War veteran Mordaunt Cohen dies aged 102: ‘Kind, extraordinary man and fighter’

War veteran Mordaunt Cohen dies aged 102: ‘Kind, extraordinary man and fighter’

Tributes paid to Sunderland-born centenarian who dedicated his life to community work and education

Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen receiving his MBE from the Queen
Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen receiving his MBE from the Queen

The community’s most senior Jewish military veteran who served in World War II has passed away at the age of 102, as his close family pay tribute to him as “one of a kind, an extraordinary man and true fighter”.

Sunderland-born centenarian Lt. Col. Mordaunt Cohen died in the early hours of Saturday morning at the Royal Free Hospital, and will be buried in Israel later this week, after eulogies will be held on Sunday in Edgware.

Survived by his two children, 8 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren, hewas awarded an MBE from Her Majesty The Queen last year, for his services to education, teaching about the history and legacy of the Second World War.

Saul Taylor, Cohen’s oldest grandson made the announcement on Facebook on behalf of the family, saying “our very special father, grandfather and great grandfather, Lt. Col. Mordaunt Cohen MBE, passed away peacefully during the night.”

He told Jewish News: “Our whole family have always been and will always be proud of him and his achievements. We are all benefitting today, as a direct result of what he and his comrades did for this country, all those years ago. He was one of a kind, an extraordinary man and true fighter.”

The family said: “He was particularly passionate of teaching about the Jewish contribution to the war effort, with 60,000 Jews serving in World War Two.  All of this was done with dignity and a profound sense of duty.”

Lt Col Morduant Cohen

“He will be sorely missed by his many family and friends.”

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis paid respects, saying: “Lt. Col. Mordaunt Cohen MBE was a hero. Not only because of his bravery and service in Nigeria, India and Burma, but also because of the lives he moulded and influenced here at home. Mordaunt’s legacy lives on in the remarkable family which he raised, as they follow his example of extraordinary community service and unwavering commitment to Jewish values.”

Born in August 1916, the oldest of four children, he became a solicitor aged 16 and set up his own practice in Sunderland town centre a year before the war broke out.

He soon saw Jewish girls being brought over on Kindertransport and learned from them the great suffering that was going in Europe, so in 1940 he decided to enlist.

He began army life as a gunner but in 1942 he received his commission as an officer and was sent to Nigeria to command mainly Muslim troops. He spoke to them about Obah Ibrahim (Father Abraham) and they referred to him as the “White Muslim.”

When speaking to Jewish News last year, he said he was “especially proud of the immense contribution made by the 60,000 Jewish soldiers who served our country in World War Two,” adding: “I dedicate this award to the soldiers who didn’t come home.”

Morduant with a message from the Queen upon turning 100 in 2016

In 1943 he went to India then on to Burma, where the fighting against the Japanese was “particularly brutal” in “extreme climatic conditions”. He survived and returned home to military honours, resuming his legal career and life in the north-east.

He got involved in local politics (as a Conservative) and Jewish communal organisations, with leadership positions at the Sunderland Hebrew Congregation and the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen (AJEX).

But it has been his stories of the war that have had the biggest impact, with an educational video about his time fighting the Japanese having been viewed more than 170,000 times.

He said It is was his “mission to make sure that future generations will understand what our armed forces went through, so that we can all live freely and in peace in this country.”

Lt Col Morduant Cohen was known for his contribution to education in the north, sitting as chairman of the Sunderland Education Committee and in 1969 was appointed Founding Chairman of the brand new Sunderland Polytechnic, which became Sunderland University in 1992.

In 1992 that Sunderland University honoured Col. Cohens late wife, Judge Myrella Cohen QC, the first female Judge in the North East and third in the UK, by awarding her Honorary Doctorate of Law. 

In November 2018,  he was awarded an honorary fellowship by the University, for his distinguished military service, his contributions to the City of Sunderland and to the University.

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