Fl. Sgt. Jack Nissenthall, an unsung hero of the Dieppe Raid of 1942, has been commemorated with a memorial plaque at Bethnal Green in the Jewish East End.
The plaque is in Chance Street, home of the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish Youth Club, which Nissenthall attended. It was unveiled by Martin Sugarman, Archivist of AJEX UK and Jack Nissenthall's informal biographer, and was financed by Jerry Klinger of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, UK Branch.
Born in Bow, Nissenthall became a radar expert with a skillset so refined he was one of only a handful with the technical ability required for a top-secret, potential suicide mission to discover the secrets of German radar as part of Operation Jubilee, a key part of the raid on Dieppe in occupied France, on August 19, 1942.
At the heart of his story is the written order that he accepted, as the anonymous “RDF (Range and Direction Finding, an early term for radar) expert” that he was to be “adequately protected” by bodyguards from Canada’s South Saskatchewan Regiment because “under no circumstances” was he to be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Effectively, this meant that 10 Canadian soldiers specifically tasked to assist him, were also, in Jack’s own words, “a sort of negative safeguard”, “my execution squad”.
Nissenthall was a Jewish Cockney born in Bow in the East End on October 9 1919. He was a pupil at Malmesbury Road Primary school with his sister Marie and later at Mansford Technical School. His father Aaron was a Polish Jewish immigrant tailor from Pelots/Annapol near Warsaw, and his mother Annie Harris-Schmidt was born in Bow itself. Nissenthall lived at 24 Cottage Grove (now Rhondda Grove), Mile End, and then at 15 Blythe Street, Bethnal Green. As a boy, when the family moved to Blythe Street, Jack attended the Cambridge and Bethnal Green Jewish youth club.
His story is told by Martin Sugarman in his book, 'Fighting Back' (Valentine Mitchell 2017), and was also the subject of an article by Martin Sugarman on the BBC History People’s War website. Jack Nissenthall’s daughter, Linda Nissen Samuels, has also written a biography of her hero father, and his life was the subject of an exhibition last year by Hillingdon council.
You can read Martin Sugarman’s BBC article here
There is more about Linda Samuel’s book and the Hillingdon exhibition on the JEECS website here.
Martin Sugarman has also been responsible for plaques to Louis Jacobs, war hero, at Stepney Green flats, the Adler Street plaque marking the location of the original site of Jewish organisations in East End, to Marcus Bloom SOE, who was born in Brick Lane (the plaque is in Finchley because the owner refused to allow it at Marcus Bloom’s birth home), Barnet Lewis GM plaque in Brook Road , Hackney, Arnold Wesker plaque on Northwold Road school wall in Hackney, and the 'Mincemeat' plaque to Ewan Montagu and others at Hackney Mortuary, Hackney.