With the distinctive name of Isidor Freeman we thought it would be easy to learn more about the life of this member who was killed in the First World War.
But at first he was strangely elusive – we could find no trace of him in either the birth records, the death records or the census. And he wasn’t listed in among the war dead in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
So, who was he and why was he on our War Memorial?
Looking for Isidor L Freeman
He was handwritten into our 1915 membership list with the number 612, the name Freeman, Isidor L, a note that he was on ‘Service’, the date that he joined the Baths, which was 1909, and his address at 377 Bath Street.
You can see his name has been scored out: in fact he was killed just before the next membership list was compiled.
The next step to find out more about his life was to check the 1915 valuation rolls for 377 Bath Street but there was no mention of Isidor Freeman.
We then we searched the 1909 membership proposals to find his application form for joining the Baths.
This showed that in 1909 he was working as a manufacturer’s agent based at 65 West Regent Street. We thought his home address was Duncan Street but checking the electoral roll showed that he wasn’t living there, either that year or the few years before or after.
Finally we took a look at the Post Office Directory for 1910-1911. Mysteriously, this had an entry for Freeman but the first name was given as Isaac. However he was a manufacturer’s agent at 65 West Regent Street, with a home address of 9 Dunearn Street.
It had to be him!
Looking for Isaac L Freeman
So now we had a new name – Isaac L Freeman – and a new address.
But when we looked at the electoral rolls from 1910 to 1914/15 for 9 Dunearn Street there was no sign of Isaac (or Isidor) Freeman.
In 1914/15 though, there was an Isaac Paradise living there. Given that Isidor/Isaac had used different first names, we wondered, could he have now changed his surname as well? This idea was proved wrong when the electoral rolls of 1918, 1919 and 1922 showed that Isaac Paradise was still living there, along with Mrs Fanny Paradise.
Finally we discovered that Isaac L Freeman was registered for the electoral roll at his business address at 65 West Regent Street. So it was back to re-check the Post Office Directory, this time we looked at the slightly later 1911-12 edition and this gave Isaac L Freeman’s home address as 13 Queen’s Terrace, W. He was still living there the following year but at this point Queen’s Terrace also changed its name so the address was actually 61 West Prince’s Street.
So we were gradually discovering a bit more about his life in Glasgow, though to get much further we had to start with his death.
In the First World War
The National Probate Index for Scotland (Calendar of Confirmations and Inventories), 1876-1936, gave a reference for that. And it gave us yet another name! For he is was listed as Freeman, Isaac Laurence (otherwise Michael).
Now we had the name Michael Isaac Freeman, we could get lots more information about his war service.
The Probate Index revealed that he was a private in the 17th Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I).
He had “died of wounds received in action, 1 July 1916, in France”. This was the first day of the Battle of the Somme; the bloodiest day in British military history, with 57,000 casualties including more than 19,000 deaths.
We could also now find him in the records of the war dead. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission shows that he was buried in the Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension.
He was aged 34 at his death, meaning he had been born in 1882. His parents were Rhoda Freeman and the late Abraham Freeman of 51 Avoca Street, in Belfast.
He joined up on 12 September 1914 according to the British Jews in the First World War website, where you can also see a photo of him.
As well as being on the Arlington Baths Club memorial he is listed in the British Jewry Book of Honour Number 15579 in the 17th Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I) and, where, in yet another name confusion, his mother’s address is misspelled as Aboca Street.
The UK official list of all the soldiers killed in the Great War, published in 1921, gave Michael Isaac Freeman’s birthplace as Newry, County Armagh.
As Michael Freeman he is also included in Ireland’s Memorial Records which is a list of “the names of the Irishmen who fell in the Great European War, 1914-1918, compiled by the Committee of the Irish National War Memorial” published in 1923.
The Freeman family in Ireland
In the 1901 census, the Freeman family was living at 2 Cecil Street, in Newry West Urban, County Down. The father, Abraham, aged 54, was a drapery dealer. There were five children at home: Florrie, aged 20, and school pupils Harry (14), Joseph (13), Louis C (11) and Eli (7). They are recorded as Jewish, and everyone in the family was born in Russia, apart from seven-year-old Eli who was born in County Down, meaning the family must have moved to Ireland between the birth of Louis in 1890 and the arrival of Eli in 1894.
At this time, 20-year-old Isaac and his brother Alexander, 17, were living at Fairview street in Court Ward, Antrim, with their uncle Samuel Wiener and his family. Isaac worked in a Fancy [goods] shop. It’s curios that the census records that he cannot read or write.
Abraham Freeman, 55, and his seven children, living in Mill Street, Newry, became naturalised British subjects in February 1903.
The children were listed on the application as :
- Samuel, 20
- Isaac, 18
- Alexander, 16
- Joseph, 14
- Louis, 11
- Eli, 8
- Florrie, 19
So although it’s two years later than the census it appears that the older children have had a few years knocked off their ages: was this because it was easier to naturalise them if they were under 21? Or had a few years been added to the census information? It’s also not clear what has happened to Harry, who Samuel was, or what the ‘and’ at the bottom of the page refers to – there’s no text on the next page that could relate to it!
By the time of the 1911 census, the Freemans were at 26 Avoca Street in Clifton, Antrim, North Belfast. The head of the family is now widow Rhoda Freeman, 56, and the only other family member living there is her 17 year-old son Eli Freeman. There was also a servant called Mary McClelland.
