Military Service

Memorial to the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment in France (including Henry Issacs from Horsham)

With the outbreak of the war came the sense for many Jews that an obligation now had to be fulfilled. As one Jewish recruitment poster put it: “Since the days of Oliver Cromwell Great Britain has meted out the fairest treatment politically, socially, and in every way to Jews. Now is the time for Jews to reciprocate and show the old spirit of the Maccabees is not dead. Every able bodied unmarried Jew between 19 and 45 should join the British Army.”

Capt. Joseph Friend, Sussex Yeomanry fought in 3 wars, including as a Trooper in the Imperial Light Horse in South Africa during the Boer War. This photograph of Capt. Joseph Friend in Salonika. during WWI Copyright Jewish Museum London – Jewish Military Museum

Among the early volunteers were a large number of members of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade, an alternative organisation to the Boy Scouts devoted to turning out similarly fearless and ever-prepared, Kiplingesque young assets to the British empire. They joined as a Pals battalion, an enterprise that allowed whole villages or groups of friends (for example all the players of Leyton Orient), to join and stay together. Five hundred were killed.

Jewish soldiers from Sussex were part of the British regular armies or the reserve when the war broke out: 50 in the Royal Navy, 400 in the Royal Army and 600 in the reserve. Unlike some other European countries, British Jews had access to military careers, and by 1900 there were Jewish military officers in the Regular British army (42), as well as the Militia (14) and the Yeomanry and Volunteers (143). Military careers were used by both Jews and gentiles to enter county society.

Friendly Aliens and the British Army (Art.IWM PST 6062) whole: the title is positioned across the top, in red, with the main text located centrally, in blue. Further text, in red, is placed over the lower quarter. All are set against a plain white background and framed within a red and blue border. image: text only. text: FRIENDLY ALIENS AND THE BRITISH ARMY FRIENDLY ALIENS can now ENLIST in the British Army, and on the same terms as British-born Subje… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Because many commissions pre-WW1 depended on elite family connections, many Jewish officers ended in less traditional regiments such as the colonial armies.  The Jewish presence in these pre-war armies merited the celebration of Jewish holidays such as Hanukkah. The Jewish presence was decisive in the Boer Wars and celebrated by British Jewish papers. Among the people from Sussex who were associated with the military before the war began were Jacob de Meza (a career soldier) and Leonard Messel (a volunteer in the Territorial Force). 

When Britain entered the war on the 4th of August 1914 as a result of Germany’s invasion of Belgium, the regular army and territorial force were sent to the Western front. Unlike other European countries, Britain did not have conscription until early 1916. Lord Kitchener set to mobilise a volunteer army of over half a million men, a New Army to fight the Central Powers. Patriotism, a festive atmosphere, a sense of adventure, and a degree of peer pressure led many to enlist.

Anglo-Jewry’s religious and political leadership, together with the main newspapers actively encouraged enlisting and actively supported the war effort, as a way of expressing gratitude and highlighting the success of integration. For example, the Brighton & Hove Hebrew Congregation WW1 Tablet includes a quote from the  Chief Rabbi, Herman Adler:

“Surely England deserves that we her Jewish children should gladly live and die for her”.

Sussex youth, including Jews, began to enlist from the start of the war before the introduction of conscription (for example, Siegfried Sassoon volunteered on the first day of the war). This contrasts to the experience of recent Jewish immigrants in London, some of whom did not volunteer and, when they enlisted, joined the newly created Jewish units such as the 38th-40th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers.  Our project has come across three people with links to these battalions – Gershon Shavitsky who initially served with the Zion Mule Corps, B Levy (38th Battalion) and Frederick Samuel (40th Battalion).

Gershon S(h)avitzky army form in 1916 prior to being hospitalised in Brighton in 1917. Courtesy of Jewish Museum.

However, most of the people we have studied joined existing regiments, including the local Royal Sussex Regiment (RSR).  Enlisting in local regiments had the added incentive that workmates, neighbours and pals would fight together (a policy that was discarded after the Somme offensive).  Local recruitment at the onset of the war, and then the transfer to other units as soldiers died in the front, meant that Jewish soldiers were dispersed in the front lines. This had consequences in terms of the army catering for their specific needs as soldiers.

