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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.
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