SOAS University of London

How SOAS languages helped build post-war UK-Japan entente

12 August 2015
Wartimes language students at SOAS
Wartime language students at SOAS. Credit; SOAS Library (PCE, Taiwan/Formosa, Photographs, Box 6) © The United Reformed Church; originally supplied by courtesy of Margaret Beattie

The story of the Dulwich Boys, a group of young men who studied Japanese at SOAS, University of London during the Second World War, has been featured on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme (01:41:27) and in the BBC Magazine.

The article, produced by BBC journalist Nick Higham, features SOAS alumni the late Guy de Moubray, Ronald Dore and Sir Hugh Cortazzi. Also featured are SOAS academics Dr Christopher Gerteis, Chair of the Japan Research Centre and Professor Ian Brown, who is writing a history of the School to mark its Centenary.

When the war in the Pacific broke out the British government found there was a critical shortage of people competent in Chinese, Turkish, Japanese and Persian. SOAS, in this period, offered scholarships for these languages, which resulted in some 90 schoolboys (30 each for Japanese and Chinese and 15 each for Turkish and Persian) gathering to live in two boarding houses at Dulwich College and travel daily by train to SOAS, where they became known as ‘the course boys’.

As reported in the piece, the Dulwich Boys' real impact came after the war. "Without these young men there would be no UK-Japan relationship," says Dr Christopher Gerteis, Chair of the Japan research centre at SOAS.

Listen to the programme or read the full article 'What happened to the Japanese-speaking Dulwich Boys?' on BBC Magazine.