The British Jewry Book of Honour records over 50,000 Jewish members of the forces for Britain as a whole, including 334 officers and 2091 men dead, and about 6500 wounded. The Royal Sussex Regiment had 15 Jewish officers and 158 Jewish NCOs and men.  One of these was 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Sampson Marks, from Hove, who served with the 9th Battalion. He enlisted in October 1914, and probably moved with the regiment from Chichester to the training camp in Shoreham in April 1915 and then to Woking in June. He is likely to have participated in recruitment exercises in Brighton, such as the one in Saturday 13th of November 1914 marching along the Lower Promenade to fill the places of those who died in Gallipoli on behalf of the 4th Royal Sussex battalion.

Marks disembarked with the 9th Regiment at Boulogne on the 1st September 1915, and shortly after, he likely participated in the Battle of Loos (25th-28th September 1915), the first offensive in which the New Army of volunteers participated. The battlefield was flat, and men ordered to attack after the British used poison gas for the first time on the German forces.  The British losses were the highest since the war had begun, as German machine guns killed or injured with ease almost all those who were charging across no man’s land. Over 8,000 men out of 10,000 men died in 4 hours. Such was the destruction that many German soldiers stopped firing as the British troops retreated. After a year of service, Marks was invalided with severe shellshock and later died of pneumonia. 

Private Joseph Emmanuel, from Brighton, fought in the 6th West Surrey Regiment, after he was transferred from the 11th Royal Sussex Regiment where he is likely to have enlisted. The 11th Regiment was the first of three Southdown battalions, or ‘Lowther’s Lambs’ as they were called.  The three regiments (11th, 12th and 13th Royal Sussex) were raised by MP Claude Lowther in Herstmonceux Castle. Successfully bringing in recruits from East Sussex, the Southdowns trained in Cooden beach. Lowther’s Lambs were to fight in the Battle of Boars head near Richebourg, on the 30th of June 1916, a day before the first Somme offensive as a diversionary attack. Called the “day that Sussex died”, the Southdowns experienced heavy losses, with 17 officers and 349 other ranks dead, and over 1,000 men wounded or taken prisoner.

The Sussex soldiers were lost in a smokescreen intended to confuse the Germans, having to cross through bridges over draining ditches highly exposed to machine gunfire and trapped in a dyke, as well as engaging into hand to hand combat in German trenches. Private Joseph Emmanuel was transferred to the West Surrey Regiment (6th Battalion), which was involved in key battles on the Western Front, among others Loos (1915), Poziers (1916), Scarpe (1917), and Amiens (1918). Private Emmanuel was killed in the days following the second battle of Bapaume on the 3 Sept 1918, as part of the 100 days offensive in which British and colonial troops pushed the Central Powers back putting an end to the war.

Other men who served in the Royal Sussex Regiment include Siegfried Sassoon, Eric Bingen and his brother Charles Bingen, and Joseph Friend.  Sassoon had connections with Sussex, but we haven’t found any evidence that this was the case for the others.  However, there were a variety of reasons why men did not necessarily join their local regiment.

An army badge for the Royal Sussex Regiment. Photo: Jewish Museum London, object no. 2004.25.24

The Royal Sussex Regiment was also notable for fighting in Palestine towards the end of the war. Its 4th and 16th Battalions were part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force during 1916-1918, and the 4th Battalion marched into Bethlehem in December 1917.

A group of people standing in front of a building

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Victory Parade, 4th Battalion march through Bethlehem, December 1917. Photo: West Sussex Record Office, WSRO, RSR PH 4/56

Jewish armies under the British effort

The above text describes the experiences of Jewish soldiers who fought in conventional regiments in the New Army. In 1916, conscription was instituted and with it calls for the creation of a specifically Jewish legion intensified. These were led by two Zionists, Chaim Weizmann and Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who rebelled against the officially neutral position of the World Zionist Congress. Both wanted Jews to have a part in fighting the Ottomans in Palestine with the hope of gaining a stake in the post-war peace there. Weizmann was born in Belarus.

