Mordaunt Cohen was born in Sunderland in 1916. He became a solicitor while still a teenager, and was content with practicing in his hometown until World War II broke out and Cohen met Jewish girls who were rescued by the Kindertransport. Learning of the atrocities unfolding throughout the continent, he enlisted in 1940.
He was a gunner for two years before being appointed an officer and sent to Nigeria. There, his soldiers were mainly Muslim. He told the Jewish press in Britain that he spoke to the men about Obah Ibrahim, or Father Abraham, and that they approvingly called him the “White Muslim.” He served in India, then Burma, before returning to Sunderland a decorated veteran and throwing himself into Conservative politics as well as into his synagogue. He also spent decades speaking about the war to school children and other interested groups, at one point making a video about his time fighting the Japanese that was viewed by 170,000 people. And for his efforts, Cohen, now 101, was honored with an MBE yesterday by Queen Elizabeth.
“When I was commanding troops many miles from here, in very tough conditions, never did I even imagine that aged 101, I would receive such an honour,” he told the press when informed of his new status. “As the years go by, there are less of us around to tell our story. I look forward to continuing to educate as many people as possible in the years ahead, health permitting.”
He was particularly proud, Cohen added, of the efforts of Britain’s 60,000 Jewish veterans of WWII. “I dedicate this award,” he said, “to the soldiers who didn’t come home.”
Correction: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that Cohen was knighted. The Scroll apologizes for its ignorance of the Order of the British Empire’s tiered honorifics.