Morrie Robbins, Joe Loss and King George - section 14
Morrie Robbins’ Rescue
I would like to give now the report that appeared last year simultaneously in the ‘Northern Daily Echo’ and the ‘Hackney Gazette’ regarding Morrie Robbins. His natural modesty has hitherto prevented his war story from becoming known. Although his leg was amputated in World War I and after twenty-three operations, it took forty years for the War Office and the Ministry of Pensions to make up their minds that he was entitled to an invalid motor tricycle – so they supplied him with a species of a perambulator, open at both sides to the elements. Hear now, you of the JFS, the report which ‘Beta’ of the ‘Hackney Gazette’ tells, and feel proud of the School that has given heroes like Robbins for our England’s service. ‘Plucky Pensioner’ headlines the report. “Just back from Cumberland, after journeying there and back by invalid carriage, is Clapton war pensioner, Mr Maurice Robbins of 21, Powerscroft Road, E.5. A civil servant, Mr Robbins defied freak nasty weather, wind and rain, to drive to Millom, Cumberland, to see Mr Percy Jordan, a farmer, the many who saved his life and thereby won the Military Medal on the Somme Front in France in 1918.
This happened when the 18th Battalion Machine Gun Corps was ordered on September 25th to take an enemy-occupied hill. It was an impossible task. The battalion had to manhandle their guns, ammunition and equipment for about a hundred years. After half an hour there were only five men still alive and by this time Machine Gunners Robbins and Jordan were separated. Recalling his experienced, Mr Robbins tells me “A German dum-dum bullet entered my left leg and exploded inside. I managed to crawl into a shell hole and lay there, I believe, for twenty-eight hours. It seemed like twenty-eight days. Weak from loss of blood, I covered myself with a groundsheet and was now prepared to stay there, well, until eternity. I remember hearing a voice ask ‘Anyone alive?’ It was my pal Percy. He was with three men whom he had prayed – and paid – to help carry a stretcher in case they found me. All the time shells were exploding around us. I was in hospital for four years then and had twenty-three operations until they decided to take my leg off.”
The last time the two men met was at the Victory Parade in London in 1946. Mr Robbins’ visit to Cumberland this year was a complete surprise to his Millom friend. It had been Mr Robbins’ burning ambition to make the 350-mile journey over the mountain ranges in his invalid carriage. He completed it in four days. Biggest disappointment of the journey was that his clutch burnt out when just nine miles from his goal. Local garage folk were very kind and succeeded in getting him a good substitute carriage while his own was being repaired and overhauled in Barrow. Mr Robbins’ next ambition is to pass his driving test at the end of the month. He still carries ‘L’ plates. So far he had failed to pass the test five times. Next time he really does deserve a break!” Morrie Robbins got his break a few days later. He passed his test and discarded his ‘L’ plates. He wrote me that despite the fact that it was the worst weather he had ever experienced, he wouldn’t have missed his long drive in that machine for a million pounds – but that he wouldn’t do it again in that machine for five million pounds. He wondered, in retrospect, why he hadn’t been ‘had up’ for attempted suicide and paid great tribute to the Automobile Association.
Old Boys’ Achievements in all Spheres
About our old boys, and girls too, many volumes could be written. They have gained distinction in every field of human endeavour. In science, art, literature, learning; the professions, industry and every form of earning, their name is legion. In this paper, I’ll just mention some contemporary names, because of our nearness to them. Oscar Rabin you all know as a keen old boy, who holds the record for the number of annual balls of the JFS Old Boys’ Club he had entertained with his ‘Romany Band’ and his orchestra. On the retirement of Mr L. Hyman who ran the violin Class, Oscar Rabin came to the farewell ceremony and delivered a eulogy that must have delighted Mr Hyman. I recall, too, how feelingly he referred to that wonderful Rothschild breakfast gift which I have already told about. Joe Loss, as you all know, has also won fame for his orchestra.
Dr Hyman Yarrow, and Mr Hyman Segal, R.B.A. of St. Ives
Present tonight, I believe is an old boy distinguished for his work in medical research, in the field of chemotherapy. He is Dr Hyman Yarrow, who is responsible for the development of many new drugs.
Yet for all his achievements the distinction he values most is that which he won at the age of thirteen at the JFS In a recent letter to me he wrote, “I am more proud of having won the Commemoration Scholarship, largely through your efforts, than anything I may have done in later life. I have the medal before me as I write, and the inscription: HYMAN YARROW 1ST SCHOLAR 1924-25, carries me back over the years, and I see Israel Zangwill presenting the medal to me shortly before he died. I shall never forget the pride which lit up your face when you shook me by the hand and told me how proud you were that one of your two room boys had won the greatest of the JFS honours, the Jews’ Commemoration Scholarship.” This scholarship gave Dr Yarrow his start in his medical career.
