Sunday, December 07, 2014

Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson (1867–1947) - now rests in Israel

Colonel Patterson first Tsavo Lion 631 jpg 800x600 q85 cropPic above from SmithsonianMag.comJohn Henry Patterson

John Henry Patterson was born in Forgney, Ballymahon, County Meath (now Longford), and is sometimes credited with giving the name 'Operation Lion' to the Ulster Gunrunning of 1914. In November Patterson's ashes, and those of his wife, were moved from Los Angeles and were buried by the Israeli government in an official state ceremony near Tel Aviv. Here is Patterson's entry on the Longford At War website.

Described in this article in The Independent as 'The Godfather of the Israeli Army' he had seen service in east Africa, and wrote a book of his adventure there entitled Man Eaters of Tsavo which was published in 1907. In 1996 a movie of the book, entitled The Ghost and the Darkness, starred Val Kilmer as Patterson. Here is a clip, ropey accent and all:

As Quincey Dougan writes here, Patterson (by now a celebrity soldier and author) was head of the West Belfast Ulster Volunteer Force from 1913 onwards - arousing suspicion in the House of Commons that there had been attempts to supply guns to the Ulster Volunteers for at least a year before the eventual Gunrunning night of 24/25 April 1914.

It was 1917 when he took control of a five-battalion Jewish volunteer force called the Jewish Legion within the British Army. As he said himself:

It was a complete change from the command of an Irish Battalion, but the Irishman and the Jew have much in common – temperament, generosity, love of children, devotion to parents, readiness to help those down on their luck, and , be it noted, great personal bravery. These qualities will probably not appear out of place to my readers so far as the Irishman is concerned, but I imagine many will be surprised to hear that they also apply to the Jew.


CHILDHOOD AND PATERNAL ANCESTRY Little is known of Patterson's childhood. It has been suggested that he was born to a maid who worked in the family home. It is said that his father, Henry Patterson, was an Irish Protestant clergyman (presumably Church of Ireland) who had 'intrigued him with Old Testament tales'.

MARRIAGE AND WIFE'S ANCESTRY In 1895 John Henry Patterson married a Belfast woman called Frances Helena Gray, whom he met in India. Her father was William Gray of 6 Mount Charles, Belfast – he was an architect, a member of the Royal Irish Academy and President of the Belfast Field Naturalists' Club. The Grays were Church of Ireland, and Frances had a degree in law - a portrait and biography can be found here. It was also reported in a newspaper of the time that '... the only other woman in Great Britain entitled to add "LL D." to her name is also a native of Belfast. Mrs. Lily Thompson who has applied for a place on the police force of Washington city, is a dress reformer and an athlete'. Late 1800s Belfast as a hotbed of female emancipation is an interesting thought.

In the 2008 biographyThe Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson it says this – '... He had the gift of the gab, a lively sense of humour, a friendly and optimistic nature, and an air of command, reinforced perhaps by the Bible he sometimes carried in one hand and no doubt by the gun he held in the other'. Sadly there is no mention of his time in Ulster in this book.

Patterson was buried in Los Angeles in 1947, and his wife just 6 weeks later -  but he had wanted to be laid to rest with his soldiers in Israel. On 10th November, his birthday, he had his wish fulfilled in a ceremony which was overseen by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose late brother had been named after Patterson.

The surnames Patterson and Gray indicate Scottish ancestry for both John Henry and his wife Frances. This celebrity Ulster Volunteer Force leader, and his Belfast wife, now repose in the land of the original Covenants. Perhaps this is a story which deserves further research.

• Here is a BBC news story about Patterson's legacy