Tuesday 23 January 2018

Israel honours 'Lion Hunter of Zion' 67 years after death

Soldier and engineer Lt. Colonel John H Patterson (1867 - 1947) as he poses with the propped up body of the first of two maneating lions he shot and killed near the Tsvaro river, Kenya, late 1890s
Soldier and engineer Lt. Colonel John H Patterson (1867 - 1947) as he poses with the propped up body of the first of two maneating lions he shot and killed near the Tsvaro river, Kenya, late 1890s
John Henry Patterson
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

HE was a swashbuckling hero of the British empire, a fierce lion slayer, an unlikely hero of the Jewish state - and a forgotten Irishman whose exploits inspired no fewer than four Hollywood movies.

Israeli leaders turned out to honour John Henry Patterson - known as the 'Lion Hunter of Zion' - revered as one of the most fervent supporters of the Jewish people, at a ceremony last month. In accordance with his own last wishes, his remains were interred next to his comrades in the Jewish Legion - some 67 years after his death.

Born in 1867 in Forgney, Ballymahon, Co Longford - the birthplace of writer Oliver Goldsmith - Patterson was supposedly the son of an Irish Protestant clergyman, Henry. However, Patterson's daughter-in-law, Beatrice, and grandson, Alan, said he never spoke of his early life or parents, as if hiding a secret, and a biographer suggests Patterson may have been the illegitimate son of an Irish maid.

In 'The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson: How an Irish Lion Hunter Led the Jewish Legion to Victory', by Denis Brian, the lean six-foot-tall Irishman is recalled as "a man of mystery who might have stepped out of a Kipling tale".

"He had the gift of the gab, a lively sense of humour, a friendly and optimistic nature, and an air of command, reinforced, perhaps, by the Bible he sometimes carried in one hand and, no doubt, by the gun he carried in the other," writes Brian.

Young Patterson joined the British army at the age of 17 and rose quickly through the ranks to become Lieutenant-Colonel.

In 1898, he was dispatched by the British East Africa Company to oversee the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River, in modern-day Kenya, and almost immediately, ferocious lions began to prey on the terrified railway workers.

On St Patrick's Day, 1898, Patterson sat in a tree to kill the lions, gun cocked. He eventually killed two lions and went on to tell the story in a bestselling book, 'The Man-Eaters of Tsavo' - which has inspired no fewer than three Hollywood movies - 'Bwana Devil' (1952), 'The Killers of Kilimanjaro' (1959) and 'The Ghost and the Darkness' (1996).

A fourth movie, 'The Macomber Affair' (1947), was inspired by a scandal which suggested that Patterson had been having an affair with the wife of a British soldier, who subsequently took his own life.

It was in the Great War that the Jewish connection came about. Patterson was in command of the Zion Mule Corps in the Middle East campaign and became a fierce supporter of their desire for a Jewish state.

He took the corps to Gallipoli in a doomed effort to attack the German empire, and today Patterson is hailed as the first commander to lead Jewish forces on to the field of battle for two millennia.

On November 10 - his birthday - Patterson's ashes and those of his wife Helena were buried in Israel, with a special ceremony in his honour, following a campaign by his grandson Alan.

Irish Independent

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