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Epstein, Julius (Jules) (1920–1981)

by Peter Vodicka

Jules Epstein, 1942-1945

Jules Epstein, 1942-1945

Australian War Memorial, P01902.002

Julius (Jules) Epstein DFC and Bar (25 December 1920—13 November 1981) was a highly decorated Second World War Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officer, keen sailor and accomplished businessman.

Early Life and Education
Jules Epstein was born in Redfern, New South Wales to David Epstein, a hardware retailer in Double Bay, and Rose née Goldfarb.  His parents were Jewish immigrants who had escaped persecution and poverty in the Russian Empire.  They emigrated to Australia in 1912 after both first settling in the United Kingdom and, in David’s case, the United States for some years before moving to London in 1908.  Jules grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and was the fourth eldest of seven siblings, comprising three girls and four boys.  He attended Double Bay Public School and later Sydney Boys High School.  After leaving school, he worked in the family business established in 1927 by his father and older brother Harry, which by 1939 had expanded to include an additional store in Marrickville. [1] [2]

Second World War
He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in July 1942.[3]  After joining up, he trained first in Australia and then from November 1942 in Edmonton, Canada as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme.[4]  He arrived in the United Kingdom in July 1943 where he served with No. 90 Squadron and No. 7 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.  His missions included minelaying, attacking railways, oil refineries, U-boat shipyards, night-fighter airfields, flying-bomb and missile construction sites and providing Special Operations Executive support to the Maquis in France.  In all, he was to carry out an extraordinary 67 operations – well over two tours.[5]  Epstein commenced the war as a Pilot Officer, attaining the rank of Flight Lieutenant in April 1945.[6]  Initially, as part of Main Force within Bomber Command and later in the elite Pathfinder Force No.8 Group, Epstein flew Short Stirling and Avro Lancaster aircraft against some of the most heavily defended targets in Germany and occupied Europe. In addition to heavy ground defences, his aircraft also fought off enemy fighters on six separate occasions.  In Pathfinder Force, he was Deputy Bomber Master on four missions over Germany.  In Main Force, Epstein flew as navigator and in Pathfinder Force as bomb aimer/navigator, operating the H2S blind bombing radar, with which Pathfinder Force was specially equipped.  His most difficult raid was on Homberg in July 1944 when seven of his squadron of 16 bombers were lost because of repeated attacks by German fighters.[7]  

On the night before the D-Day landings at Normandy of 6 June 1944, Epstein took part in a special, low-level dummy raid with a Stirling bomber down the south side of the Cherbourg Peninsula.  The mission involved dropping dummy paratroopers and special gadgets which blew up, simulating the sound of rifle and machine fire and were designed to confuse the enemy and draw troops away from the actual landing areas.  Flying above the D-Day invasion fleet provided Epstein ‘with a never-to-be-forgotten sight of the greatest armada in history’.[8] 

Epstein continued with missions over Germany after D-Day and was a participant in the controversial bombing of Dresden on 13 February 1945.  Towards the end of the war, he was involved in Operation Manna which was designed to assist the starving Dutch population still under Nazi control. He helped mark the supply drops for the food run to The Hague on 7 May 1945 and a few days later was involved in ferrying home 25 prisoners-of-war from Lübeck. [9]

In 1944 Epstein was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross following his 35th mission, before being posted to the Pathfinders in No. 7 Squadron.  In the following year, he received a Bar to the award, for his continued undiminished skill and courage.[10]  Epstein stated that he was unaware that he received a Bar to his DFC until returning to Australia after the war’s end although this may have been the typical diffidence of a hero who was reluctant to talk about his achievements.[11]  He was also the only Jewish Australian RAAF officer to win two DFCs.[12] 

Epstein always remained unwilling to talk about his wartime feats.  Ten years after the war it was still difficult to draw him into a conversation about his record; it was observed that he much preferred talking about sailing and football.[13]  When his children asked him how he won his DFCs, his standard response was that ‘they were on the uniform when I bought it’. Epstein shared the view of Pathfinder force head Don Bennett that the Pathfinder emblem on one’s uniform was honour enough.[14]

