Skip Content

Humanities scholars who worked in military intelligence in the Second World War

In this 70th anniversary (2015) of the end of the Second World War, the British Academy is seeking to commemorate, by means of a simple list, those men and women who helped bring about victory through their work in military intelligence and who were already or would go on to become humanities academics.

This list is a supplement to the British Academy Review article by Nigel Vincent and Helen Wallace entitled ‘Lost without translation: Why codebreaking is not just a numbers game’ (February 2015).

Those who became Fellows of the British Academy (FBA) are identified.

This draft list is very much a work in progress (lasted updated 30 March 2016). Amendments and additions to this list would be welcome and should be emailed to pubs@britac.ac.uk


BPRoH = link to entry in the Bletchley Park Roll of Honour

BA obit = extract from British Academy obituary available


This initial list contains the names of some of the humanities scholars who were recruited to work at Bletchley Park (BP) or other cognate units working on military signals intelligence during the Second World War. They were preponderantly – but not only – classicists (among the non-academics were poets, novelists, politicians, insurance agents, etc.) [note 1]. They were mostly not German scholars (though there must have been more than are included in this list); the bulk of German-speaking posts seem to have been recruited from among young women who had studied or who planned to study German at university or who had some other reason for being fluent – the team of all women which Edward Rushworth led was so composed. There were two particular reasons for favouring classicists: in those days some of the brightest students (mostly boys) were encouraged to study the classics; and classicists were accustomed to working with fragmentary information and unfamiliar terms – apparently the study of Greek and Roman military history was especially useful in figuring out German military operations.

In 1942 one group of around twenty classical scholars were recruited to do a special 6-month crash course in Japanese, as it became clear that more work was needed to break and interpret Japanese codes. Several subsequent intensive courses were organised. At the time SOAS was the only UK university that taught Japanese. Its initial proposal to the War Office to train personnel in Japanese and other languages had initially been rebuffed, but subsequently SOAS was to train many. Some of these went on to develop Japanese studies at other universities. [note 2]

The list is almost certainly incomplete, since so many BP veterans took their stories to their graves.

