This week is National Armed Force Week (NAFW)– an annual event that has been around for nearly 20 years. It was introduced to be different in tone to the Remembrance events that we have in November, focusing less on sacrifice and more on dedication and service.
As the Chief Executive of AJEX I found this week a real opportunity to embrace and celebrate the wonderful variety of people from our community that have been part of the British Armed Forces, past and present. We have often marked NAFW week by travelling to the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA) in Staffordshire to hold a ceremony at the AJEX Memorial there, as well as to talk to our members about the different anniversaries and people that are remembered there.
At many of the NMA memorials to specific regiments or military groups we can reflect on the men and women who served in them. For instance at the Gallipoli Memorial we often speak about London born Leonard Keysor who received the Victoria Cross in 1915 for his bravery during an action at Lone Pine, part of the Gallipoli campaign. While his name is not on the memorial (and no other individual names are either), that site is very much part of his story and part of the AJEX story of commemoration.
At other parts of the site that holds over 200 memorials there are names, for example at the Special Forces Executive (SOE) Memorial, there are a number of Jewish women’s names on brass plaques who served with the SOE. Some of these women perished such as Denise Bloch who worked in France for the SOE and was captured and later murdered at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Being able to tell people about the extraordinary bravery of women such as Bloch – Jewish women who were able to take on the Nazis is an incredibly important part of what AJEX seeks to do. We work to inspire the next generations and demonstrate how so many Jews were part of the fight against Nazism and anti-Semitism – securing our freedom.
Other people names on memorials at the NMA include Lt Paul Mervis whose name is listed on the Armed Forces Memorial. This Memorial takes centre stage at the NMA site, built on a mound and rising high above all the other memorials and it is the key place for remembering all those who have given their lives on active duty since the Second World War. Paul’s name is on that memorial because as an officer with the Rifles he was serving in Afghanistan in June 2009 and was killed by an IED while securing a school. Telling people about a Jewish service man that was killed in Britain’s most recent conflict is a reminder that Jewish military participation is not just about the First or Second World War– it is very real and current.
National Armed Forces Week gives us a chance to tell these stories and many more so that we can remind people of the continual service of members of our community but also of the continued stores we have of bravery where individual men and women fought against the odds to do their duty. These stories can inspire us today at a time when nothing in the world is as it used to be, So this week I will be reflecting on all those who have maintained the tradition of military service from our community and rather than wearing a poppy I will be raising a glass to say L’chaim to them all!
On Sunday 27th June at 2pm join the AJEX special Ceremony at the NMA for National Armed Forces week celebrating the significant contribution of Jewish Servicemen and Women to HM Armed Forces, both past and present – youtube.com/ajexjma
Raise a glass to say L’chaim to HM Armed Forces Personnel, our veterans, cadets and their families. Share a photo of you raising your drink of choice tagging #raiseaglass #Saluteourforces @AJEX_JMA @ HMAFJC