Tom Derek Bowden – Captured British Soldier

The Israeli ambassador and Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, were among those who paid tribute at a memorial service to a Norfolk soldier who fought for Israel after witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust.

Tom Derek Bowden, from South Lopham, near Diss, who died aged 97, was captured by the Nazis as a young British soldier in 1944 after parachuting into Arnhem. After letters from his Jewish girlfriend were discovered he was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Though he was not Jewish himself, his experiences of handling corpses led to him to enlist under the name David Appel as one of 5,000 foreigners who volunteered to fight with the Machal for the nascent State of Israel in the 1948 War of Independence.

He fought with Israeli Army’s 7th Brigade and then in 1949, after the armistice, was asked by the founder of the Israel Defence Forces to start a parachute school.

A memorial service in his honour at St Andrew’s Church in South Lopham on Monday, July 1 was attended by Israeli ambassador to the UK Mark Regev who marked his contribution to the country’s history by laying a wreath.

He said: “He bravely fought to defeat the Nazis and ensure the rebirth of the Jewish state. Israel will always cherish his memory.”

Lord Richard Dannatt was among British military veterans, standard bearers and representatives from the Parachute Regiment also attended the service and his burial at Diss Cemetery.

Mr Bowden’s connection to Israel began during the Second World War when he fought in ferocious battles in British Mandate Palestine. In 1941 he was wounded in a cavalry charge in Syria alongside Moshe Dayan, later Israel’s Defence Minister, who lost his eye in the battle.

He met his wife Eva in Israel but came back to England in 1955 becoming first a farmer and smallholder at South Lopham before later working in insurance.

Mr Bowden married five times to four wives and was father to children David, Robert, Judith, Kenneth and Anthony, as well as having five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

He had been married to Irene Bowden since 2004. She said: “It was a beautiful family service. All the family were there as well as the ambassador and Lord Dannett.

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This archive has been established after my own relative, Reg Price, took part in the liberation and subsequent humanitarian effort of Bergen Belsen in April 1945. Reg produced this famous sign at Belsen. As part of the 113th DLI, Reg and his comrades were at Belsen for 5 weeks and left when the last hut was empty and ceremonially burnt down. This archive compiles all available resources to build a lasting tribute to all the men and women who helped - any unit, any nationality. If you have a relative, or any info, on the relief effort at Belsen, we’d love you to please get in touch. Email us: you Nick Price CreativesFacebookTwitter