Judeans under the floor

by Elisabeth Murray, Curatorial Intern

Objects come into a museum in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are given only on loan (like
most of the objects in our new crowd-sourced exhibition Sacrifice), occasionally they are purchased in an auction, which normally results in a few tense moments
of bidding, and sometimes we get really lucky and they are donated to us. 

That happened


These photographs were found under the floorboards in someone’s
house in the East End of London and arrived in the museum via a friend of one of our volunteers. Slightly dusty from having been undisturbed
for so long, and crumpled from handling, they may not look like your typical
museum object – but we’re delighted to have them as they tell a fascinating

The photographs are associated with the Judeans, which was the unofficial name given
to the five battalions of Jewish volunteers who served in World War I. The
force was part of the Royal Fusiliers battalions 38 to 42.  All of the pictures are interesting, but I
thought I’d share my favourites.


This photo, unlike some of the others, is nicely annotated,
placing it as a photograph of 39th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, 14 March 1918.
My favourite thing about it is something which is only apparent when you take a
close look – there is a man in drag. On a second glance your eyes notice the title
“The Orphan” and it becomes clear that the photo is of a
theatre-troupe-of-sorts, and many of the people are out of uniform, and in character. 

Putting on plays was a very popular recreation
activity during the war and was encouraged by officials as a great way to boost
morale. Playing football, as shown in the second photograph that caught my interest, was also a
very popular pastime. 


favourite is this photograph of two men in their military uniform. Unlike the previous photograph we don’t know anything about them, but what is striking is their
Star of David shoulder flashes, which clearly
identify them as part of the Judeans. 

badges often had a deep personal value to those who wore them, linking them to
their battalion, and were sometimes saved as souvenirs. We have two in the
Jewish Military Museum collection, one of which is on display in the Jewish
Museum history gallery


My final favourite is the photo we know least about and is possibly
in the worst condition – a picture of a young boy, possibly called Carlos,
carefully protected in a layer of tissue, and probably carried as a reminder of

So as you can see we’ve had an exciting morning here at the
Jewish Museum, looking through all of the new photographs and learning their
stories. I for one am tempted to go home and search under my floorboards to see
what treasures might be lurking amongst the dust.

Do you have anything you think might belong in the Jewish Museum’s collection? Email [email protected] and let us know. 

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