The elite Coldstream Guards is the oldest regiment in the British army in continuous active service. Best known as members of the Queen’s Guards, those stock-still soldiers outside Buckingham Palace, the Coldstream Guards have fought as infantry in Britain’s wars since 1650.
For Bethesda resident Joel Poznansky, his four years in the Guards in the 1980s was a singular experience. Over the years, Poznansky, 61, rarely talked about being the only Jew in his regiment.
Poznansky grew up in London in a Jewish family that was light on tradition (he says he didn’t learn about Yom Kippur until he came to the United States) but serious about honor.
He says he joined the army his family always said there was “no truer ally.” His father escaped to Canada during the Holocaust and came to England as a young man. His immediate family was the only part on his father’s side to survive, so his parents always emphasized how great the allies were.
“I joined the army to serve my country, but there was also a sense of adventure,” he says. “I wanted to see if I could do it. We had, in our family, a very strong sense of how much we owe our survival in the Second World War to the Allies. I am not an observant Jew, but I am a very ardent pro-Israel Jew from the start. We owe the British army and all the Allies an enormous debt for destroying Nazism.”
Several regiments offered sponsorships to Poznansky when he joined the army and went through training. He says it was a tough choice, but he had met many people who were looking to be members of the Coldstream Guards.
“It just has a reputation. The Coldstream Guards is an elite unit, which made it more unusual for someone like me [to be sponsored]. It mainly takes from the upper classes and that made it more challenging and more interesting.”
He stood out from his peers. Not only was his surname foreign sounding, but many of the men he served with were wealthy enough to have grown up fox hunting and beagling, in which dogs hunt rabbits.
“It was all very intimidating,” he says. “But when you’re 21, you’re both intimidated by everything and intimidated by nothing,” he says.
Poznansky spent most of his service stationed in Germany, guarding against a Soviet invasion that never came.
After the army, he came to the United States to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School. He moved to the Washington area about 20 years ago and is now CEO of Columbia Books & Information Services and president of Wicked Uncle USA, a children’s toy and gift company.
He’s a member of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Jewish War Veterans of the USA Congregation Etz Hayim and of the minyan at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County. All of them played a part in getting him to tell about serving in the Coldstream Guards.
He says he was at his synagogue for his mother’s yahrzeit when he saw cardboard cutouts of soldiers. From the soldiers’ buttons and the plumes on their hats, Poznansky immediately identified them as being from his own regiment — something he thought nobody else there would know.
The JWV encouraged him to share his story with a wider group, and so last month he was at Men’s Club of the Bender Jewish Community Center, talking about his army days as well as Brexit, British politics and the saga of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
He says that while a great adventure for a young man, he wasn’t made to be a lifer.
“It’s a very distinct life to be in the military as you get older,” he says. “It’s a choice of life where you’re going to be forced to move every three years. The children will probably have to go to a boarding school. It’s a very different style of life I wasn’t really ready for.”
As to why he didn’t tell the story before now?
“I didn’t think about it,” he says. “Nobody ever asked.”