"Two-Gun" Cohen (1887(i)-1970)

Abridged from an article by Rena Krasno
Additional Information by Michael Alderton

Nicknamed Ď2-Gun Cohen,í Morris Cohen was the only foreigner ever to become a member of the Kuo-mintang, China's ruling party.

He received his elementary education at the Jews' Free School in Camden Town, London's East End. The school was a refuge and a means of escape from poverty, educating the pupils in both secular and religious studies. Also to pass through its doors were Barney Barnato, Bud Flanagan, Alfred Marks, Israel Zangwill and Selig

Morris was something of a tear-away and spent some time in reform school.  He went to Canada to escape from this lifestyle.

Fascinated with the ideas of Chinese revolutionaries, Morris met the famous leader Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in person in Canada whilst he was a young man, becoming his lifelong admirer. Dr. Sun appointed him his aide decamp, with the rank of colonel, in recognition of his devotion. Procuring weapons and smuggling them into China to aid the fight against corrupt feudal lords. He went armed night and day with two holstered pistols, one on his hip, the other slung about his shoulder, thus earning the nickname of "Two-Gun." This was a result of the following incident.

"The bullet that caught me in the left arm had made me think. Supposing it had been my right arm and I carried my gun that side, I'd not have been able to use it. As soon as we got back to Canton I got me a second gun, another Smith and Wesson revolver, and I packed it handy to my left hand. I practised drawing and soon found that I was pretty well ambidextrous -- one gun came out about as quick as the other."

(from Morris "Two-Gun" Cohen, from Two-Gun Cohen: A Biography, by Daniel S. Levy)

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925 and his successor, Chiang Kai-Shek kept Cohen on as chief of intelligence.  After the death of Dr. Sun, the Legislative Yuan promoted Cohen to the rank of General and he became a confidant of some of the most powerful men in China. From 1930 onward, Cohen's counter intelligence concentrated on two major threats to Chiang's fragile government, the Chinese Communist Party which had been organized in 1921 and had been growing in power ever since, and the Japanese who had thousands of spies in China's coastal cities, all preparing for the day when Japan would invade China. 

In the early 1930s, Cohen employed an amazing spy named Lionel Phillip Kenneth Crabb who was later to become Britain's most spectacular undersea spy and frogman, who died in mysterious circumstances. 

Cohen was able to penetrate the largest of these Japanese spy rings, the Special Service Organ  located in Shanghai, a business front for the main Japanese military intelligence service in China Cohen learned that Major Ryukichi Tanaka, the director of Japanese intelligence that Japan planed to invade Manchuria in 1931. He passed on this report to Chiang Kai-Shek. Cohen informed Chiang that Tanaka planned to create a disturbance in Shanghai in order to provoke Japanese intervention in that teeming city. Though forewarned, Chiang seemed powerless to prevent this incident from happening.

Viewed  with suspicion by the Japanese and later hatred for exposing Japan for using poison gas against the Chinese population, despite their indignant denial, General Cohen obtaining Japanese gas cylinder and proved the Japanese officials to be liars, a loss of face for which they never forgave or forgot. 

In 1943, Cohen mysteriously reached Hong Kong from Shanghai, in an attempt to rescue Mme. Sun who was now in danger from the Japanese who had conquered the island. Mme. Sun had established there  an umbrella organization for charitable, medical and welfare programs, the China Defence League. The Japanese authorities arrested Cohenís and interned him in a concentration camp, which he survived. 

In the period after the war until the death of Stalin it is said that Morris worked for the USA and the UK in an intelligence role.  During the preparation of Morris's biography, attempts by Drage to obtain information from the Department of State and the FBI were thawted by the Glomer doctrine. The records that were disclosed were decades old, the CIA refused to disclose whether they had any responsive records. 
The CIA did not point to any harm from the response to this particular FOIA request 
but instead relied on justifying the agency's categorical rule. Unfortunately, the court 
upheld the CIA's rote application of the Glomar doctrine in that case.

There was no doubt that the welfare of the Jewish people was always very close to Cohenís heart. In fact, he loved both the Chinese and the Jews and often spoke of the similarities between them. Generosity and kindness which were his basic characteristics .

He is buried in the Blakely Jewish Cemetery in Manchester. Topped with the blessing hands symbol of the Kohanim and graced with an inscription in Chinese characters by the grateful hand of Mme. Sun on behalf of a grateful nation,  a graciously composed epitaph in honour of this great manís memory, General Cohenís tall black tombstone somehow manages to stand out clearly in this tightly packed, highly regulated and austere looking cemetery that is completely surrounded by a high brick wall.


When, during the early 1950's, Commander Charles Drage commenced writing his book titled "Two-Gun Cohen", the documentary evidence available at that time would have tended to suggest that General Morris Abraham Cohen had been born in London during August 1887.

With regard to researching the Canadian years of his friend's life, the author lamented the fact that "accurate factual information was always a difficulty". However, when it came to researching General Cohen's childhood years in London, Commander Drage, who as a young naval officer had been trained in naval intelligence work at Greenwich, would find his task considerably less onerous. 

From the documentary evidence which he collected from the files of the Leman Street Police Station and from those of the Thames Magistrates Court - files which are now held in the London Metropolitan Archives - the author was able to establish the fact that his subject had been born in 1889 and certainly at no time during 1887.

From a further study of these court documents today, it is clearly evident that the young General Cohen had been 10 years old when he had been taken into police custody during the Spring of 1900. Establishing his correct age was a vital factor in the proceedings. If he had been born anytime during 1887 he would have been at least 12 years of age and could then have been convicted as charged and sent to a reformatory. However, being well under the age of 12, the young truant could not be convicted of any crime and could only be placed in the care of one of the industrial schools which had been established for the education and vocational training of neglected children. The boy remained in the court's custody for 9 days, during which
time the School Board authorities were consulted on the case. In light of the time and resources which it had at its disposal, it would be quite unreasonable to suggest that the court had been unable to establish the child's correct age.

As things turned out, the boy was enrolled in the newly established Jewish industrial school at Hayes; where, under the tutelage of that great Jewish educator, Mr. Israel Ellis O.B.E., and with the assistance of munificent Jewish philantropy, a surprisingly independent 10 year old Jewish boy was rescued from extreme poverty and disadvantage, and, with education, good health and a caring Jewish environment, was provided with the springboard which would launch him on one of the most selfless and fascinating Jewish lives of modern times.  (Michael Alderton)