Kenneth Cohen—a life and a secret life

My father was born into a Jewish family on the Ides of March, 1900, and at the heart of the Empire, so technically he was a Victorian. When he died in 1984, having seen a real man on the moon, for a child who could remember straw being laid in the road to deaden the sound of horses hooves if there was sicknesss in a house, this marked an amazing range of experiences.

In between he went through the break-up of his parents marriage, of which I do not remember him ever speaking; bullying at Harrow School, though perhaps not as extreme as that suffered by ??? Rothschild; the surrender of the German Grand Fleet in 1918 (which he saw from the decks of the ?flagship Iron Duke) followed by a career in the Royal Navy which took him to Staff College followed by a brief and un-rewarding spell in industry.

This was terminated by his still-mysterious ‘recall’ to the Navy in the spring of 1936 which in turn lead to 17 years of cloak-and-dagger work with MI6, officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service and unofficially as our ‘Friends’ by the Foreign Office for whom he was mostly supposed to be working. He retired from SIS in 1953: this was probably because it became clear that he would not become Chief, or ‘C’, as the head of the service was known, possibly because he was Jewish. 

His skills were later hardly stretched when he became Foreign Advisor to the de-nationalised United Steel Companies, later to be re-nationalised. No doubt his many overseas contacts were useful to the company, but his energies and enthusiasm went into voluntary activities with pre-EEC/EU bodies such as the Coal & Steel Community, Euratom, the unofficial European Movement, and, above all, the Franco-British Society of which he became Chairman.

On the family side he married my mother in 1932 [for her work see 'MSC—a life in painting'] and had two children, my sister Carol who died of cancer aged only 54 in 1992 and me, born in 1945.Passed Civil Service exam as naval cadet 6/41, 5 Mar 1918.

Engaged 21 April 1932.

Married while KC at Staff College and MSC at Frognal.

Marigold Gardens, Simonstown, Cape Province in 1934

‘About this time (1911) there was an argument (apparently) over my future, conducted 
between my separated parents through a Wardship in Chancery. Father, who worshipped 
the conception of me at a British public school and accepting British institutions, was for 
Harrow. This was to be combined with tuition over ‘my’ Hebrew history and language. 
mother, who may have sensed my future misfittings, was I think, against it.’

Recalled to Navy, 1936, per als to Stephen from Tim [HP/Horatio] Nelson, 25.3.1936

CB 1954; CMG 1946