The Tower Hill Memorial to sailors of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets. (Photograph copyright Basher Eyre)
The contribution of South Asians to the war effort, particularly the Lascars, who served in large numbers in the Merchant Navy, is highlighted in this blog from the Everyday Muslim project in East London.
The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war in November 1914 posed a great danger for the Allies. Both Britain and France had empires with substantial Muslim populations and important supply routes and strategic interests were potentially threatened. The declaration of a jihad against the Allies raised the possibility of mass insurrection.
No such insurrection occurred. Muslim leaders in French Africa and in the British Empire issued statements of loyalty and the French Government, seeing the propaganda value in publicizing these more widely, published those from West Africa, Algeria, Tunis and Morocco in volume 29 of the Revue du Monde Musulman (December 1914). In June 1916, the British Government discussed issuing a propaganda volume containing assurances of loyalty from Muslims in Nigeria, the Malay States, Sierra Leone, East Africa and so on (The National Archives, CO 323/719, 520-522) .
However, such statements were not to be relied upon. A note of caution was added to the file.
At about the same time, the British War and Colonial Offices were considering how to use a document that, it was claimed, had been captured by General Smuts’ forces at Moshi (German East Africa) in March 1916 (FO 141/666/2512). This was in the form of a directive, hostile to Islam, supposedly sent to District Commissioners by Dr Schnee, Governor of German East Africa, in winter 1913. The document included suggestions that circumcision be banned, preaching in Mosques prohibited and pig-breeding encouraged.
An Arabic translation by the British Directorate of Special Intelligence (MI7) was circulated in Egypt in May 1916 but, unsurprisingly, the British Residency reported back that ‘…in Egypt people generally have been unwilling to believe in its authenticity. They consider it as a fabrication – and not a very clever one’. The text was ‘corrected’ by T.E. Lawrence in June but there does not seem to have been any further attempt at general circulation.
A forthcoming exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London, ‘For King and Country?’ will present personal stories of the First World War, including those of some of the over 50,000 Jewish soldiers who fought for Britain, as well as those who experienced war away from the battlefield.
The exhibition opens on 19 March. For more information see
During the First World War, there were around 12,000 Jews in Scotland, many of them immigrants from the Russian Empire (mostly present-day Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine). The majority of the foreign-born Jews were not naturalised, and many of them had surnames which sounded at best foreign and at worst German or Austrian (indeed the British royal family at that time felt the need to change their name from Saxe-Coburg to Windsor). Foreign-born Jews were anxious to show that they were loyal to their adopted country and many served in the forces.
The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre has a collection of certificates issued to non-naturalised Jews to state that they were from a friendly country (Russia), rather than enemy Germany or Austria-Hungary. The documents were issued by the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, City of Glasgow Police and the Imperial Russian Vice-Consulate.
(Harvey Kaplan, Director, Scottish Jewish Archives Centre. www.sjac.org.uk)
The Henry Martyn Centre blog has a World War One entry on Archdeacon Tom Dennis, translator of the Bible into Union Igbo (a Nigerian language). He went down when S.S. Karina was sunk by a German U-Boat in August 1917.