By the outbreak of the war, he was a British citizen and senior lecturer in chemistry at the University of Manchester and a leader of the British Zionist movement. It was his scientific work that brought him into a position of influence. He invented a method of industrial fermentation that could create large quantities of acetone, an essential ingredient in the production of cordite for explosives. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and minister of munitions, David Lloyd George both worked with Weizmann to make this a reality on a large scale. As a result, Weizmann’s contribution to the allied war effort was enormous and during this time he had the somewhat sympathetic ear of senior cabinet ministers.

Out of this, in part, came the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the letter written by foreign secretary Arthur Balfour that stated the British empire’s support for the creation of a homeland for Jews in Palestine. At this moment, the history of the 20th century pivots on a connection between British Jews, the British government and the first world war.

What did immediately affect Jewish lives was the creation of the Jewish Legion, the only specifically Jewish fighting force among all the armies of the first world war. In charge was Lieutenant Colonel J H Patterson, a philosemite of the kind produced by devout protestantism’s absorption in the Old Testament as history and instruction. As he wrote in his memoirs:

From the days of my youth I have
always been a keen student of the
Jewish people, their history, laws and
customs. Even as a boy I spent the
greater part of my leisure hours
poring over the Bible, especially that
portion of the Old Testament which
chronicles battles, murders, and
sudden deaths, little thinking that
this Biblical knowledge would ever be
of any practical value in after life.

Patterson led the “Judeans” to battle honours against the Ottomans at Megiddo and Nablus, in the teeth of what he perceived to be antisemitic treatment from the wider British army. For example, the legion was posted far longer than any other unit in the Jordan Valley, resulting in 80% malaria rates. Supplies were always slow to arrive and officers enjoyed throwing antisemitic insults around.

This infuriated Patterson, a devoted commander who was proud of the fighting fitness of his troops. Meanwhile, Patterson was surprised to find among the men strong differences of opinion about Zionism. The army had allowed the enlistment of passionately Zionist American Jews who gave up their nationality to do so, but a significant number of the British Jews had little sympathy for the project of settlement. For them, the Jewish Legion meant simply the opportunity to serve among sympathetic people.

(Source:  The Guardian –

The first Jewish unit to be involved in the British war effort was the Zion Mule Corps, which included Russian emigrés from Palestine who were foreign nationals. It was not a fighting unit, but a transport/labour corps. Yet its successful action in the Gallipoli campaign paved the way for a specifically Jewish unit.

This was spurred by Zionist leaders in Britain and beyond, as well as the possibility of attracting into military service recent Jewish migrants from Eastern countries such as Russia (who were given the choice of enlisting, repatriation or detention). The British government raised a specifically Jewish unit, under the Royal Fusiliers Regiment, which eventually included the 38th, 39th, 40th  Battalions which were active in the war as well as the 40th and 41st training battalions. 

The Jewish Legion and the First World War by Martin Watts. Pub Palgrave

The Judeans or Jewish Legion, as the unit is remembered, was raised to fight the Ottomans in Palestine, but would also be expected to fight wherever it was needed for the British effort, including the Western Front. The 38th Battalion was formed by Jews from the East End and those transferred from other regiments. The 39th included American Jews including from the United States, Canada and even Argentina. The 40th was mostly refugees from Palestine.

While many Jewish officers and other ranks decided to remain in their original units, as they saw their allegiance to country and regiment stronger than a need to form part of a Jewish regiment, some transferred and many Russian Jews in East London joined in. While many of the Americans enlisted with a strong Zionist settlement drive, “a significant number of British Jews joined the Jewish Legion as an opportunity to serve among sympathetic people.”

