In week four of our folk tales from the five London Boroughs, Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Morris ‘Two-Guns’ Cohen; adventurer, mercenary and East End lad. A man who didn’t live a life of what ifs…
“During a tumultuous time in Chinese history, Morris ‘Two-Guns’ Cohen found himself at the centre of it all.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Roll Of The Bones’.
Morris ‘Two Guns’ Cohen
If you’ve ever seen the film ‘Sliding Doors’ you’ve probably been left asking the same questions as I have. Firstly how did a whinger from Devon end up with Gwyneth Paltrow and secondly, what if?
What if I’d paid more attention i in long division, what if I passed on that bet that I could eat a urinal cake in under 10 seconds, what if I’d stood up to the school bully who probably wasn’t as tough as she looked.
One man that didn’t live a life of what ifs, was a one time resident of Umberson Street here in St Georges in the Field, Tower Hamlets, called Morris Cohen. Now Morris was just a regular Jewish kid; running in the back streets and the alleys getting up to mischief. But pretty soon this mischief evolved into petty crime and before he knew it, he was sent down for five years in an industrial school.
On his release Morris’ wise old dad thought, I’ll send you to relatives in Canada to keep your trouble. And it was here that the youngster enjoyed a country life learning to fish, farm and shoot. But pretty soon streetwise Cohen got bored of this lifestyle and moved into the city where he found employment in carnivals, gambling dens and funnily enough in real estate.
But Morris Cohen also developed a taste for Chinese food. After another stint in prison, Cohen came across an altercation at a Chinese restaurant between the owner and a Canadian heavy. Things were getting pretty physical so Morris jumped in and helped the owner out. Overnight he became a hero amongst the Chinese Canadian community. No one really cared about their situation during that time. Morris developed friendships, an interest in their traditions and culture and ultimately, in their political situation. He attended rallies by exiled nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen.
The First World War arrived and Morris served with the Canadians but after tha,t he was invited by Sun Yat Sen over to China to train his own personal bodyguard. That role soon evolved into that of a colonel and then personal bodyguard to Sun Yat Sen himself.
During this tumultuous time in Chinese history Morris Cohen found himself at the very centre of it all. His ability to be able to shoot with two guns at the same time led to the creation of his nickname, Morris ‘Two Guns’ Cohen.
Sun Yat Sen died in the 1920s but Morris stayed on in China and fought against the Japanese invasion eventually becoming a prisoner of war. But when the war ended he returned to Canada and brokered some huge business deals including Rolls-Royce, because he was one of the few people allowed to travel between Taiwan and communist China.
Morris Two Guns Cohen eventually died at the age of 90 in Salford, Manchester but not before inspiring the Gary Cooper film, ‘A General Dies at Dawn’.