Léon Emmanuel Lévy was born in 1895, grew up in Glasgow’s West End and was a pupil at Hillhead High School.
He was a swimmer at the Arlington Baths and a keen member of the Scouts .
He died on the Western Front in 1916 but that was not quite the end of his story.
For 80 years later his name and gravestone became part of a short story about the War and remembrance by award-winning author Julian Barnes.
The Lévy family
His father, Victor Lévy, was a watchmaker and wholesale jeweller. In the 1881 census Victor was living at the Union Hotel in Dunlop Street. He later moved to 10 West Garden Street (1886). By 1891 Victor had married Sarah (or Sara) Cohen. They had three children, Louis Jules, eight, Bertram Jacques, five, and Reginald Henry, three years old, and lived at 64 Sinclair Street in Helensburgh.
At the start of the 20th century they had moved back to Glasgow. In 1900 when living at 46 Sardinia Street, Victor applied for naturalisation as a British subject. The application stated:
“…. he is a ‘Subject of a Germany, having been born at Blodelsheim, Alsace; and is the son of Louis Jules Lévy and Louise Branschweig or Levey, both of French nationality; of the age of fifty years; a watch Manufacturer and Wholesale Jeweller; is married and had four children under age residing with him, viz: Louis Jules Levey, age 17 years, Reginald Henry, age 11 years, Léon Emmanuel, age 4 years, Desirée Phoebe, age 2 years,’ and that in the period of eight years preceding his application he has resided for five years with in the UK and intends, when naturalized, to reside therein….”
In 1901 the family moved to 46 Cecil Street. Victor, 50, had business premises at 40 Union Street. Their eldest son Louis was now a jeweller’s clerk while Reginald and Léon were still at school. There were two servants living with the family.
Victor died on 1 November 1910. Confirmation of his death was granted to:
“Sarah Cohen or Lévy, his widow, David Lévy, 43 Frederick Street, Birmingham, and Jacob Herbert Cohen, Optician, 143 Nethergate, Dundee. Value of estate £9,224, 12s 4d”.
The Lévys at the Baths
In 1913 Reginald was a dental student and Léon, now aged 18, was a clerk, both living at Cecil Street with their mother. Their elder brother Louis had followed in his fathers’ footsteps to become a jeweller and by 1915, had moved to 20 Darnley Road.
Reginald had joined the Arlington Baths as a senior (adult) member in 1912 when he was 23. Léon joined in 1913 when he was 18.
They weren’t the only members of the family to join though. We’re not yet sure how long she was a member but in 1917 L.P.D Lévy – their 15-year-old sister Louise Phoebe Desirée – was listed in the Ladies and Supernumerary Book 3 (1914-1919) (TD965/102).
Léon Lévy was also involved in the Scouts, an organisation for boys, and became Scoutmaster of the 1st Glasgow troop, one of the very first scout troops in the country, registered on 26 January 1908.
Six months a soldier
We think Léon enlisted in early 1916. He joined the Cameronians (Scots Rifles) 5th Battalion as a private.
He died just a few months later on 16 August 1916, aged 21. He was awarded the Victory Medal and British War medal posthumously and his family received his final Army pay of £2 11s 7d.
His death was recorded in the Baths membership list:
The Hillhead High School Memorial Book lists Léon in their Roll of Honour and published this biography of him.
“Private Léon Lévy’s career as a soldier was short but highly honourable. Only some six months intervened between his enlistment and his death in action, but it was long enough to win for him the confidence of his officers and the admiration of his comrades. His company officer in sending home the sad tidings of his death states “His death has come as a shock to us all. He was such a cheerful soldier and willing worker that everyone who worked with him admired him. He was liked by all the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of his company.” But though his nominal period of soldiering was thus brief, it may be said of him that he was a soldier from his youth upwards. At School he was a keen cadet and when the Scout movement started he was an ardent supporter, and finally rose to be scoutmaster of the pioneer troop, the 1st Glasgow. He was also a lieutenant in the Glasgow Cadet Brigade (Jewish Lads Corps). Private Lévy may be said to have lived a dedicated life, a life dedicated to the service of youth. His was one of those transparent unselfish natures, brimming over with ardour and zeal, that unfailing attract the young of all ages. He was seldom to be seen in the streets without a crowd of youngsters round him, hanging on to him as to an elder brother. Their grief at his passing was as touching as it was sincere, and, though dead, he will yet speak in and through the hearts and lives of his beloved boys. He was only twenty-one years of age, but in these days we must measure life by service and not by years.”
He is also remembered on the War memorial in the Garnethill Synagogue.
The family after the War
Léon’s mother Sara, brother Reginald and sister Desirée, now known as Louise Phoebe – had moved to 1 Bruce Street in Hillhead by 1923. Meanwhile Louis had moved to 16 Enoch Square with Helen Lévy, his wife.
Though Louise was a member of the Baths it’s possible that 1917 was the last year of her membership. However Reginald continued to be involved; in 1924 he was on the Baths’ Management Committee.
Sara died on 7 January 1929, leaving an estate of £3,120 12s 9d.
By the late 1930s Reginald and Louise were living at 13 Southpark Avenue. Louise was still living there in 1949 – the year she died – and the brothers Reginald and Louis were now sharing a flat at 18 Ruskin Terrace where they remained until the late 1950s. Reginald then moved back to Southpark Avenue and lived there until he died in May 1962.
A short story about remembrance
Léon is buried in Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery at Souchez in France, where the inscription on the gravestone reads, ‘And the soul returneth to God who gave it mother’.
His grave and its inscription feature in a short story by Julian Barnes. Evermore is the story of Miss Moss, who mourns her brother Sam, and who returns every year on a journey of remembrance to visit his grave in Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery. Her remembrance of the First World War is also affected by the horrors of the Second World War, especially as Sam, Léon, and another man – W A Andrade – are the only Jewish soldiers in the cemetery.
Evermore is one of 10 short stories in the collection Cross Channel, all of which are about the relationship between Britain and France. Published in 1996, in the story Miss Moss thinks that remembrance might end as people like her, who experienced the First World War, get older and die. She wonders if there will be “one last fiery glow of remembering” before the “great forgetting.”
“Might there not be, at some point in the first decades of the twenty-first century, one final moment, lit by the evening sun, before the whole thing was handed over to the archivists?”
Researchers: Lucy, Colin, Lindsay
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Glasgow City Archives
- Julian Barnes
- National Library of Scotland
- Scottish Jewish Archives Centre