Gershon Savitzy recuperating in hospital in Brighton in 1917. Image courtesy of Jewish Museum

Private Gershon Shavitsky’s connection to Brighton is that he received treatment in York Place Military Hospital in 1917. A Russian national, he enlisted at Whitehall on the 21st of December 1915. He is believed to have fought in the Zion Mule Corps in Gallipoli, as well as the 20th Battalion of the Regiment of the City of London regiment and the 133 Labour Corps of the Royal West Surrey Regiment. He was wounded in 4th November 1917 in Belgium and treated in Boulogne and then Brighton for a gunshot wound in his shoulder, until he was discharged in 1918.

Sergeant B Levy, who had an address in Brighton, served with the Judeans in the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. The 38th famously marched through Whitechapel and the City, on February 2nd, 1918. The Judeans fought against the Ottomans in Palestine, engaging their army north of Jerusalem, fighting in the Jordan valley and in the battle of Megiddo, considered a decisive battle against the Turks. The Judean regiments were disbanded after November 1918, with some soldiers returning to Britain, and some remaining in Palestine. There are two deaths recorded for a ‘B Levy’ – 7th March 1919 in the CWCG memorial, commemorated in the Jerusalem memorial, which would mean Levy decided to remain, or the 7th September 1918, right before the battle of Meggido.

A group of people posing for a photo

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39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, Cairo, 1918. Photo: Book of Honour, via We Were There Too.

Jewish life in the trenches

The Jewish experience in the frontline was in many ways the same of their gentile peers. Trench warfare in the Western front was not dominated by battle: attacks consisting in going over the top or defensive action against German direct attacks would represent a small portion of a soldiers’ time (on average 2 per cent of the entire duration of the war). Most of the time consisted of hard labour with a high risk of dying as a result of disease, artillery fire or a sniper shot (even on a quiet day, many hundreds of soldiers died).

Units were rotated constantly between trenches in the firing line (15 per cent of their time), support and reserve trenches and the rearguard. The majority of casualties in the Western front were a product of the unsanitary conditions and disease (dysentery, cholera and typhoid fever), as well as infections due to injury and trench foot. Soldiers were four times more likely to die of artillery fire than from bullets. Heavy artillery was also likely to cause shell shock. Soldiers in the Sinai and Palestine campaign had to engage in battle in intense heat, with over 80% malaria rates.

The British army accommodated in some ways the specific needs of Jewish soldiers. During training, soldiers were given days off in the official Jewish holidays, with official services being held from the summer of 1915 onwards at Shoreham camp and other locations in the area. Sometimes in other areas of Britain, Jewish recruits were allowed to attend services in local synagogues.  At the front, Jewish soldiers in conventional regiments would get leave on official holidays like New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the day of atonement (Yom Kippur), provided that this did not undermine military objectives. Despite advocacy from the JWSC, soldiers were not granted the right to observe the Sabbath and were expected to work. 

Jewish troops often complained about the dearth of Jewish chaplains and lack of religious services. It took a long time for Jewish ‘padres’ to be integrated into the military, and a third of them were not recruited until 1918. Jewish chaplains had to serve double the number of soldiers that their Anglican peers did, each one attending to 2,000 Jewish soldiers dispersed across the British Army.

Prayer book for Jewish Sailors and Soldiers – Book image courtesy of IWM

From 1915, Jewish soldiers were made aware of services in the region and occasionally the army provided transport. Because of the dearth of chaplains, often prayers for wounded or dying soldiers were conducted by Anglican priests. As their number of increased, they were able to mark the graves of Jewish soldiers to replace the cross with the Jewish memorial peg. Guidance was given to Anglican padres on how to give appropriate prayers if there was no Jewish chaplain around, and a book of prayers was circulated to Jewish soldiers in service. 

Some young men identified by the Shalom Sussex project fought outside the infantry, such as Albert Edward Trappler, from Hove, who served in the 10th Balloon Section in the Royal Air Force, countering the German Offensive of March 1918; or A B Levy, from Hove, who served in the Royal Naval Division, in the pre-dreadnought boat HM Victorious, which guarded the British coastline and acted as a repair ship at the end of the war. Several men joined the Royal Air Force or its forerunners, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, including Jack Barnato, and the brothers Abraham, Elias and Solomon Crook.

