A new set of names was unveiled on Sunday for the first time in Britain to join those on the circular stone memorial in Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey to the men and women who went missing on active service during the Second World War.
The new names are those of 23 members of the Palmach who took part in the first joint operation between the Jews of Mandate Palestine and the British forces.
Tragically, Operation Boatswain, an attempt to sabotage a Vichy-run oil refinery off the Lebanese coast, ended in disaster.
The 23 young men set out on May 18, 1941, with British liaison officer Maj Sir Anthony Palmer of the SOE in the Ari Yam [Sea Lion] from Haifa. The boat disappeared; despite searches, neither it, its cargo of explosives nor the men on board were seen again.
In 2014, Col Nir Ereli of the IDF’s Missing in Action sector convened a meeting of the families of the 23 to tell them the files were being closed.
Ajex archivist Martin Sugarman felt it was important to have the sacrifice recorded. There was a separate memorial to Maj Palmer, but nothing for the 23 young Jews.
After much research, Sugarman wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission outlining the details of the case, and sending as many back-up documents as he could showing the men had volunteered to take part in the mission to help the British and Allied forces.
The story is relatively well known in Israel, where a number of memorials exist, but there has never been a recognition of Operation Boatswain in Britain.
That changed on Sunday in a ceremony organised by the Secret World War Two Learning Network at which Israel’s UK ambassador, Mark Regev, pulled aside an Israeli flag to reveal the names of the 23 men on a memorial panel.
Regev read a letter from Benjamin Netanyahu, who wrote: “Theirs [the 23] is a story of incredible courage and dedication. Their heroism reflected the Palmach’s readiness to contribute to the Allied war effort against the Axis powers, and its enormous sacrifice during World War II.”
Netanyahu commended Britain’s agreement to add the names to the Memorial to the Missing and added: “Like the other gallant soldiers whose names appear on the memorial and whose fates remain unknown, our Palmach fighters paid the highest price in our shared fight.”
— Mark Regev (@AmbMarkRegev) May 28, 2017
Former Israeli ambassador Gershon Gan, a cousin of Amiram Shochat, one of the 23, represented the families. Given the name Amiram as a middle name in tribute to his cousin, he praised Sugarman and the War Graves Commission for “rekindling the memory of the mission”, and reminding everyone the men were “sons, husbands, fathers, cousins and boyfriends”.
Regev laid a wreath on behalf of the state of Israel and Louisa Russell laid another on behalf of the Secret World War Two Learning Network.
Rabbi (Major) Reuven Livingstone recited El Maale Rachamim and Ajex banners were lowered in memory of the 23.
The event was chaired by Paul McCue, a trustee of the Learning Network.