Career
After returning to Australia in 1945, Epstein had wanted to fly commercially rather than go back into the family’s hardware business.  However, when they became ‘disconsolate’, he agreed to return but only on the basis that it expanded across Sydney. [15]  So in 1946, Jules was appointed the managing director and with the two brothers now co-ordinating efforts, the retail business flourished.  It also expanded to include the three sisters.  This was further strengthened in 1949 when the youngest sibling, Philip, joined the business by now known as Epstein & Co and had grown to three retail outlets.[16]

The company continued to prosper throughout the 1950s and in 1960 it floated on the Sydney Stock Exchange.  The injection of capital allowed for further acquisitions and by 1965 the group operated six retail outlets in Sydney plus three in the Newcastle/Hunter Valley area trading as Cappers.  It also commenced importation – mainly of traditional items from the UK – for the group’s consumption but later expanded the range to include products that proved attractive to other hardware retailers. 

In 1966, the company moved into a warehouse in Redfern and by the following year, it had become apparent that the import and distribution arm, which was expanding rapidly required more attention and funding, so it was decided to sell off all the retail stores.  The six Sydney stores formed the basis of the BBC Hardware Group which was later absorbed into Bunnings Warehouse. It was during the late 1960s that the company first began to import hardware products from China, being an early pioneer in developing business links with the then isolated regime.[17]   

Under the ‘charismatic and entrepreneurial’ Jules Epstein, the wholesale division became the mainstay of the company and throughout the 1970s expanding into Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, and in 1980 to Western Australia with dedicated agents operating out of Darwin, Launceston and Cairns.  In 1977, the company changed its name to Zenith Hardware, which was to become and remain a household name in Australian hardware.  Meanwhile, the Sydney headquarters and distribution expanded and re-located to Waterloo, then Marrickville and finally in 1987 to Homebush.[18] 

After Jules died in 1981, Philip Epstein became the managing director until an offer was accepted in 1990 to sell the business to the large Australian public company Siddons Ramset.  In 2000, the business was sold to the giant US ITW Proline[19] but the Zenith brand name lives on in its extensive range of pre-packaged hardware and fastener products.[20]

Personal Life and Interests
Jules Epstein married Mary Philomena (Geri) née Hall in 1949 and they had three sons between 1953 and 1957.[21]  Apart from his interest in rugby league and union football that he continued to play after the war but had to give up due to a wrist injury, Epstein had a great passion for sailing.  This began with Australian 12 foot Cadet Dinghies in 1932 and from there he moved to 12-foot skiffs as a youth. Winning several 12-footer titles before the war, he described the yachts with their big gear for a small skiff as giving ‘the crew all the thrills of sailing…[although you] must be a good swimmer…because there are plenty of capsizes in a good blow’.[22]  

Through to the early 1950s, he continued to successfully sail the 12-footers in his aptly named ‘Pathfinder’ skiff.[23]  In 1953, he started sailing in the 18-footers league when he bought the former state champion ‘Miss Jantzen’ and renamed her ‘Pathfinder’ while his younger brother Philip continued to sail the 12-footer namesake.[24] [25]  In 1958, both Jules and Philip became foundation debenture holders in the 18 Footers Sailing League Clubhouse established after the purchase of a Double Bay boatshed which was rebuilt in 1961 (with a further rebuild in 1990).[26]  As a local businessman, Jules was instrumental in gaining Council permission for a liquor licence at the premises.[27]    

Epstein had much success in his 18-footer throughout the 1950s and graduated to blue water racing in 1958 when he participated in his first Sydney to Hobart yacht race.  He sailed it again the following year and then each year to 1969 except for 1967.  In 1962 and 1963 he was the navigator on ‘Malohi’ under the legendary Syd Fischer who competed in 42 Sydney to Hobart races.  In 1964, he was the navigator on a young Rupert Murdoch’s ‘Ilina’ backing up the following year.[28]  Throughout this period, he retained his interest in flying by maintaining a pilot’s licence and his membership of the Royal Aero Club.[29] 

