Many members will be aware that Tappen House (formerly Glenlea), the grand cream painted stucco house on Dulwich Common, was used as a training base for the Dutch resistance during WW2, but fewer will know about Dulwich College’s connection with Bletchley Park - a recent memorial event at London University’s 'School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for Professor Ron Dore, formerly head of the Japanese Studies department, noted that he was the last survivor of the ‘Dulwich Boys’.
Who were the ‘Dulwich boys’, and how did they relate to the code breaking at Bletchley Park? One element of code breaking that is often overlooked is that while you need chess grandmasters, mathematicians and musicians to break the code, the actual messages are in a foreign language, which needs translating. And this is where the ‘Dulwich boys’ came in.
Early in 1942 the War Office decided that it needed a large number of Japanese, Chinese, Persian and Turkish translators very quickly. To facilitate this, the Board of Education established a scholarship scheme for boys from secondary and public schools, aged 17 and 18, to study languages critical to the war effort. Looking around for accommodation near to SOAS in Central London, it saw that Dulwich College had spare capacity because of a fall-off in boarding numbers, and arranged to billet the students there while they were fast tracked through language courses at SOAS. The first boys arrived in May, travelling into London to attend language courses at SOAS every morning, and returning to the College each afternoon to study the regular curriculum, and games. Those doing Japanese and Chinese lived in Ivyholme while the others were in the Orchard.
The boys came from a variety of schools from all over Britain. Many had successful careers after the war as academics; Professor Dore, businessman, Sir Peter Parker, Chair of British Rail and diplomats Michael Morgan, British Ambassador to the Philippines 1981-1985 and Edward Youde, appointed Governor of Hong Kong in 1982). Dulwich college students were also chosen - Philip Vennis who worked on translating Japanese ciphers and Rupert Sutton who worked first at Bletchley Park, before being posted to India where he worked in the Wireless Experimental Centre - reputedly he once personally broke the monthly Japanese army code.