1954 - Drage, Charles, "Two-Gun Cohen", Jonathan Cape, London, March 1954

Sat, 09/24/2022 - 12:53

First published in the United Kingdom as:

Drage, Charles, Two-Gun Cohen, Jonathan Cape, London, March 1954.

Reviewed by Charles Sebag-Montefiore, 2 Apr 1954.

General Morris Abraham Cohen is a fabulous man who has become a legend in his own lifetime. Soldier, promoter, politician, gambler, financial wizard, trusted emissary, champion of the oppressed, Cohen has been all in turn. His career has spanned half a century and has taken him from London’s East End to Canada’s Western Provinces, and then to China. It was in the turbulent China of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek that he made his reputation, first as bodyguard to Dr Sun, and later as an aide and adviser to the men struggling for control after Dr Sun’s death. At whatever page you happen to pick up the book you are likely immediately to become absorbed. All who peruse this book will be the better for reading it.


The two Chinese characters appearing on the book cover, and written in General Cohen’s own hand, are his Chinese name of Mah Kun (馬坤).

Date picture taken
22 Mar 1954


Michael Alderton (essarem) notes: From 28 December 1941, while awaiting his fate in the Hong Kong Hotel, up until 2 February 1942 when he was called from the Stanley internment camp by the Kempeitai, General Cohen had had time to think up a plausible story of his life that would stand up to the interrogation he was expecting to receive from the Kempetai. He had had about five weeks to work on it whilst whiling away the hours in captivity; first in the Hong Kong Hotel, then in the Chinese hotel at North Point, and finally during his first few days at Stanley. His story had to be deliberately evasive, but not wholly untruthful, and testable under cross examination by the Japanese secret police. Following this traumatic interrogation process, he would have just under two years of confinement in the Stanley camp to work up the Kempeitai ‘biography’ into an idea for a motion picture, in which he included some of his fellow detainees in the story. By 1954, aspects of this dumbed down, lightened up, version of his life story, worked up into an enthralling film storyline, complete with dialogue, motifs and scene settings, and stored in his prodigious memory, had found its way into Commander Charles Drage’s book titled Two Gun Cohen.

Two-Gun Cohen – the landmark Drage/Cohen combination biography/autobiography

Michael Alderton (essarem) notes: When, during the early 1950's, senior British intelligence operative and respected multiple biographer, Commander Charles Drage, commenced writing his book titled Two-Gun Cohen (1954), 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 that he collected from the files of the Leman Street Police Station and from those of the Thames Magistrates Court - files that 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 sent to a reformatory. However, being well under the age of twelve, the young truant could not be convicted of any crime and could only be placed in the care of one of the industrial schools that had been established for the education and vocational training of neglected and destitute children. Following his arrest, the child was returned to the workhouse where he 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 that 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 young boy was enrolled in the newly established, purpose-built, Jewish industrial school at rural Hayes; where, under the tutelage of that great Jewish educator, Mr Israel Ellis O.B.E., and with the assistance of munificent Jewish philanthropy and caring Community involvement, a surprisingly independent 10 year old Jewish boy was rescued from extreme poverty and disadvantage, and, with education, good health and a nurturing Jewish environment, was provided with the springboard that would launch him on one of the most selfless and fascinating Jewish lives of modern times.

An Unfortunate Start Leads to a Lucky Break

General Cohen in his own words: In May 1900, when I was ten years of age, I was ‘run in’ as ‘a person suspected of attempting to pick pockets’. I appeared in the Thames Police Court before the famous magistrate Mr Frederick Mead. He committed me to industrial school till I reached the age of sixteen. It seemed a disaster at the time, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

It is worth noting that senior British East Asia intelligence operative, Commander Charles Drage, was not only a long-time friend and associate of General Cohen, but he was also one who had unrestricted access to many years of British intelligence files relating to the General; files that he would have been able to recall when writing his portions of the co-authored biographical work relating to the British-born, Chinese general, Maj.Gen. M.A. ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen.

See also: 1954 - Drage, Charles, "The Life and Times of General Two-Gun Cohen", Funk & Wagnalls, New York, June 1954 | Gwulo