After Epstein died of diffuse histiocytic lymphoma in 1981,[30] his collection of medals, uniforms and RAAF memorabilia were donated to the Australian War Memorial by his widow.  The collection also included his RAAF flight logbook and the sextant that he used in his eleven Sydney to Hobart yacht races.[31] 

Bibliography 

Official websites

  • Australian War Memorial, Empire Air Training Scheme. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  • Australian War Memorial, Flight Lieutenant J Epstein, RAAF and Epstein, Julius (Flight Lieutenant, DFC and Bar, 90 Sqn and 7 Sqn, RAF b.1920. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  • National Archives of Australia, A9300, Epstein Julius: Service Number - 423687: (https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=5370707). Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  • National Archives (UK), Bomber Command Campaign Diary, July 1944. https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706054449/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jul44.html. Retrieved 14 May 2020. 

Other websites 

  • Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Sydney to Hobart Official Race Programs, 1958-1966 and 1968-9. (https://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/about-the-race/history/official-programmes/). Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  • David Epstein and Rose née Goldfarb, Epstein Family Tree, Ancestry.com. (https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/21290884/person/1060389985/facts). Retrieved 12 April 2020.
  • New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922. Inward passenger lists. Series 13278, Reels 399-560, 2001-2122, 2751. State Records Authority. Kingswood, New South Wales. Ancestry.com.au. Retrieved 11 April 2020.
  • Julius Epstein, Epstein Family Tree, Ancestry.com. (https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/21290884/person/1063452041/facts). Retrieved 14 April 2020. 

Newspapers 

  • Fl.-Lt. Epstein, of Sydney.  Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 9 August 1945. p. 9. Retrieved 10 April 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120623420.
  • General Sport Details, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 1949, p. 7. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18127290).
  • 18-ftr's two wins, Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1953, p. 35. Retrieved 14 April 2020,  (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248834111).
  • Pathfinder on Harbor, Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1953, p. 23. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248730664).
  • Navigator has his 18-footer on the beam’, Sun, 7 December 1955, p. 77.
  • General Sport Details, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 1949, p. 7. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18127290).
  • Pathfinder on Harbor, Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1953, p. 23. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24873066).
  • 18-footer's two wins, Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1953, p. 35. Retrieved 14 April 2020,  (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248834111).
  • His head is in the clouds, but his feet are on the ground, Daily Mirror, 12 December 1960, p. 25.
  • Air Ace’s Medals to Canberra – Gift to War Memorial, circa 1982. Unidentified newspaper article in the author’s possession.
  • John Siddons: Never a grander man in Australian politics, Age, 30 September 2016. (https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/john-siddons-never-a-grander-man-in-australian-politics-20160929-grrqey.html). Retrieved 14 April 2020. 

Other primary sources 

  • Epstein and Co. Limited, 1987 Annual Report. Copy in the possession of the author.
  • Julius Epstein, Flying Logbook. Copy in the possession of the author.
  • Philip Epstein, Curriculum Vitae. Document in possession of the author.
  • Stephen Epstein, correspondence dated 23 and 24 April 2020. Emails in possession of the author. Zenith Hardware, Hardware News, March 1987. Copy in the possession of the author. 

Books 

  • Epstein, Jack and Pynt, Gerry, ‘Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Julius Epstein’,  Australian Jewry's book of honour World War II, Australian Federation of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women, 1980.
  • Rees, Peter, Lancaster Men: The Aussie Heroes of Bomber Command, Allen &​ Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia, 2015. 

[1] David Epstein and Rose nee Goldfarb, Epstein Family Tree, Ancestry.com. (https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/21290884/person/1060389985/facts). Retrieved 12 April 2020.

[2] New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922. Inward passenger lists. Series 13278, Reels 399-560, 2001-2122, 2751. State Records Authority. Kingswood, New South Wales. Ancestry.com.au. Retrieved 11 April 2020.

[3] Fl.-Lt. Epstein, of Sydney. The Hebrew Standard of Australasia (Sydney, NSW: 1895 - 1953), 9 August 1945. p. 9. Retrieved 10 April 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article120623420.