While the Anglo-Jewry’s religious leadership gave a dispensation on kashrut for the purpose of the war, this was contested by some religious groups, which deemed the consumption of kosher food was crucial. Yet the Jewish War committees were never really successful in the provision of kosher food to Jewish soldiers in the regular army regiments, with the exception of sporadic shipments, for examples of matzos in Passover. Even in Jewish battalions, according to a recruit, the food wasn’t much different from the other army regiments, with only matzos and wine in holy days and the possibility of purchasing fish.  A large number of Jewish soldiers reported not minding eating non-kosher food. 

Jewish soldiers, particularly those who came from longstanding families in the UK, were on occasions keen to emphasise their Englishness rather than demanding special treatment as Jews.  In contrast, new immigrants might emphasise the need for religious observation such as kashrut and would be keener to have their religious needs addressed. This silencing of Jewishness was compounded by some cases of anti-Semitism and a fear of signalling oneself as an outsider. Though the shared war experience brought gentile and Jew closer, anti-Semitic remarks were made. Even in the case of the Judean regiments, the gentile officers systematically made anti-Semitic remarks. On the other hand, many unit commanders at were sympathetic to the Jewish soldier “maintaining their religious identity in a Christian army and offered practical support.”

Harold George Messel in uniform of Royal Sussex Regt

Other military names

Other men who served and who had some connection to Sussex (e.g. by living there or through their regiment) include:

Deaths during the war

More than twenty Jewish men with a connection to Sussex died during the war on active service or from other causes.  They include:

  • Gunner Balchin, D W (d. 27 November 1917) – Served with Royal Field Artillery (193802).  Address 438 London Road Westcliffe. Book of Honour, Part 1, p78. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove Memorial tablet.
  • Private Bash, L (d. 10 April 1917)Served with 10th Royal Fusiliers (City of London) (1602).  32 Charles Street, Hatton Garden, London. Book of Honour, Part 1, BHC Minutes 2 December 1917 & AGM May 1918. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial.
  • Capt Barnato, Jack I (7.6.1894 – 26.10.1918) Private in the Royal Fusiliers in 1914 before transferring to the Royal Navy Air Service in 1915. British Jewry: Book of Honour, Part 1, p. 68. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial.
  • 2nd Lieut Isaacs, Clifford, Bernard (d. 1 August 1917, aged 26) – Served with 89th Company MGC. Address 28 New Church Road, Hove. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.71. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial and commemorated in the ohel at Meadowview cemetery.
  • Private Cohen, M (d. 1 April 1918) Served with 4/5th Black Watch (201649). Address 68 Hollingbury Road, Brighton.  Book of Honour, Part 1, p.85 Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial.
  • 2nd Lieut Cook, Norman George (d. 29 June 1917) – Cambridge University, 39 Sussex Square, Brighton (1911) North Staffordshire Regiment. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial.
  • Capt de Meza, Jacob, MC (d. 22 August 1918) – Served with 1/19th London Regiment. Address Rest Harrow, Palmeira Avenue, Hove. Book of Honour, Part 1. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial.
  • Private Emmanuel, Joseph (died of wounds 3 Sept 1918, aged 19) – Served with 11th Btn RSR then 6th Royal W. Surrey Regt (69294), 10 Russell Square, Brighton. Parents Joseph & Esther Emmanuel of London.  Book of Honour, Part 1, p.120
  • Rifleman Harris, Samuel (d. 22 April 1918, aged 23) – Served with 1st Rifle Brigade (S/16064). 32 Sillwood Road, Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.95.
  • Gunner Hart (Assenheim), P (d. 15 October 1917) – Served with D290 Brigade RFA (901158).  4 Russell Street, Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.126, Additional List.
  • 2nd Lieut Jacobs, H (d. 6 July 1918) – Served with 1/8th Kings Own Regiment, Lancs. Address 13 Lansdowne Place, Hove. Source: Book of Honour, Part 1, p.71. 
  • Keyser, Laurence – Went to school in Brighton, served with 1st Battalion H Company & others, died on active service
  • Levy, A B, MR (d. 30 December 1917) – Service no. R/S95.  Anson Bttn, 63rd Royal naval Division. 20 Worcester Villas, Hove.  
  • Sergeant Levy, B (d. 7 September 1918) – Served with 38th Royal Fusiliers (J/13). 17 Gloucester Place, Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.103.
  • 2nd Lieut Marks, Arthur Sampson (1885 – 25 October 1918, aged 33) – Served with Royal Sussex Regiment. Address 33 Tisbury Road, Hove. Died of pneumonia. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.73, photo Part 2, p.10. 
  • Private Pyke, John Leon (d. 5 April 1918) – Served with 13th Royal Fusiliers (63375) 3 Regency Square Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.113.
  • Gunner Rayner, B (d. 6 October 1918, aged 19) – Served with 26th SB, RGA (163510).  12 North Place Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.113. Mentioned on Brighton & Hove Memorial.
  • Private Rosenberg, F (d. 17 January 1917) – Served with 72nd Canadian Infantry (130243).  10 Melbourne Road, Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p. 114.
  • Private Rosenbloom, J G (d. 17 August 1917) – Served with 17th Lancashire Fusiliers (46994).  34, Pembroke Crescent, Hove. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.115.
  • Rosenthal, Tobias – Royal Garrison Artillery. Died in Shoreham in 1918 of pneumonia –
  • 2nd Lieut Samuel, E B (d. 30 January 1916) Served with 16th Middlesex Regt.  Address 12 Palmeira Court, Hove. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.74, photo in Part 2, p.114 & 297.  Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial & in BHC minutes 6 Feb 1916.  Father Nelson Samuel. 
  • Private Stepham, S (d. 1 July 1918) – Served with 2nd Bedford Regt (41990). 10 Cavendish, Place, Brighton. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.120. 
  • Private Trappler, Albert Edward (d. 15 July 1918) – Served in the 10th (or 11th Kite) Balloon Section, RAF (no. 66093).  59 Lorna Road, Hove. Book of Honour, Part 1, p.122. 
  • Sgt/Sig Woolf, S (d. 20 September 1917) Served with 17th KRRC (C/3059). Address 68 Walsingham Road, Hove. Book of Honour, Part1, p.124.  Mentioned on Brighton & Hove memorial and in minutes of BHC 9 Oct 1917 and AGM May 1918.  Buried at Tyne Cot.

