A soldier's story: longing for home amid the carnage of the trenches

By Marcus Dysch, August 1, 2014
Lieutenant Marcus Segal

Lieutenant Marcus Segal

Marcus Segal enlisted at 17, entering the London Regiment straight from school in September 1914.

Standing only 5ft 2in tall, he became a Second Lieutenant in the 16th Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment a year later.

During his years of service he wrote more than 150 letters to his family, charting the tribulations of being Jewish on the frontline.

His parents, Solomon from Russia, and Esther from Hull, received his letters at their home in London. In one of the earliest, from September 1916, Marcus writes: "My dear parents, I do not want you to worry if you do not hear from me every other day.

"I am, at present, in a very nice billet here and the only fault is that the Madame is so frightfully religious and I can tell you without doubt she is a very close runner to Grandad."

Did we know?

A poll for British Future found that only 1 in 3 know that over 10,000 Jewish soldiers served in WW1 forces

Even in his first days on the front line Marcus saw his comrades killed. He told his parents he would write an obituary for one man and publish it in the JC.

A month later he wrote: "I am attached for a few days to the R. Engineers and have quite a decent time. I am very chummy with a Jewish officer here called Captain Henriques and he is a top-hole fellow." He added: "I expect to be going over the top in a couple of days and with Almighty's wish I will come back safe and sound."

As with many on the frontline, hunger became a key issue. In November 1916, he wrote: "The main complaint I have is the lack of good old tomato soup, and various other kosher dishes. I may as well tell you I have not received the chicken with the soup cubes in".

By March 1917 his thoughts were back to his religious observance. "You might let Grandpa know I could do with a tzitzis when he gets time to send me one out."

Being separated from his family was hard, particularly at Yom Tov. He repeatedly asked for the JC to be posted weekly so he could keep up-to-date with news from home. As Pesach 1917 approached he wrote: "I am sure you will miss me no more than I will you on Seder. Please God we will all be together another Seder night and will sing Manashtana with all our musical voices." A week later he noted how his officers enjoyed trying the matzah sent out by his family,

Later in the year, Marcus was made responsible for burying his fallen Jewish comrades. "There were 15 Officers of the Kings L'Pools killed and they were all such top-hole fellows. I helped to bury several Jews on the battlefield and said the Memorial Service over a good few graves," he explained.

"During these awful moments one's mind is continually thinking of home and wondering how the parents of the unfortunate fellow will receive the news. When I read on one chap's prayer book - a small barmitzvah present from his dear Grandad - I can tell you I was crying like a baby."

Marcus Segal was killed by a shell at Arras in France on June 19, 1917. His friend, Private Edwin Stone, wrote to Mrs Segal: "It is with deep regret that I am writing to inform you of your son's death. I cannot find words that will express the sorrow of both my comrades and myself. He was respected by every man in the Battalion. He was buried at Arras by a gentleman of his own denomination."

Marcus Segal's letters are on display at the Jewish Museum

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 1 2014