In a previous blog, I told a story about how God moved in history through a German battleship called the Goeben to bring the Ottoman Empire into the First World War, leading to the British becoming stewards of the Levant from 1918-1948 and paving the way for the establishment of the modern State of Israel.
However, it wasn’t exactly a straight line from one event to the next, and one of the bends in that road offers yet another lesson in why we should always trust God even when things look very dark.
I am speaking of the initial British attempt to attack the Ottoman Empire which has become known to history as the Gallipoli Campaign.
In a war which saw many military debacles resulting in the senseless destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives for no purpose, the Gallipoli Campaign stands out. Somewhere around 160,000 allied soldiers died there, and when it was over, the survivors were evacuated and absolutely nothing had been gained.
In the annals of British military history, “Gallipoli” became a symbol of idiocy among the politicians causing the pointless deaths of thousands of loyal, brave and longsuffering British citizen-soldiers.
However, there’s another story which comes out of the Gallipoli Campaign, the story of a small logistical unit of the British Colonial Forces which participated in the battle called the Zion Mule Corps.
The unit was composed of Jews from Egypt (then under British administrative control) and also young Jewish men of military age who had been living in the Ottoman Province of Palestine and had been expelled to Egypt by Ottoman authorities who were worried that they would form a Fifth Column there.
Although it was very small (only 562 men out of tens of thousands from all over the British Empire who participated in the Campaign) and not a combat unit, it was the first all-Jewish military unit since the Bar Kochba Revolt in 135 AD.
The unit was commanded by Lt Colonel John Henry Patterson, an Irish Protestant and a Christian Zionist, assisted by his second-in-command, Joseph Trumpeldor, a veteran of the Russia-Japanese war of 1905 and a man destined to become a legend in Israeli military history.
To make a long story short, the excellent conduct and courage under fire demonstrated by the Zion Mule Corps during the Gallipoli Campaign convinced the British Army to form the much larger Jewish Legion in August of 1917. This unit, which included 5,000 Jewish soldiers from the US, UK and Canada, also included several hundred volunteers from the Holy Land (including veterans of the Zion Mule Corps). It fought well in the successful British campaign to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the Middle East, including at the massive battle of Megiddo in October 1918.
Many of the men who served in the Jewish Legion settled in the newly established British Mandate of Palestine after WWI.
When the Second World War broke out in August of 1939, the British remembered all of this and gladly accepted tens of thousands of young Jewish men from the Mandate into the ranks of their army. In August of 1944, a Jewish Brigade was formed, incorporating many of these soldiers into one unit.
Following the war, most of these men returned to Palestine, bringing their skills and experience with them into the ranks of the Haganah, the pre-State Jewish army that was the precursor to the IDF. The quality that these veterans brought to the Haganah went a long way towards making up for the fact that the Jewish population of the country was so severely outnumbered by the Arab countries around it, and this qualitative difference was decisive in achieving victory in the Independence War of 1948.
What can we learn from all this?
The Gallipoli Campaign is rightfully regarded as a great disaster in the history Britain. But in the midst of that disaster, the first in a series of events occurred which would, at the climax, play a decisive role in fulfilling God’s plans and purposes for Israel and by extension the entire Human Race.
If we look around at what is happening in our nations, it’s easy to feel like we’re in a season of disasters. One terrible thing after another is happening, and no one seems to have any good ideas for how to turn things around.
But the story of the Zion Mule Corps teaches us that even in the midst of disaster, God is at work. He’s not surprised by anything. He’s got everything under control. His plans and purposes will be fulfilled, even if you or I might not live to see it all play out.
As Jesus told us in John 16:33; “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
If you want to read more about the Zion Mule Corps, I can recommend two books.
The first is a historical novel called Of Guns and Mules by David Lawrence-Young and published by Gefen Publishing House in Jerusalem.
The second is With the Zionists at Gallipoli by John Henry Patterson. It is in the public domain and can be accessed here.