A British Jew who commanded Muslim troops in Burma before moving to the north-east has been honoured by the University of Sunderland at the age of 101.
Mordaunt Cohen, who worked in the city as a solicitor before retiring, was known as “the white Muslim” during the war, when as a lieutenant colonel he commanded the West African Air Assault Brigade.
“There was I, a Jewish officer, commanding Muslim troops,” he recalled in 2015. “There was no problem at all. We learned their language and tried to converse with them in Hasua [a West African dialect]. They didn’t know what a Jew was. They called me the ‘white Muslim’ because I could talk to them about Father Abraham.”
Cohen joined the British Army after hearing the horrors of Nazi Germany from children who had arrived on the Kindertransport, and fought in Burma from 1942 to 1945, when the Japanese surrendered.
During his time there, he commanded Nigerian volunteers as part of an anti-aircraft unit defending RAF air strips, surviving malaria, hepatitis and a tropical climate.
A former chairman of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX), Cohen was awarded an honourary fellowship by the University last week, in recognition of his 48-year association with it, recalling his shock at hearing the news.
“When I was told that I would receive this honour I really was silenced and I didn’t really know why I was deserving of this distinct honour,” he said. “On reflection I decided that it must be because I am the grandfather of the University!”