The Japan Society

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ARCHIVED How did Elizabeth Anderson learn Japanese in 1943? Wartime language courses & the race against time

Monday 15 March 2021 / 6:45pm
How did Elizabeth Anderson learn Japanese in 1943? Wartime language courses & the race against time

Monday 15 March 2021
6.45pm (GMT)
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Booking Details
Free – Donations Welcome
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The activities of the Japan Society are made possible thanks to the support of its members. This event is free of charge and open to all. We realise that this is a difficult time for many people. However, if you are planning to attend and do not have a membership subscription as an individual or through your employer, please consider making a donation. You can find details of membership and how to join the Japan Society community here.

In spite of all the warnings, the outbreak of war with Japan in December 1941 caught the War Office napping. Australia and the United States had already instituted crash training courses in Japanese to prepare for the likelihood of war, but the War Office continued to insist that Britain was suitably supplied with linguists already. This was not a completely groundless claim, but the outbreak of war prompted a rethink and the result was not only a series of courses at SOAS, starting with the well-known ‘Dulwich Boys’ and continuing with numerous other courses for men and women, but also several secret courses, one at Bedford and the other within Bletchley Park itself. Even more secret were courses run on Mauritius, which were taught by people who before 1942 had not known a word of Japanese.
What were these courses trying to achieve and how can we explain their extraordinary success? And why were Japanese speakers needed on Mauritius? This lecture will start with the story of Elizabeth Anderson (1906-1993), who worked at Bletchley Park from 1939, learnt Japanese at the Bedford Japanese School and then was sent to Mauritius as a translator and teacher.
Peter Kornicki is emeritus professor of Japanese at Cambridge and a fellow of the British Academy. He taught at the University of Tasmania and Kyoto University before moving to Cambridge in 1985. He is the author of many books and articles, including British Royal and Japanese Imperial relations, 1868-2018: 150 years of association, engagement and celebration, with Sir Hugh Cortazzi and Antony Best (2019) and Captain Oswald Tuck and the Bedford Japanese School, 1942-1945 (2019). His new book, Eavesdropping on the Emperor: Interrogators and Codebreakers in Britain’s War with Japan, will be published in April. In 2017 he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.
If you have any questions, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email

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