Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter



Off-Duty

Riki Goldstein

Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen, the oldest and highest-ranking British Jewish officer to serve in World War II still alive, will be 102 this summer

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

 Mishpacha image

While no one could fathom what horrors were to come, he’d heard what was happening in Germany and felt he couldn’t ignore it. “As a Jew,” he says, “I wanted to be in there doing my bit for my country and my people against the German enemy” (Photos: Mendel Photography)

W hen World War II ended in Europe in May of 1945, not every Allied troop could throw up his hat in celebration. British Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen, an Orthodox Jew who kept mitzvos even as he’d been dispatched to the ends of the earth, had been sent to Burma via Bombay where “we felt we were part of the forgotten war, out there in the bush. Everyone was at home celebrating, and we were still out there fighting in conditions you can’t imagine.”

Cohen, who will turn 102 this summer, has no regrets, though. The war had taken him from the close-knit Jewish community in the northern British town of Sunderland where he grew up, to bustling Indian cities and commanding Muslim troops, first in Nigeria and later in Burma. Over seven decades have passed since then, but Mordaunt Cohen is still every bit the soldier: patriotic, confident, humble, kind, and brave.

As the highest-ranking veteran of World War II service in Burma and Britain’s highest-ranking Jewish World War II veteran as well, the lieutenant colonel’s colorful life and incredible memory for detail has fascinated many audiences over the years, both within England’s Jewish community and in schools around the country. So it really wasn’t a shock when his name was included on the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s honors list, making him an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his services to Second World War education.

 

Doing My Part

Mordaunt Cohen was born on August 6, 1916, to Israel and Sophie Cohen in Sunderland, about 13 miles from Gateshead. While there’s no longer an Orthodox community in Sunderland, in its heyday the British industrial port town hosted a close-knit, convivial community, with two shuls and exacting halachic standards.

 

Since a core contingent of the Sunderland community had emigrated as a group from the town of Kretinga in Lithuania, the town’s Jews maintained a staunchly Litvish character.

Mordaunt’s maternal grandfather Reb Chatze Cohen (both his father and mother had the last name Cohen, and so did his future wife), emigrated to England in 1888 with 14 children and was one of those Lithuanian immigrants.

“Zeide had semichah, but he never used it. He was always affectionately known as Reb Chatza. His position in Kretinga was something like town clerk,” says Cohen, whose lilting articulation belie his age, while his soft accent, more musical than the more popular London twang, confirms his Northern British origins.

Mordaunt’s mother was raised in Reb Chatze’s Yiddish-speaking home, and his own cheder education was also in Yiddish. “We went to cheder after school, for about 16 hours a week, and we learned to translate the Chumash, Tanach, Rashi, Shulchan Aruch, and Gemara all into Yiddish.” He’s proud of the bar mitzvah pilpul he gave in Yiddish. “It wasn’t written down and I had to learn it by heart from my rebbi.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 708)

Related Stories

Never Too Late for Happiness

As told to Margie Pensak

How one woman made a second marriage later in life work, along with advice from the pros

Ambassador of the Jews

Gershon Burstyn

Malcolm Hoenlein's 32-year career representing the interests of the Jewish People and Israel to US p...

Marching to His Own Tune

Shlomi Gil

For Chilik Frank, a virtuoso whose concerts are more like lessons in chassidus, playing around the c...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.
CAPTCHA
Message


MM217
 
The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"