Military scroll rededicated in memory of 'brilliant officer'

By Marcus Dysch, January 5, 2012

A Torah scroll discovered at a defunct army synagogue is to be re-dedicated in memory of a Jewish soldier killed in Afghanistan.

The sefer Torah was found at Guildford Synagogue and traced back to its use, decades ago, at an Armed Forces shul.

Lieutenant Paul Mervis of Second Battalion the Rifles died in an explosion in June 2009 while trying to protect his platoon during a foot patrol in northern Helmand province.

His parents have sponsored the scroll's refurbishment and it will be used at future Jewish military gatherings.

A new mantle is green and silver, the colours of the Rifles, and carries the Armed Forces Jewish Community crest. The embroidery also incorporates the menorah badge of the Jewish battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which was raised during the First World War.

Jewish Committee for HM Forces chair Colonel Martin Newman explained that "we have always had our own scrolls. They were even taken into operational theatres during the Second World War and possibly beyond.

"Thanks to the Mervis family, we will once again have our own scroll which will be a truly fitting tribute to Paul, a brilliant young officer who was dedicated to his job and to his soldiers."

Lt Mervis hailed from Wimbledon and spent part of his gap year in Israel, where he trained with IDF soldiers and learned about Israeli military history.

He had served in Kosovo before his deployment to Afghanistan, where he carried a 1936 issue Soldier's Siddur previously belonging to a sergeant who fought in the Battle of El Alamein.

Army and RAF synagogues were closed when national service ended in Britain in the 1960s, with their sifrei Torah dispersed among small communities. When three scrolls were identified in Guildford last year, two were found to be unusable, but the third was saved.

The dedication ceremony will take place at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre near Andover, Hampshire, on Sunday. Lt Mervis's parents will attend, along with with General Sir Nick Parker, Land Forces Commander and regimental colonel of the Rifles.

Army reserve chaplain Rabbi Reuben Livingstone will be among the officiants.

Last updated: 1:21pm, January 5 2012