The Jewish Refugee Warship

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The Jewish Refugee Warship

Last Free Dates: 12th Jan 16 to 14th Jan 16
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...Educational, well-researched, and well-written, this would be an excellent book for anyone interested not just in the history of the Wedgewood itself, but in the politics and foundation of Israel....

The Josiah Wedgwood was a Canadian corvette bought in the aftermath of the second war war that would serve as both refugee ship and then warship for the Israeli navy, but this history starts long before that with the reason for the ship’s unusual name. This is not a short book but even for its length it covers a lot of very in-depth material.

It begins with a detailed breakdown of the life of the real Josiah Wedgwood, a man who played a vital part in ending the British Mandate in Palestine and the birth of Israel. This is an absolutely fascinating read, particularly in the present day with the troubles in the middle east frequently in the news. Given the historical details, including speeches quoted from the House of Lords and others, it is a well-researched overview of the various factions and the schisms within them. And then it reached his death in 1943 and I realised I was only on loc 640. The book is packed with well-researched detail and in those 600 locs covered more than many books do in 6000.

By loc 700, when the titular ship first appears, you can well understand why the fledgling Israeli navy named their ship for the British lord. Only 9 months old when it was decommissioned and sold to the Jewish refugee smugglers, the Canadian corvette was refitted as a refugee ship. In its attempt to run the British blockade it carried 1,250 refugees instead of the 150 crew it was designed for, in awful conditions. One particularly poignant note is that before the war the transports had tried to select only young colonists. After the war there was no need to select: most of the older generation were dead.

The history covers its crew and operations, from running the British blockade to its confiscation and the end of the British mandate when it was recovered and restored to its original function as a battleship. The flagship in the Israeli war of independence, with makeshift cannons and an inexperienced crew, it saw only a few actions, but the book follows the ship until the Wedgwood’s eventual decommissioning and scuttling in the fifties.

This book is packed with incredible detail; speeches, copies of notes from the time, and pictures of those involved. It even has maps and discusses the internal conflict and politics of the organisations involved. With only three incredibly long and detailed chapters and an epilogue, covering periods in the ship’s life, there are few natural breaks and it is a hard book to put down. However, this is not a fast or light read. Packed with information, fast-moving, and intensely focused on politics at a time of great upheaval, it is worth taking time to read. As with any historical source it is most likely biased towards the author’s views. It is none-the-less an in-depth exploration of events at the time seen from the Israeli point of view.

While I did not have time to check every resource, the book is thoroughly cited and footnoted, and those I did check seemed accurate. There are a few minor errors like odd comma positioning and on loc 1069 two ships briefly swap aliases, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t see in a commercial printed book. The British, with the exception of Wedgwood and Churchill, do not come off well but, given the actions taken at the time, that is understandable. It has little detail on the later wars with the Arabs, but then the Wedgwood’s role there was very limited and the book is focused on the ship.

Educational, well-researched, and well-written, this would be an excellent book for anyone interested not just in the history of the Wedgwood itself, but in the politics and foundation of Israel, and the origins of some factions that persist into the modern day. This would not be a book to be read for light entertainment – while an absorbing read, it handles heavy material and political conflicts – but for anyone with an interest in history or middle east events or who wants to learn more about the period this would be ideal.

Rating: 5
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skye (9 February 2016)
That was not an easy read. Fascinating, but very heavy going in parts.

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