Lionel Harold LEVY
Eyes grey, Hair brown, Complexion fair
Who is Lionel Harold LEVY?
Story text (with some minor edits and additions) is reproduced with permission from the copyright holders, the Australian Jewish Historical Society on behalf of Peter M. Allen .
Lionel Harold Levy was born in Sydney on 18 October 1886, second of twelve children of Esther (née Cohen) and Henry Levy, a shopkeeper/auctioneer in Sydney and the Southern Highlands.
Lionel attended Cleveland Street Public School, trained as a clerk and was a carrier, then later a horse-cab driver and owner. On 19 February 1914 he married a widow from Blenheim New Zealand, Ellen ‘Nellie’ Gray (née McElwain), and they lived in Redfern, near the stables. Lionel served as Chief Ranger of Court Unity Ancient Order of the Foresters' Friendly Society and Hon. Secretary of the Hebrew Relief Society, which his father had helped to found in 1902.
In June 1915, needing more men, the AIF lowered the height criteria from 5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 2 inches. On 31 July, at 5 feet 3 inches (160cm), 130 pounds (59kg) and age 28, Lionel enlisted at Liverpool NSW. No. 2870 Private Lionel Levy, in the 9th Reinforcement of 1st Battalion.
The Battalion embarked aboard HMAT A8 Argyllshire on 30 September and arrived in Egypt in November but did not continue to Gallipoli as the evacuation commenced a month later.
On 14 February 1916, Lionel was transferred to A Company of the new 53rd Battalion, 14th Brigade. After further training, they embarked on the HMT Royal George from Alexandria on 19 June to join the British Expeditionary Force, arrived Marseilles 28 June, and entrained to the north of France, 20 kilometers west of Lille. The 53rd entered the frontline trenches with the 5th Division (comprising 12 battalions plus support units) – the most inexperienced of the Australian divisions – adjoining Britain’s 61st Division, on 10 July at Fleurbaix. There, in a flawed tactic, the British Commander, Lt General Sir Richard Haking, had decided to create a diversion to the main fighting against the entrenched German forces further south, in the Somme.
Extracts from a contemporary account of the brigade’s dash across 400 meters of boggy ground described the scene:
“Stammering scores of German machine-guns spluttered violently, drowning the noise of the cannonade. The air was thick with bullets, swishing in a flat criss-cross lattice of death ……. Hundreds were mown down in the flicker of an eyelid, like great rows of teeth knocked from a comb …….. Men were cut in two by streams of bullets (that) ……..swept like swirling knives ... It was the Charge of the Light Brigade once more, but more terrible, more hopeless – magnificent, but not war - a valley of death filled by somebody’s blunder.”
Casualty rates among the rest of the division’s 20,000 men were similarly high, finally numbering 5,533 out of around 7,000 attackers including over 2,000 dead. At least ten of them were Jewish soldiers – including Lionel Levy initially recorded as missing. Almost one month later, an eleventh, Sgt Samuel Archie Saunders, died of wounds at 13th General Hospital, Boulogne. Pte Joseph Hart was the only other one of the eleven to be buried in an identified grave - until 2010. The discovery of mass burial pits at Pheasants Wood led to the 2010 reinterment of Lt Berrol Mendelsohn and 249 other men, so that reduced the number of ‘Lost Jewish soldiers of Fromelles’ to eight. The quest to identify the remainder continues.
Looking for Lionel
Like 1800 other Australians, Lionel was listed as ‘Missing in Action’. Letters from his parents and wife pleading for information make for heart-wrenching reading, as they were initially hoping he was one of the 500-odd Prisoners of War. More than a year later - after a Court of Enquiry met on 2 September 1917 - they received advice that Lionel, age 29, was ‘Killed in Action’ on 19 July 1916. As he has no known grave, his name is inscribed on Panel 8 at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France.
His widow, Nellie, received a pension of two pounds per fortnight (two dollars per week) and, in September 1922, a commemorative plaque – similar to that shown at right - alsoknown colloquially as a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’.
In 2009, with confirmation of Lambis Englezos’ discovery of the mass graves of the ‘Lost Diggers of Fromelles’, Peter Allen became aware that Lionel Harold Levy was his late mother’s second cousin. That led to contact with Lionel’s closer relatives, some of whom provided DNA in order to assist with identification.
Looking for his image
We can only glean so much from limited records and, unfortunately, we have no confirmed image of Lionel. We have a series of photos all nominated as being Lionel, but none can be definitively identified.
The first is a magnificent photo featured in a Christmas card used by the troops and their supporters. Family believed the group included Lionel second from the left and kept a copy of the card as a memento. They have also treasured a copy of the picture reproduced in a 1951 newspaper clipping – an electronic version is available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18217208.
However recently, quite by accident when looking on Trove, Peter Allen found the same photo in the Sydney Mail of August 1914 - the year before Lionel enlisted – so it couldn’t be him. Alas, for over 90 years, the postcard was the only surviving photo the family believed included their lost Lionel.
During his research, Peter however found a photo published in 1916 “PTE. L. H. LEVY Redfern. Missing.” Could this be Lionel? A second very similar photo was published in another newspaper on the same date (see below). Certainly, the grainy photos suggested some resemblance to family members and to Lionel’s younger brother, Lewis (see the earlier photo of Lewis in Foresters’ regalia).
Two photos of missing NSW soldiers both nominated as Pte L. H. Levy that were published in separate papers on 11 October 1916. While both photos are somewhat grainy, it seems to be two slightly different pictures of the same man.
Published in the Sydney Mail, Private L. H. Levy is identified as being from Redfern. On enlistment, Lionel was living with his wife Nellie at 2 Elton Place, Redfern. Source A NOTED BRITISH COMMANDER—AND OTHER PICTURES. (1916, October 11). Sydney Mail (NSW 1912 - 1938), p. 13. Retrieved July 6, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160388056
Published in Australian Town and Country Journal, Private L. H. Levy is identified as being from Annandale. In 1916, Lionel’s parents were living a 33 Trafalgar Street, Annandale. Source N.S.W. Soldiers Reported Missing. (1916, October 11). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW 1870 - 1919), p. 17. Retrieved July 6, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263602771
Then, in another lucky find, Fromelles Association researchers found another grainy photo also labelled Pte L. H. Levy of Redfern. This soldier is dressed in a different uniform and sports a healthy moustache. This same photo was published twice during 1916 – once in September and again in December – and the earlier publication includes his Elton Place Redfern address.
We do not know if these various photos are of different men or if it is of the same man taken at different times – with and without moustache – but the inclusion of the more detailed address leads some to favour the moustached version. However, there is no certainty at this stage that we have identified Lionel’s actual image but we hope that it may be so. Peter remarks,
“If Lionel was this hard to identify whilst alive … it’s not surprising he is difficult to identify at Fromelles, now he’s been lost for almost 105 years!”
Regardless, Pte Lionel Harold Levy is certainly not forgotten.
One Sample of mtDNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||Lionel Harold LEVY 1886-1916|
|Parents||Henry LEVY 1860-1938, New South Wales|
|and Esther COHEN 1865-1932, New South Wales|
|Paternal||John LEVY and Jessie MITCHELL.|
|Maternal||Enoch COHEN b. 1835, England d. 1905, New South Wales and Charlotte LEVY 1842 -1903 New South Wales.|
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