Tom Bowden: Hero to Am Yehudi

The life of the non-Jew Tom Bowden marks him out as a hero to Am Yehudi, the Jewish People.

See here, here, here and here

His connection to Israel began during the Second World War when he fought in ferocious battles in British Mandate Palestine while serving in the Royal Scots Greys Cavalry regiment.

In 1941 he was wounded in a cavalry charge in Syria alongside Moshe Dayan, later Israel’s Chief of Staff and Defence Minister, who lost his eye in the battle. After recovering in 1944 he parachuted into Arnhem but was captured and sent to Bergen-Belsen after an SS officer discovered letters from his Jewish girlfriend. He was there for a month prior to the liberation. The experience of handling corpses prompted him to return to Palestine in 1948 to enlist to fight as a volunteer with the Machal under the name David Appel. Bowden was assigned to the IDF’s 7th Brigade and fought at Latrun and in Galilee.

In 1949, after the armistice, he was asked by Chaim Laskov, a founder of the Israel Defence Forces, to start a parachute school at Tel Nof base. Helped by his Jewish secretary, Eva Heilbronner, he wrote Israel’s first training manual, consulting rabbinical scholars for Hebrew translations of new technical terms. As commander and chief instructor of Israel’s first parachute regiment, Bowden brought army surplus parachutes from England and made four jumps ”before breakfast every day.”

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Bowden died on 10 June age 97. I attended his funeral in Norfolk on I July at St Andrew’s Church, South Lopham followed by the burial at Diss.

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The Israel Ambassador was present. The Church was full.

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The service was of course a sad occasion for Tom’s family but it was also a celebration of his rich life. After Israel he returned to Norfolk, becoming a pig farmer and then selling insurance for Hill Samuel. His sons David, Robert and Ken described their father’s amazing abilities with machinery which included restoring a Land Rover. Reverend Canon Tony Billett spoke about the importance of helping others, as Tom had done for Israel.

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Tom was buried at Diss.  A single plane (his plane) performed a flypast. diss 6

Wreaths were laid, including by the Israel Ambassador and a military attaché.
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Armed Forces Chaplain Rabbi Reuben Livingstone recited the Jewish Memorial Prayer.

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Tom Bowden – May he Rest In Peace – Never Forgotten


Postscript 1:

The day after the funeral Elana Overs emailed me. She’s the daughter of Stanley Medicks. He was in Machal too – a platoon commander in the 7th brigade in the War of Independence. There he met Derek (Tom) who became a lifelong friend.

Elana comments that there were 5,000 Volunteers from 59 countries in Machal. Another friend of her father was Gordon Levett, an RAF pilot who flew one of the Messerschmitts bought as war surplus in Czechoslovakia; they bombed the Egyptians when they were 10 miles outside Tel Aviv.

Both late Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ben Gurion (z”l) knew that without these brave Volunteers, who brought their WW2 expertise, the War of Independence would not have been won. In 1993 Prime Minister Rabin (z”l) inaugurated the opening of the Machal Memorial that Stanley built (with the aid of the JNF) to the 123 men and women of Machal who paid the supreme sacrifice. It is just off the road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem near Sha’ar Hagai. It was chosen to be near the “Burma Road” built at night by hand in 1948 to bring supplies from Tel Aviv to a besieged Jerusalem.

Elana says “My father loved Derek and always told me that the friendships fought in war are never forgotten. Although a very modest man, Derek would have been proud to have had so many friends, colleagues and dignitaries honour his amazing life.”

“A wonderful interview with Derek (Tom) was done fourteen months before he died:”

“He was an incredibly brave soldier, the like of whom we will not see again.”

I encourage all readers to watch this interview with Tom by Simon Barrett of Revelation TV

Postscript 2

Here’s the Eastern Daily Press report of the funeral. Apologies for not recognising Lord Dannatt (former Chief of the General Staff (head of the Army)).

And Jewish News

Postscript 3

The JC has published Ilana’s obit of Tom Bowden

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