Eyes brown, Hair brown grey, Complexion fair
The Marcus family
The text of Reuben’s story is reproduced (with minor edits) with permission from the copyright holders, the Australian Jewish Historical Society on behalf of Peter M. Allen. Additional information and photos for the Marcus family provided by Jeff Kossew.
Reuben’s father, Richard Marcus (1835-1911), was born in London and he arrived in South Africa in the 1830s with his family who were commercial pioneers.
His mother, Louisa Hulme, was born in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa in 1851, of English and Dutch descent. She spent part of her girlhood and early married life in Beaufort West, Cape Province where we assume she and Richard met. They later moved as a married couple to Cape Town where they lived in a large house in Sea Point called ‘Queenhythe’ and raised a family of ten – five sons and five daughters.
Louisa died at the age of 79 at her home in Sea Point a few weeks after a car accident in which she sustained some injuries but never recovered. A short article on Louisa’s death in the Cape Times newspaper notes that three of her sons were killed in active service during the war – presumably referring to Reuben, Ernest and Hamilton, though it is not known if Hamilton (1886-1918) died on active service.
The writer of the article (Mrs Dichmont, president of the Fairhaven Work Party) describes Louisa as leading a “really beautiful life; she lived for what she could do for others”. The article states that she knitted items for the old women at the Old Somerset Hospital and for “innumerable poor children” and that she ceaselessly worked for charities. In another newspaper article after her death, it states that she had a reputation for beauty and vivacity and that Richard had paid her “faithful attention since her fourteenth year”; they married when she turned 21 and she adopted his Jewish faith.
Reuben Marcus was born in Cape Town, South Africa circa 1879 to Louisa and Richard Marcus of Sea Point. He attended the Hampton Boys High School in England, trained as a cabinetmaker at the Cape Town Educational Institute and “was a keen sportsman - cricket, football, swimming and mountaineering.” After he came to Australia in about 1908, he worked as a carpenter.
Reuben enlisted at Melbourne in 31st Battalion (C Company) on 7 July 1915 as No. 732 Private Reuben Marcus, aged 37. After combining with some Queenslanders, training began at Broadmeadows where he may have met a fellow Jew more than 20 years his junior, Joseph Davis De Passe Joseph, also destined to meet his fate at Fromelles.
The unit embarked aboard HMAT A62 Wandilla on 9 November 1915. They arrived at Suez a month later to begin the ‘doubling’ of the AIF in preparation for its commitment to the European campaign.
Battle of Fromelles
As part of the 8th Brigade in the newly raised 5th Australian Division, the battalion sailed from Alexandria on 17 June to join the British Expeditionary Force. They disembarked at Marseilles on 25 June, destined for the Western Front at Fleurbaix in the north of France, 20km west of Lille.
According to the Australian War Memorial website:
The 31st Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches three days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 31st. The unit suffered 572 casualties - over half of its strength.
Many died during the pre-assault phases from enemy or ‘friendly’ artillery fire, others got lost advancing too far into ‘no-man’s land’ or were cut-off by the German counter-attack – a result of poor planning, maps and communication.
Reuben was reported as wounded, then ‘Wounded and Missing in Action, 21 July 1916’ and, like 1800 other Australians, his parents hoped he was one of the 500-odd Prisoners of War. Despite making enquiries through the Red Cross, they were unable to gain any information of his fate until August 1917, when a Court of Enquiry determined that he was ‘Killed in Action on 21 July 1916’.
Remembering Reuben Marcus
As he has no known grave, the name of Private Reuben Marcus is engraved on Panel 3 at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, Lille, Nord Pas de Calais, France.
Reuben was one of ten Jews amongst the 2,000 diggers killed at the Battle of Fromelles. Australia’s – and Australian Jewry’s - worst-ever 24 hours. See separate entries for the others, including just two with identified graves. Pte Joseph Hart, buried in 1921, and Lt Berrol Mendelsohn, one of the 250 ‘Lost Diggers of Fromelles’ reinterred in 2010. By 2019, 166 of them had been identified and the quest to identify the remainder continues.
Two Y DNA samples are needed (a male named Marcus sharing a common ancestor with Reuben, as is one mt DNA sample
|Soldier||Reuben MARCUS 1879-1916, South Africa|
|Parents||Richard MARCUS 1835-1911, England and Cape Town South Africa|
|and Louisa HULME 1851-1930, Cape Town, South Africa|
|Paternal||Simon MARCUS b. abt 1790 Amsterdam, lived in London and Eleanor LEVEY|
|Maternal||We cannot find Louisa’s family and seek help tracing likely Mt DNA connections.|
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