[4] Empire Air Training Scheme, Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 11 April 2020.

[5] Fl.-Lt. Epstein, of Sydney, Bar Awarded to His DFC, Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 9 August 1945, p. 9. Bomber Command crews suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of a total of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4 percent death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war. [a]  Of the RAF Bomber Command personnel killed during the war, 72 percent were British, 18 percent were Canadian, 7 percent were Australian and 3 percent were New Zealanders.[b]  Statistically there was little prospect of surviving a tour of 30 operations and by 1943, one in six expected to survive their first tour and one in forty would survive their second tour.[c] 

[6] National Archives of Australia, A9300, Epstein Julius: Service Number - 423687: (https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=5370707). Retrieved 13 April 2020.

[7] ‘Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Julius Epstein’, in Jack Epstein and Gerry Pynt, Australian Jewry's book of honour World War II, Australian Federation of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women, 1980; National Archives (UK), Bomber Command Campaign Diary, July 1944. https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706054449/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jul44.html. Retrieved 14 May 2020 and Email from Stephen Epstein dated 23 April 2020.

[8] Jack Epstein and Gerry Pynt, op cit.

[9] Julius Epstein, Flying Logbook. Copy in the possession of the author.

[10] Australian War Memorial, Flight Lieutenant J Epstein, RAAF. Retrieved 10 April 2020.

[11] Fl.-Lt. Epstein, of Sydney. The Hebrew Standard of Australasia, op cit.

[12] ‘Flying Officer (later Flight Lieutenant) Julius Epstein’, in Jack Epstein and Gerry Pynt, Australian Jewry's book of honour World War II, op cit.

[13] ‘Navigator has his 18-footer on the beam’, The Sun, 7 December 1955, p. 77.

[14] Peter Rees, Lancaster Men: the Aussie Heroes of Bomber Command, Allen &​ Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia, 2015. p. 376.

[15] Daily Mirror, 12 December 1960, p. 25.

[16] Epstein and Co. Limited, 1987 Annual Report, p. 3.

[17] Zenith Hardware, Hardware News, March 1987, p. 12.

[18] Epstein and Co. Limited, 1987 Annual Report, op cit.

[19] John Siddons: Never a grander man in Australian politics, Age, 30 September 2016. (https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/john-siddons-never-a-grander-man-in-australian-politics-20160929-grrqey.html). Retrieved 14 April 2020.

[20] Philip Epstein, Curriculum Vitae. Document in possession of the author.

[21] Julius Epstein, Epstein Family Tree, Ancestry.com. (https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/21290884/person/1063452041/facts). Retrieved 14 April 2020.

[22] ‘Navigator has his 18-footer on the beam’, Sun, 7 December 1955, op cit.

[23] General Sport Details, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 October 1949, p. 7. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18127290).

[24] 18-ftr's two wins, Daily Telegraph, 14 December 1953, p. 35. Retrieved 14 April 2020,  (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248834111).

[25] Pathfinder on Harbor, Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1953, p. 23. Retrieved 14 April 2020 (http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page27503101).

[26] A Brief History of the Clubhouse, The New South Wales 18-Footers Sailing Club Ltd, circa 1985. Copy in the author’s possession.

[27] Email from Stephen Epstein (son of Jules) dated 23 April 2020 in the author’s possession.

[28] Sydney to Hobart Official Race Programs, 1958-1966 and 1968-9. (https://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/about-the-race/history/official-programmes/). Retrieved 14 April 2020.

[29] ‘Navigator has his 18-footer on the beam’, Sun, 7 December 1955, p. 77.

[30] Email from Stephen Epstein dated 23 April 2020.

[31] Air Ace’s medals to Canberra – Gift to War Memorial, circa 1982. Unidentified newspaper article in the author’s possession.

Original Publication

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Peter Vodicka, 'Epstein, Julius (Jules) (1920–1981)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/epstein-julius-jules-32013/text39559, accessed 25 September 2021.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012