Frank Adcock FBA, ancient history, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
Donald J Allan FBA, classicist, Glasgow; BPRoH; BA obit
D R Shackleton Bailey FBA, classicist, Harvard; BPRoH; BA obit
John W B Barns, Egyptologist and priest, Oxford; BPRoH
Geoffrey Barraclough, historian, Oxford; BPRoH
Charles Beckingham FBA, Islamic studies, SOAS; BPRoH, also Naval Intelligence; BA obit
Ralph Bennett, historian, Cambridge; BPRoH
Carmen Blacker FBA, Japanese studies, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
T S R Boase FBA, art historian, Oxford; BPRoH; BA obit
Godfrey Bond, classicist, Oxford; BPRoH
Geoffrey Bownas, classics then japanologist, Sheffield; BPRoH
Asa Briggs FBA, historian, Sussex; BPRoH
Christine Brooke-Rose, English literature, Paris; BPRoH
Walter H Bruford FBA, Germanist, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
Peter Calvocoressi, international relations, Sussex; BPRoH
Archibald H Campbell, lawyer, Oxford; BPRoH
I M Campbell, classicist, Edinburgh; BPRoH
Eric Ceadel, Japanologist, Cambridge; BPRoH, instructor on the Japanese course
John Chadwick FBA, classicist, Cambridge (worked on Linear B); BPRoH; BA obit
L Jonathan Cohen FBA, philosopher, Oxford; BPRoH, one of those who learned Japanese; BA obit
Noel Currer-Briggs, modern linguist and historian who became a professional genealogist; BPRoH
Amy Marjorie Dale FBA, classicist, Birkbeck; BPRoH; BA obit
Oswald Dilke, classicist, Leeds; BPRoH
A E Douglas, classicist, Birmingham; BPRoH
Michael Dummett FBA, philosopher, Oxford; did the Japanese course but not at BP (see BPRoH)
Alison Fairlie FBA, French studies, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
Anthony Fitton-Brown, classicist, Leicester; BPRoH
Leonard W Forster FBA, Germanist, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
David Foxon FBA, English literature, Oxford; BPRoH; BA obit
David M Gaunt, classicist, Bristol; BPRoH
George P Goold, Corresponding FBA, classicist, Yale (editor of Loeb Classical Library for 25 years); BPRoH
Julius Gould, sociologist, Nottingham BPRoH
H John Habakkuk FBA, economic historian, Oxford; BPRoH; BA obit
H L A Hart FBA, law, Oxford; not BP; BA obit
David Hawkes, sinologist, Oxford; BPRoH, was a Japanese instructor
T F Higham, classicist, Oxford; BPRoH
Ronald F Hingley, Russian studies, Oxford; BPRoH
F Harry Hinsley FBA, historian, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
Michael Holroyd, classicist, Oxford; is this BPRoH?
C L Howard, classicist, went to US, worked on Oxford Latin Dictionary; BPRoH
Romilly J H Jenkins, Byzantine studies, KCL – many connections with British School in Athens; BPRoH
D Mervyn Jones, classicist, Oxford, then to FCO; BPRoH
Trevor D Jones, Germanist, Cambridge (editor of Harrap's German-English Dictionary); BPRoH
Alexander H King, British Museum (head of Music Library 1944-1976); BPRoH
T Peter R Laslett FBA, historian, Cambridge; BPRoH, one of those who learned Japanese; BA obit
Hugh M Last, classicist, Oxford; BPRoH
Frank Lepper, classicist, Oxford; BPRoH
Hugh Lloyd-Jones FBA, classicist, Oxford; one of those who learned Japanese, not BP
Michael A N Loewe, sinologist, Cambridge; BPRoH
Donald W Lucas, classicist, Cambridge; BPRoH
Frank L Lucas, classicist then literary criticism, Cambridge; BPRoH
Robert B Marchant, music, Hull; BPRoH
Donald Michie FRSE, classicist who switched fields to artificial intelligence, Edinburgh; BPRoH
A R Milburn, Spanish/Portuguese literature, Cambridge; BPRoH
G Christopher Morris, historian, Cambridge; BPRoH
Roland Oliver FBA, historian of Africa, SOAS; BPRoH; BA obit
Denys Page FBA, classicist, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
Leonard Palmer, comparative philologist, Oxford; BPRoH
E J Passant, Germanist, Cambridge; BPRoH
Frederick Pickering, Germanist, Sheffield then Reading; BPRoH
J H Plumb FBA, historian, Cambridge; BPRoH; BA obit
J O Prestwich, medieval historian, Oxford; BPRoH
Colin H Roberts FBA, papyrologist, Oxford; BPRoH; BA obit
R H Robins FBA, linguistics, SOAS; one of those who did and then taught Japanese course, not BP; BA obit
Saul Rose, international relations, Oxford; did the Japanese course, but not BP
Edward Rushworth, classicist, Leicester; BPRoH
Donald Russell FBA, classicist, Oxford; BP
John Saltmarsh, economic historian, Cambridge; BPRoH
Michael A Screech FBA, French; BPRoH
R Morton Smith, Sanskrit, Toronto BPRoH
David L Stockton, classicist, Oxford; one of those who learned Japanese; BPRoH
Thomas W Thacker, oriental studies, Durham; BPRoH
Joan Thirsk FBA, agrarian history, Oxford; BPRoH; BA obit
Hugh Trevor-Roper FBA, historian, Oxford; not BP; BA obit
Eric G Turner FBA, papyrologist, University College London; BPRoH; BA obit
Eric R P Vincent, Italianist, Cambridge; BPRoH
Alexis P Vlasto, Slavonic studies, Cambridge; one of those who learned Japanese; BPRoH
Thomas B L Webster FBA, classicist, Stanford; BPRoH; BA obit
Maurice F Wiles FBA, theologian, Oxford; BPRoH, one of those who learned Japanese; BA obit
Peter Wiles FBA, economist, London; BPRoH; BA obit
Nancy Wilkinson, modern languages and music, Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (now Anglia Ruskin University); BPRoH
L Patrick Wilkinson, classicist, Cambridge; BPRoH
D E W Wormel, classicist, Trinity College Dublin; BPRoH
James M Wyllie, classicist who then worked on Oxford English Dictionary; BPRoH

