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Stan Cohen - Tank Burns Survivor


seaforths
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I came across the following information this morning while researching something else and thought I would share it on the Forum. The information about his life after the war is just too sad for words...I could have cried reading it.

http://www.blondmcindoe.org/ww1-burns-survivor-part1.html

Having searched for him on the Forum before posting this topic, it seems he is mentioned briefly here:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=147105&hl=cohen#entry1412480

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There is more information on plastic surgery of that era here as I followed some of the links from the site in my OP:

http://archive.org/details/plasticsurgeryof00gilluoft

also here:

http://www.gilliesarchives.org.uk/

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Thank you for posting this. I read the story of his life with the same sadness. Really brings home what the phrase "tank burnt out" means even when crew members were able to escape.

Gwyn

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You're welcome Gwyn. It did make me wonder about those chain mail type masks they wore and whether they would have been the cause of the burns. That he felt he could only meet children and work at night because of his disfigurement highlighted what a tortured life the poor man must have led. Sadly, it doesn't expand on who his night working colleague was that had also had surgery and I wondered that he must have led a similar nocturnal life.

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The wearing of chain mail masks by tank crews seems to have been much less widespread than thought. For a tank commander such as Cohen the restricted visibility would have presented him with considerable difficulty when directing the driver and identifying targets for his gunners, I'd have thought. I doubt it was a factor in his burns.

Gwyn

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Thanks for the information about the masks. Although I don't know anything really about the tanks I saw one of these masks when visiting the IWM North in August and was intrigued as to whether it would be a help or hindrance for the same reasons as you have mentioned. The horizontal slits across the eyepieces must have made it looks as though they were trying to peer through Venetian blinds, as though their vision wouldn't be impaired enough inside the tank itself.

I'm surprised there were any survivors from tanks that had taken hits or caught fire and their injuries don't bear thinking about. These poor souls and many others that were wounded in the field and the air were the unfortunate guinea pigs for the huge advances in trauma surgery and plastic surgery, as of course was WW2.

I suppose for the crews getting into a tank and going into battle was very much a double edged sword, being more protected than the infantry but being trapped and vulnerable in other ways.

The finding out the fate of men such as Stan Cohen often refocuses my attention on other parts of the war I hadn't given much thought to in the past and I hope that if the centenary does anything, then it brings to the fore people like him whose bravery had to continue for many years after the war had ended living out their years avoiding the stares of others.

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...and was intrigued as to whether it would be a help or hindrance for the same reasons as you have mentioned. The horizontal slits across the eyepieces must have made it looks as though they were trying to peer through Venetian blinds, as though their vision wouldn't be impaired enough inside the tank itself...

When the slits are as close to the eye as they are when the mask is worn the actual impairment is minimum, a slight fuzziness is all.

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I'm surprised there were any survivors from tanks that had taken hits or caught fire and their injuries don't bear thinking about.

It has just occured to me that the tank Lt Cohen escaped from was a Mark V and that he was the commander. He therefore would have had relatively ready access to the cab roof hatch, which was common to all Mark Vs (a few Mark IVs fighting tanks had them, but not many). His leg injury would have made reaching it much harder I'd imagine, but that would probably have been an easier route than out via the sponson doors. In a Mark IV his chance of escape would have been very much less.

Gwyn

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  • 3 weeks later...

The story of Cohen is sad, but actually I have just discovered that it is inaccurate. I am grateful to John Taylor for supplying me with the evidence.

Cohen was never a night porter at Queen Mary's Hospital. The nurse's account refers to someone else entirely, but I will now have to try and discover who! I had two contacts, one of whom was unimpeachable, and told me that Cohen had taught him in a Sunday school class in Bromley. However Cohen actually worked postwar for "The Times" and administered the pension funds. However he never married; his fiancée threw him over because of his appearance. My contact said that, when asked about children's attitudes to him, he responded that they rarely showed disgust, but always showed curiosity, and he could cope with that.

Burns in tanks were not uncommon; in WW1 they were all petrol burns - hardly surprising, perhaps, as the petrol tank was within the tank body. One presumes few survived a petrol fire, so Cohen was lucky. The chain mail helmet visor was designed to protect against spall, which invariably flew about when a shell hit the tank structure (whether or not it went off).

Andrew Bamji

Gillies Archivist, BAPRAS

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