John Henry Patterson

In 1898, English engineer John Henry Patterson was sent to Kenya to build a bridge over the Tsavo River. But two ferocious lions were terrorizing and eating his workmen. Patterson hunted them down and killed them both, enabling the bridge to be completed; and the hides of the beasts are on display today in the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Patterson became a legend. However, a lesser known fact about this brave man is that he was a bold Christian Zionist.

John Henry Patterson (1867–1947) was brought up in a devout Christian home. He was well-versed in Bible prophecies about the Jewish people and their Promised Land and knew Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Patterson offered his services to the British War Office. Around the same time, two influential Jewish men were attempting to form a Jewish brigade to help the British and ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) forces fight the Ottoman Turks. The men’s major obstacle was the British High Command’s anti-Jewish disposition.

While visiting Alexandria, Egypt, Lt. Col. Patterson met the two men; and, with his help, they formed a Jewish brigade. It was composed mainly of volunteers from Israel, though at the time their homeland was still insultingly referred to as “Palestine,” a name meaning “Philistine,” which the Romans inflicted on the land in the second century to rid it of its Jewish identity. This Jewish group was to be a simple transport auxiliary unit. It received quite a designation: the Zion Mule Corps!

Persistence resulted in the formation of at least three more Jewish Royal Fusiliers units. But generally, the British High Command did not want Patterson and his Jewish Legions in active service at the front. Perhaps the illustrious empire did not want the world to see Jewish people as valiant warriors.

However, British losses were excessive, and soldiers were needed. Reluctantly, the High Command allowed the Jewish Legion to fight. The men fought bravely and with distinction. As a dazzling reward from anti-Semites within the British government and military, Patterson and the Legion received no official combat recognition.

In response, Patterson wrote two books praising the Jewish brigades: With the Zionists in Gallipoli (1916) and With the Judeans in Palestine (1922). For years after the war, Patterson stayed in contact with his Jewish friends, sharing their longing for the rebirth of the Jewish nation in its biblical homeland.

When war began again in 1939, Patterson and a former brigade member knew that this war would be horrific for European Jewry. As fearless as lions, they approached the British government to form a Jewish army of 100,000. The idea was rejected. They then appealed to the United States about raising a massive Jewish army to fight Nazi Germany. That appeal, too, was rejected.

Early during World War II, perhaps as reports of Nazi atrocities were emerging, Patterson felt led to write and publish a scathing article titled “Behind the Palestine Betrayal.” It condemned the British Colonial Office for frustrating the implementation of the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which publicized the British government’s support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Disgusted with Britain’s persistent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, John Henry Patterson finally moved to the United States. Although well into his seventies, he channeled all his energies into Zionist organizations.

He died peacefully in his sleep in 1947. Six months later, the State of Israel was born. His cremated ashes rest in Israel. The Tsavo lion hunter who dared to stand up to the lion of England is forever remembered as the fearless lion for the cause of Israel.

2 thoughts on “John Henry Patterson

  1. The history of military Jews, their bravery, their volunteering in thousands to serve this land in disproportionate numbers to the rest of the countries population, has been airbrushed out of the history books. Famous military authors by-pass the Jewish soldiers. airmen and sailors as if they didn’t exist.

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