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Brief summary of the training of National Servicemen in Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and at the RAF Language School from 1951 to 1961.

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Between 1951 and 1962, some 300 airmen, most of them National Servicemen, with a few army personnel, were selected to spend a year studying spoken Chinese (Mandarin, although during the first two years of the SOAS course some studied Cantonese). The majority of those who successfully completed the course were then sent on operational duty to the Crown Colony of Hong Kong.

The Chinese language training, first at SOAS from 1951 to 1955, and then at four RAF stations from 1955 to 1961, was under the umbrella of the Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL), which was established in 1951 (later changed to the Joint Services Language School). Whilst JSSL co-ordinated all the language training in the three services, from 1955 to 1961 the RAF assumed sole responsibility for the training of the Chinese linguists.

The courses at SOAS for the RAF students were initially in Mandarin and Cantonese, but after the first two years Cantonese was discontinued. Students at SOAS broadly followed the University course for 9 months before moving on to RAF Wythall for a month of technical training prior to their posting to Hong Kong. When the RAF took on the responsibility for the training of their students from 1955, they were not restricted to the university year so were able to run two courses each lasting a year, commencing in April and October. Onsite technical training was provided towards the end of each course without the students having to move to a specialist site as had been the case with the SOAS students.
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The first RAF students at SOAS in 1951/2 were all regular airmen on engagements of three years or longer, but thereafter were mostly National Servicemen. In April 1955, the first Chinese course run by the RAF (No. 1 Course) started at RAF Wythall. 15 students from the 39 who started this course (and 3 from each of Nos. 3 and 5 Courses) were selected to study at SOAS for the balance of their National Service as officer cadets, but thereafter no further students were sent to SOAS.

The training of the predominantly RAF National Servicemen in Mandarin at the RAF Language School continued until the end of National Service in the early 1960s. There were 11 Courses at the School, the last commencing in September 1960 with just 15 students. Training was given by serving officers, NCOs and native Chinese instructors, unlike SOAS where this was provided by university lecturers.

During its existence, the School was located at 4 RAF stations, Wythall (October 1955 to April 1957), Worth Matravers (July 1956 to April 1957), Pucklechurch (April 1957 to September 1959) and Tangmere (September 1959 to August 1961).

John Henty