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Watson, William, 1917-2007

Memoir

• Rosemary Scott

Extract relating to military intelligence work:

With the coming of the Second World War in 1939 Bill volunteered to join the army and served in the Intelligence Corps from 1940 to 1946. His postings included Egypt, North Africa, Italy and India. He was first sent to Egypt, where he was stationed at Heliopolis (Cairo), intercepting German radio messages, which could then be sent on to the code-breakers of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire. In 1942 he was sent to India, where he was involved in the interrogation of Japanese prisoners of war. It was this experience that sparked his interest in Asian languages—both spoken and written, and it was while in India that he served with John Figgess (later Sir John Figgess). After the war they remained friends with a shared interest in Asian art, particularly lacquer. One small note should be added on Bill’s army career. Although he reached the rank of major, it seems that at one point he decided, typically, that he was not suitable officer material and requested permission to resign his commission and return to the ranks. He was told in no uncertain terms that in wartime resigning a commission was not permitted.


(See: List of humanities scholars who worked in military intelligence in the Second World War)