Published on 29 November 2017
Retired Sunderland solicitor and decorated Jewish officer who served during the WWII Burma Campaign has been honoured by the University he has had a 48-year association with.
Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship 25 years after his wife Judge Myrella Cohen was the University’s first honorary award recipient in 1992.
The award is in recognition of the 101-year-old's distinguished military career and his long standing association with Sunderland and its University.
Born in Sunderland in 1916 he served in Burma, commanding Nigerian volunteers as part of an anti-aircraft unit defending RAF air strips and, during his service, survived malaria, hepatitis and gruelling conditions. He qualified as a solicitor aged 21, and set up his own practice shortly before war broke out in 1939. In 1974 he and his wife made history, when they became the first husband and wife to serve on the judiciary. He was appointed the University’s first Chair of Governors and also served on the local education board in the 1960s.
Lieutenant Colonel Mordaunt Cohen said: "When I was here last summer I never dreamt for one moment that I would be back here to receive the wonderful award of Honorary Fellowship from the University of Sunderland.
"When my eldest grandson - my self-appointed PR representative - told me that I would receive this honour I really was silenced and I didn't really know why I was deserving of this distinct honour. And then on reflection I decided that it must be because I am the grandfather of the University!"
Mordaunt chose to join the Army after Jewish children arrived in his hometown of Sunderland from the Kindertransport and settled in a local girls’ hostel. On hearing their stories, he found out what the Nazis had been doing and felt he had to fight for his country and his people.
His first posting was to a field artillery regiment at Redcar racecourse, just 40 miles from where he lived. In 1942 Mordaunt travelled the length of Burma with his unit. He learned their language to help understand them and they shared stories about their religions. On VJ Day 1945 Mordaunt and his company were still out in Burma. He remembers that his Brigadier celebrated with him, finally opening a bottle of aged brandy that he had carried all through the war and drinking to its conclusion.
The former national chairman of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women was mentioned in Dispatches for services in Burma when he arrived home after the war.
On his return he resumed his legal career and became very involved with the community, especially in his synagogue. In 1947 the Territorial Army was reformed and needed people like Mordaunt with his experience. After two years he was promoted to major and in 1954 he was made a lieutenant colonel. Today, he says nothing is more important to him "than seeing the community recognise VJ day”.