An example of equivalent intelligence work being undertaken on the other side of the world is provided by the following Australia-based academic:
Dale Trendall FBA, classical art historian, Australian National University; BPRoH; BA obit


Some academics used their analytical skills to build up an understanding of particular aspects of the enemy. Examples include:

J L Austin FBA, philosopher, Oxford; worked at supreme allied command; BA obit
A J Beattie, classicist, Edinburgh; worked with J L Austin
Eric Birley FBA, archaeology, Durham; BA obit
Stuart Hampshire FBA, philosopher, Oxford; BA obit


Other humanities scholars were used for skills that they could bring to bear on specific areas of military intelligence. A number of archaeologists were deployed to RAF Medmenham to work on photographic intelligence. Scholars working in this area of intelligence included:

W Sidney Allen FBA, linguistics, Cambridge; BA obit
Grahame Clark FBA, archaeologist, Cambridge; BA obit
Glyn Daniel FBA, archaeologist, Cambridge; BA obit
Dorothy Garrod FBA, archaeologist, Cambridge; BA obit
Charles McBurney FBA, archaeologist, Cambridge; BA obit
Charles Phillips, archaeologist, Cambridge (excavated Sutton Hoo)
Stuart Piggott FBA, archaeologist, Edinburgh; BA obit
Terence Powell, archaeologist, Liverpool


Further teams of academics worked for the Naval Intelligence Division, compiling and analysing information for the Navy. Many were based in two centres – one in Oxford, headed by Kenneth Mason, the first Professor of Geography there, the other in Cambridge, headed by Clifford Darby – from which compendious ‘Handbooks’ emerged. Examples include:

W Spencer Barrett FBA, classicist, Oxford; BA obit
Charles Beckingham FBA, Islamic studies, SOAS; also BPRoH; BA obit
John W Crowfoot, archaeology, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem
H Clifford Darby FBA, geographer, Cambridge; BA obit
Raymond Firth FBA, social anthropology, LSE; BA obit
Kenneth Mason, geographer, Oxford
John L Myres FBA, ancient historian, Oxford; BA obit
F H Sandbach FBA, classicist, Cambridge; BA obit
A N Sherwin-White FBA, ancient historian, Oxford; BA obit
W S Watt FBA, classicist, Oxford; BA obit
A Frederick Wells, classicist, Oxford


Other scholars who may have been involved in military intelligence work about whom more specific information is needed:

J K Anderson, classicist, Berkeley; not BP?
[Sel R Arch-Niwrad, classicist (apparently became a professor but not known where)]
John Morrison, classicist, Cambridge (work led to reconstruction of Greek trireme); not sure if BP
Hector Thomson, classicist, Aberdeen; diplomatic service


Note 1. An initial list that formed the starting point of this webpage was compiled by Helen Wallace FBA. Particularly helpful in tracking down the classicists were the two articles by John Richmond: ‘Classics and Intelligence: Part 1’, Classics Ireland, vol 8, 2001, and ‘Classics and Intelligence’, Classics Ireland, Vol 9, 2002. Other names were extracted from among the numerous volumes on the story of BP, as well as oral memories.

Note 2. This draws with gratitude on work currently in hand by Peter Kornicki FBA on the history of Japanese studies in the UK.


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.

Close

Add a comment to this line