The man who was to become a hero to the British and to the Israelis was neither British nor Jewish. Like many servants of the crown in the days of Empire he was an Irishman born in County Longford in 1867 to a Protestant father and Catholic mother. Ireland was then part of the United Kingdom and military service was a popular option for many young Irishmen - partly from a want of other opportunities and partly from a sense of adventure.

Nothing ordinary ever seemed to happen to Patterson. Bwana Devil is generally cited as the first full-colour 3-D movie made in English and so is a Hollywood milestone in itself. When you see those old black and white photographs of movie audiences thrilling to the 3-D experience in their cardboard spectacles with blue and red plastic lenses, there's a good chance they're watching Patterson in action. The film also deserves to be remembered for a slogan designed to reassure audiences that the coming of startling 3-D realism didn't mean the end of old-fashioned romance. "Bwana Devil!", it said. "A Lion in Your Lap; A Lover in Your Arms!"

Having your life turned into a Hollywood movie isn't always a positive experience. A few years after the events at Tsavo, Patterson was involved in a scandal that made him the talk of big-game hunting high society in Africa. On safari a fellow British soldier, Audley Blyth, died of gunshot wounds in his tent, as ugly rumours swirled that Patterson had been rather too close to Mrs Blyth, who was also a part of the expedition. At one point it's believed that Patterson threatened to sue Winston Churchill for slander as the incident became the talk of fashionable London dinner tables. Ernest Hemingway was intrigued enough to fictionalise the story in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - and true to form it was eventually turned in to yet another movie, The Macomber Affair (1947).

Big-game hunting is no longer fashionable, of course, but it's worth remembering that hunters tended to see themselves not as despoilers of the natural environment of Africa but as experts in it. Patterson shot an eland in 1906 and had the head mounted. He thought it had some unusual characteristics and when it was eventually seen by a member of faculty at the British Museum in London it turned out to be a sort of unique sub-species that to this day bears Patterson's name, Taurotragus Oryx Pattersonianius.

There was nothing honorary about Lt Col Patterson's military rank. He served with distinction in a British cavalry regiment during the Boer War in South Africa, winning the Distinguished Service Order, and when he was recalled to the colours during World War One he was almost 50 years old.

It was during the Middle East campaign that he found himself in command of the Zion Mule Corps, a group of Jewish volunteers eager to serve the international cause and to advance their own cause of creating a Jewish state at the same time. Patterson became a passionate supporter of Zionism and the ranks of the detachment he commanded included influential heroes of the cause, including Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Joseph Trumpeldor.

Patterson took his Jewish volunteers to war around the dangerous beaches of Gallipoli in what history remembers as a doomed British effort to attack the German Empire through the territory of its ally, the Turkish Empire. It's often said that Patterson thus became the first commander to lead Jewish forces on to the field of battle for two millennia making him an important figure in the history of Zionism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told me that his older brother, Yonathan, was named in honour of John Henry Patterson, who had come to know their father when he lived in New York campaigning for the Zionist cause in the mid-1940s.

The family still has an engraved goblet given to Yonathan by Patterson to celebrate his birth. Yonathan went on to become an Israeli national hero who died leading the extraordinary raid on Entebbe in Uganda in 1976 in which commandos from Israel's special forces rescued hostages who were being held at an airport by members of the German Baader-Meinhof gang and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Prime Minister Netanyahu told us he regarded Patterson as godfather to the Israeli Army as well as the godfather to his brother and says it's right that Israel should honour him. He's expected to attend the burial of Patterson's ashes on Thursday.