anti-fascist propaganda in Egypt. The British sent him to Iraq where Sereni spent part of his time organising clandestine emigration to Mandate Palestine. When he was caught with forged passports, he was briefly imprisoned by the British Army but when released, he then took a leading role in organising a secret Jewish parachute unit, trained by SOE, that sent agents into occupied Europe under both SOE and MI9 auspices. Of some 250 volunteers, around 110 were selected for training, and 33 were actually parachuted into Europe, including Sereni who insisted on taking an active part, despite his relatively advanced age of 39. On 15 May 1944 he was parachuted into northern Italy, but was immediately captured. He was executed in Dachau concentration camp on 18th November 1944. Kibbutz Netzer Sereni in Israel, and many streets throughout the country, are named after him.
Captain Enzo Sereni is commemorated, with the spelling Serini, on panel 26, column 3 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.
Captain Adolphe ‘Alec’ Rabinovitch was born to a family of Jewish extraction in Russia and raised in Mandate Palestine and Egypt, he studied in Paris and in the United States before the outbreak of the war.
In 1939 he volunteered for the French Foreign Legion and fought in northern France against the German invasion in 1940. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in June 1940 but escaped after three months. He then made his way to Britain via Spain and became an agent of F (French) Section, SOE, training as a radio operator.
He was first parachuted into France on 27/28 August 1942 north of Grenoble. Despite original plans for him to operate in the Paris area, he became the radio operator, with the field name Arnaud, for the SPINDLE network of Captain Peter Churchill and his courier, the (later) famous Odette Sansom. He managed to evade capture when that network collapsed. With Victor Hazan (codename “Gervais”), he got back in contact with the network’s contacts around Annecy and on the Côte d’Azur before returning to England via Spain. He parachuted back into France on the night of 2/3 March 1944 with orders were to set up and command his own, new, BARGEE network, but the landing site was under German control and he was wounded and captured as he landed. He was interrogated in Paris and then deported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp in what is now Poland, where he is believed to have been executed in the summer of 1944.
Peter Churchill dedicated his book Duel of Wits to “my beloved Arnaud, the late Captain Alec Rabinovitch, a violent, difficult, devoted and heroic radio operator, and through him to all ‘underground’ men and women of his supreme calibre who died, as they lived, in solitude. Their feats are legendary and beyond all military awards”. In the 1950 classic British film ‘Odette’, Rabinovitch was played by actor Peter Ustinov.
Captain Adolphe ‘Alec’ Rabinovitch is commemorated on panel 21, column 3 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.
Volunteer Baruch Jacobson was a participant in SOE’s OPERATION BOATSWAIN, the first of the operational missions carried out by the Palmach, the elite special forces element of the Haganah, the defence organisation of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, in conjunction with the British during World War II.
The first planned action was a sabotage mission against the Vichy French oil installations at Tripoli, Lebanon. It was feared that the refinery would provide the the Germans with aircraft fuel, and help thwart the planned Allied invasion of Lebanon and Syria. The refinery was in an area well-guarded by a unit of Senegalese troops of the hostile Vichy French army.
A motor launch, the Sea Lion, carrying the 23 Palmach commandos (later known as “the twenty-three who went down with the ship” and their SOE British liaison officer, Major Sir Anthony Palmer, embarked from Haifa on the morning of 18th May 1941. They were not seen again.
It has never been determined exactly what happened to them, the most likely explanation being that rough weather and high seas capsized their overladen boat. The failure of the mission and loss of the 23 Jewish volunteers was a tragic blow to the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine and delayed the building of the Jewish naval equivalent to the Palmach – the Palyam. The legacy of the “23 Who Went Down at Sea” nevertheless still serves as a source of inspiration to Israel’s service personnel.
It was not until 2015 that AJEX archivist Martin Sugarman provided the necessary evidence for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to formally commemorate the 23 on their web site and, in 2016, to inscribe their names on the Memorial to the Missing at Brookwood.
Voulunteer Baruch Jacobson is commemorated on panel 27, column 1 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.
Finally, we also remembered Captain Erwin “Peter” Deman MC, following contact from his son, Michael Deman.
Erwin Deman’s parents were Hungarian Jews and his childhood was spent alternatively between Vienna, his birthplace in April 1921, and Budapest. During part of the Great War his father had been a prisoner of war in northern England, and instilled strongly pro-English feelings in his son.
As a young man, he travelled widely throughout Europe and when war broke out he went at once to France to enlist in the 22e Régiment de Marche de Volontaires Etrangers, one of the French units which fought hard in the summer disaster of 1940. Deman was taken prisoner when he ran out of ammunition, and sent to Germany, but at once escaped back to France and got over to Algeria by enlisting in the Foreign Legion. From this he deserted – with some 3,000 companions – the moment Allied troops arrived in north-west Africa, and was persuaded to volunteer for the Special Operations Executive. Once accepted and trained, he joined SOE’s DF Section to run a sea escape line called “Var” between Brittany and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
In July 1943 he went back to France by Hudson aircraft and settled in Rennes as an insurance agent, giving him plausible reasons for travelling. He secured a pass to visit the forbidden coastal zone, and over the winter of 1943-44 the “Var” escape network ran 16 successful operations, carrying a total of 70 men and women to and from France. They never lost a passenger; but two of the agents working with Deman, his wireless operator Raymond Langard and his American assistant Emile Minerault, both died in German concentration camps, and several of his French helpers were arrested. Lieutenant Raymond Lagarde is listed on the Memorial to the Missing 1939-45, panel 22, column 1.
Deman came back to England from France for consultation using the rival “Vic” escape line overland via Spain, in the record time of seven days, returning by naval motor gun boat. He was back at his desk in Rennes after ostensibly taking a fortnight’s leave. He was recalled again to England after working for seven months and was awarded a well-earned Military Cross.
‘The Exhortation’ was recited by Ray Windmill on behalf of the Brookwood Last Post Association. A wreath was laid by Dana Erlich, assisted by the Israeli Defence Attaché, on behalf of the State of Israel and 3 x individual Magen David tributes (the Jewish Star of David equivalent to Christian poppy crosses), provided by the Secret WW2 Learning Network, were placed by the Israeli Naval Attaché. Louisa Russell, Chair of The Secret World War Learning Network, placed a Magen David to remember Captain Peter Deman. Mike Bluestone, President of AJEX, recited the Kaddish prayer.
Paul McCue of the Brookwood Last Post Association read an untitled poem from the collection ‘Leaves of Buchenwald’, written by Lieutenant Maurice Pertschuk MBE, another Jewish SOE agent commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing – panel 22, column 1.
Pertshuk was executed in Buchenwald Concentration Camp on 29 March 1945, just 13 days before the camp’s liberation by Allied forces. He was 22 years old.
The leaves fall,
Dwindle through space,
Curling round time with the wrinkled grace
Of slow decaying hands that call
For one more beat of throbbing life.
The daylight creeps into your soul,
Sweeping a light dream
Blown with the fluid sap of a moonbeam,
But in the shadow lingers
The velvet touch of her soft fingers.
Our Standard Bearer was Alan Lopez and Mrs Ruth Moore sounded the Last Post.
Members of the Almac Bisley Brass Band attended and played accompanying tunes as well as playing the National Anthem.
Photos are reproduced with the permission of Antony McCallum of Wyrdlight.