Dr Yarrow was instrumental, too, in locating another old boy who had won fame in a larger field; he is an artist who is recognised as a world authority in modern art. His name is Hyman Segal. He is the leader of the art colony in St. Ives. In a letter he sent me last Summer he wrote: “I always have a fluid exhibition of my works on the walls of my studio which is fortunately fairly large, and during the ‘season’ I open the door frequently to visitors.” Anyone in our audience who is able to visit his studio at any time – it is at 10, Perthmeor Studios, St. Ives, Cornwall – will find the experience a memorable one. Not only is Hyman Segal an artist of genius, but he is an outstanding personality. He is fighting a lone battle against race bias, particularly the colour bar. He became blind at the age of nine, regained his sight, and eventually won the JFS Raphael Tuck Scholarship under the tuition of Mr S. Polak. In addition to the distinctions gained by so many of his art pupils, there is the remarkable diplomatic distinction of Mr Sol Polak’s daughter, Cornelia, who appeared in the recent Birthday Honours List as O.B.E. for her distinguished services, first as British Consul in Norway and in Washington, and now as First Secretary and Consul in Paris. Among the distinguished members of the Jewish Ministry known to all of us are the late Rev. Dr A. Cohen, a classmate of mine, for several years President of the JFS Association, and Rabbi Dr S. Lehrman, a pupil of mine, of Stamford Hill Synagogue.
There is an old boy who must be known to many here, because he is the maker of the Ultra Radio and Television sets so widely used. He is Edward E. Rosen. I remember him as a monitor of Mr Landsberg who was the first Superintendent of our Play Centre. In World War I, he was a pioneer wireless operator in the Navy. Starting at scratch after that war, he built up the Ultra Radio Company, which played an important role in World War II, and is now one of our leading radio companies.
He specially built for our School the radiogram, which played so noteworthy a part in the late Mr J. Myers’ creative work I describe later, and a wireless set of most remarkable range in reception and reproduction. For this music work, and the assembly work which was so notable a feature in our activities, yet another old boy, who was also a member of the Old Boys’ Club, Mr Albert Gould, built a platform for the Cohen Hall, which vanished with Julius Caesar, as described earlier. The platform was a remarkable job; it was built in sections by Mr Gould’s Park House boys, so that it could easily be put up anywhere, but eventually it went up somewhere I didn’t anticipate, and in a great many more sections, too.
The great-hearted Goodman Winbourne, of whom I have told, built a steel draw-curtain mechanism for us. He also built a level floor in our principal games room for which another old boy, Mr Alfred Myers of Houndsditch , one of the managers of our School, gave us a standard table-tennis table – it was called ping-pong then. The one and only fire which ever broke out in the Boys’ School took place when this floor was being levelled. I was in the room at the time, when Newton, our builder was laying the wood floor bricks. A great pot of glue heated in a brazier overturned and set some bricks alight. I ran to the fire alarm, but Mr Li Cohen had already begun to ring the fire-bell, as that had been arranged early in the day. Neither of us had known that we were going to have a fire, although I believe such arrangements are not uncommon. The Bishopsgate Fire Station is round the corner and a fire-engine soon arrived and helped Newton to extinguish the fire which had spread to the floor itself. I was asked to write a description of this historic even for the ‘Jewish Chronicle’, but the story was most un-dramatic, as only a dozen wooden blocks had been destroyed. Newton’s Industrial Assurance Society paid out insurance so all must have been forgiven. I believe that money went to Newton’s assistant who had been hurt in trying to stop the glue from spreading.
King George V and a JFS Old Boy
JFS old boys seem to get in the most unexpected places. No-one would ever dream that an old boy would become a regular and a most welcome visitor to Buckingham Palace. Yet I can record that the meetings I used to convene of the large number who used to help me in raising funds for the Crystal Palace and later outings, were often held up because one of our most important members was at Buckingham Palace. This visitor to Royalty had a regular date with the late King George V. He had a weekly appointment to show His Majesty his latest acquisitions in postage stamps. He was the leading London philatelist at the time, and he acted as King George’s agent.
The late Mr Assenheim was also a valued member of this Outing Committee. He used to supply the famous Assenheim Ices at our outings, specially frozen. Fred Allison had the job of handing out the ices to our thirteen hundred boys and girls; he used to tell me that the ices were so cold that they burnt his hands. If you can’t work this out, I’ll be glad to supply his address, as he’s eighty, and has just acquired a new wife – and the happy couple will be pleased to welcome visitors from the old School. Mr Assenheim regaled me with much information about the JFS visitor to Buckingham Palace while we were ‘Waiting for Godot’. I hope I am not taking any name in vain; but just now I simply cannot recall the name of the Old Boy who visited King George V so frequently.