The end of the war

You can read about Brighton’s commemoration of the end of the war at:

Sources used:

Kosmin, Barry; Waterman, Stanley and Grizzard, Nigel 1986.  ‘The Jewish Dead in the Great War as an Indicator for the Location, Size and Social Structure of Anglo Jewry in 1914’, Immigrants and minorities, 5 (1986), 181 – 192, p. 183.
Lloyd, Anne Patricia. “Jews under fire: the Jewish community and military service in World War I Britain.” PhD diss., University of Southampton, 2009.
Michael Adler, British Jewry Book of Honour, (London: Caxton Publishing Co.,1922). Info on Royal Sussex Regiment pp.326-328.
Martin Hayes and Emma White (eds) with West Sussex County Council, Great War Britain: West Sussex. Remembering 1914-1918 (Stroud: History Press, 2014).
Chris Smith, 2019. ‘The March of the Judeans’: The London Recruits of the Jewish Battalion in the First World War. In: Reuveni, Gideon and Madigan, Edward (eds) The Jewish Experience of the First World War. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).
Paula Kitching, Britain’s Jews in the First World War (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2019)
Martin Sugarman, ‘When the Spirit of Judah Maccabee Hovered over the Whitechapel Road – The March of the 38th Royal Fusiliers’, Stand To!, The Journal of the Western Front Association, Dec 2009/Jan 2010, No.87.
Richard van Emdem, Tommy’s War. The Western Front in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014).
Martin Watts, The Jewish Legion and the First World War. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 186-7.
Michael Crook, ‘Jewish Historical Society Talk’, November 2018. 
Anne Lloyd, ‘Between Integration and Separation: Jews and Military Service in World War I Britain’, Jewish Culture and History, 2010, 12:1-2, 41-60; p. 56.