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Refugees, Palestinians Hard at Work in British Pioneer Units

Life in the Palestine Pioneer Corps and the German Refugee Pioneer units attached to the British Expeditionary Forces in France is described in a lengthy article in the Jewish Times. Stressing the good comradeship prevailing between the Jewish and Arab volunteers in the Palestine unit, the article dwells upon the large variety of elements represented in the corps.

“Austrian doctors, Rumanian lawyers, builders and laborers from the industrial proletariat of Tel Aviv and Arab tillers of the soil shout rhythmically in their own languages as they heave a section of railway track into position along the sleepers (ties). In one camp there is a Swiss Jew who formerly specialized in clinical research who has little to stimulate his imagination in the morning sick parade. Most of his work consists of tending minor coughs, colds, healing cuts and bruises caused by swinging girders or flying chips of stone. In the same camp one of the sergeants is a Pole who holds a degree from Warsaw University.

“In the recreation but, a fair-haired Viennese boy bent over the strings of a piano was introduced as a former student of (Vladimir) Horowitz and the most brilliant of a fine team of pianists which the camp possesses. Soon after he finished turning it he was heaving timber planks into position along an embankment which marks of the track of a new troop line.

“The German units are equally diverse in composition. The discipline is magnificent. The relations between the men and their English officers are warm and often expressed in pathetic fashion. Throughout the German unit, hatred of the Nazi regime is intense. Many, especially Jews who form the majority, are looking towards Palestine for the future, trying to forget the land in which they were born. German songs are unpopular. The pioneers, as they step along to work in the morning, prefer to whistle ‘Tipperary’ and other old songs from the last war.

“Many of the Jews are devout worshippers. The sergeant who acts as a rabbi holds services in a hut before an improvised tabernacle. Yet even religious scruples have been waived in the deep passion of the moment.

“Their only quarrel with the administration is that they have not each been provided with a field gun and 100 rounds. The standard of industrial administration and talent possessed by these German pioneers is high. Many officers express the hope that some will be drafted to the Royal Engineers, where their abilities would find wider scope.”

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