The following article appeared in the St Giles Church in April 2017 and we thank the Vicar of St Giles, Andrew Bunch, and the Author, Alison Bickmore for permission to publish it here following her research on the War Memorial at St Giles.
Remembering the Great War: Victor Jessel
Lieut, Durham Light Infantry, 15th Battalion
Killed in Action 6 April 1917 aged 21
Commemorated : Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
By Alison Bickmore
VICTOR JESSEL was born Victor Albert Villiers Zacharias in Oxford on 24 January 1896, the youngest of the three sons of Joel and Rebecca Zacharias. In common with other Jewish families of the time and because of the antisemitism that an obviously Jewish name could attract, the family added the name Jessel to their surname by deed-poll in 1902. A number of references to the family use the hyphenated “Zacharias-Jessel”
Victor’s father was a well-known Oxford business man, owning the specialised waterproof business, Zacharias & Co, at 26/27 Cornmarket with its advertising slogan ZACS FOR MACS (now Pret A Manger). He was the first Jewish councilor on the Oxford City Council. He died in 1905 when Victor was nine and his widow then moved, with her sons who were still at school, to 38 Banbury Road. This address no doubt explains why Victor, a Jew, is commemorated in St Giles’ – many Anglican parish churches acted as the focus for local commemoration for those who lived within the parish boundaries, even if the person concerned was not a member of the Anglican Church.
Victor was a pupil at the City of Oxford High School for Boys until 1905 (and he is commemorated on the School’s War Memorial). He went on to Magdalen College School in 1906 with an Exhibition. There he had a good academic record and was also an outstanding all round success as a sportsman, as Captain of Boats, a first team player in all the major sports and a supreme athlete in track and field events. He left school in December 1914 and enlisted in the Army as soon as he could in January 1915, joining the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps.
In May 1915 he took up a commission of 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and arrived in France on 10 July. On 25 February 1916 he was sent back from the front line suffering from shell shock and, being considered unfit for general service, returned to England and the 3rd Southern General Hospital based in the Oxford Examination Schools. He finally returned to front line duties in September 1916 and was attached to the 15th Battalion of the DLI. He was killed in no-man’s land, leading a reconnaissance patrol, on Good Friday, 6 April 1917. He was the youngest Lieutenant in the battalion and the first Oxford Jew to die in the War.
Victor’s body was never found and his name is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He is also remembered on his father’s headstone in Wolvercote Cemetery. His mother went on living at 38 Banbury Road until her death in 1934. The house was demolished in the 1950s to accommodate new University buildings on the Keble Road Triangle.
Note from the OJH Webmaster: Victor Jessel was also mentioned in the piece on this website by Harold Pollins “Oxford Jewish Casualties in the First World War ; Three Mysteries”