Life in Glasgow
We’re not sure exactly when Isaac Freeman came to Glasgow but obviously he was here in 1909 when he joined the Baths. At that point his occupation was given as manufacturers’ agent, which is what is listed in the Post Office directories for 1910-11 and 1911-12. On the 1911 and 1912 electoral rolls his occupation is given as moneylender.
He wasn’t married but he did have family in the city.
In his will he made a bequest to his sister, Fanny Freeman or Paradise. So it turns out there was a connection between Isaac Freeman and Isaac Paradise, both resident at 9 Dunearn Street – they were brothers in-law!
His sister Fanny (presumably the young woman called Florrie in the census and naturalisation form) married Isaac Paradise in Newry Town Hall in 1900.
Isaac Paradise was also a former subject of the Russian Empire. In 1912, Isaac Paradiesgarten, born in 1870, became a naturalised British subject. The application form says he was born in in Tukkum Curlane: probably the town of Tukums in a region called Courland in Latvia. At this point, he and Fanny had four children: Solomon Jacob (8), Harris Nathan (7), Edmund Israel (4), and Miriam, aged one.
Michael Isaac Freeman’s legacy
When he joined the Army in September 1914, Michael Isaac Freeman made his will. He seems to have had business interests – including a share in a tobacconists operating under the name of I L Burgess in Paisley and Cambuslang – and had invested in several insurance policies which he bequeathed to his family members along with other bequests for his sister Fanny, his brothers Lewis and Eli, his niece and nephews: Miriam, Jacob, Harry and Edmund, and brother-in-law Isaac Paradise.
In a codicil dated 31 March 1915 he instructed the trustees to manage the estate – worth £847 4 shillings and 4 pence at his death, which is around £96,000 today according to the Bank of England inflation calculator – to give £2 a week to his mother Rhoda and to support his brother Eli though his education. Fanny was left the furniture and contents of his house at 377 Bath Street. The other bequests to Fanny and to the Paradise children: Miriam, Jacob, Harry and Edmund were to be transferred when his mother died.
His devotion to his family was noted in obituaries in the Jewish Chronicle. On 21 July 1916, Rev J Rosenzweig, ex-rabbi of the Belfast congregation, wrote:
“Of all the sacrifices that Britain has offered on the Altar. for Freedom and Liberty, I cannot think of anyone who excelled him in innate refinement nobility and sweetness of character. He was a very successful business man, and was the main support of his widowed mother and of one of his brother, who is studying medicine at the Queen’s University, Belfast…. To speak of his qualities would, I fear, take up more space than you could spare. Suffice it to say that he was one of the very best children that parents can possibly wish to have. One of the most refined and cultured of men, and last but not least a good Jew, whose aim and object in life was to shed lustre and respect upon the members of his community and to discharge the duties to his King and Country, even when his life’s blood was at stake, as he has finally proved.”
It appears however that an unfelicitous sentence in this tribute, no doubt intended to demonstrate his eagerness to serve his country but which suggested that he had abandoned his elderly mother and student brother without support, seems to have caused distress. A statement in the following week’s issue explained that this impression was inaccurate, and in November 2016 another tribute was published, written by Rabbi Dr. Isaac Herzog, M.A.
“Love and duty formed the two motives of his active life, cut off, alas! in its very prime. He combined in his character two qualities, harmoniously blended, which are not always found together, His was at once a sympathetic and determinate mind, a gentle and resolute nature, a genial and serene disposition. Michael Freeman possessed that which, according to our sages, constitutes the most precious gift granted to man – a good heart, but his kind heartedness left ample room in his heart for a valiant, almost heroic, courage which, as his tragic but glorious end proved, was sufficient to entitle him to the old Hebrew epithet of “courageous hearted”. An exemplary son, he shrank from no toil, fatigue and sacrifice in nursing the last illness of his late father. His tender attachment to his surviving mother – a highly respected member of the Belfast Congregation – practically knew no bounds. Michael Freeman’s love, however, was by no means confined to his parents or near relatives. All who ever came under the charm of his personality will always retain the pleasantest recollection of him and will keep his memory very green. Yet, not withstanding his dove-like nature, he was one of the first to answer his country’s call. Love of fatherland steeled his loving heart to face grim death itself…[and he]… enrolled cheerfully to offer his life on the altar of duty, justice and liberty. His superiors and comrade in Aldershot and at the front entertained a high opinion of him both as a man and as a soldier. Michael Freeman was only an adopted son of Britain, having been born in Russia, but, like Ruth of old, he said to the young members of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, to which he belonged and whose battalion he joined, “your people is my people; where you die will I die.” He breathed his last in the performance of a perilous mission such as only truly brave men are entrusted with. May his loving and heroic soul rest in peace.”
So the man who started as a mystery with many names was revealed as a loyal, caring son and brother, remembered by people and communities in Belfast and Glasgow.
Researchers: Lucy, Lyndsay, Colin
- British Jews in the First World War
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Glasgow City Archives
- Imperial War Museum
- Irish Genealogy
- Jewish Chronicle archive
- Narkive – Jewish genealogy newsgroup
- Scotland’s People
- Scottish Jewish Archives Centre
- The National Archives of Ireland
- The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe