Oliver, Roland Anthony, 1923-2014

by Andrew D. Roberts

14 Apr 2016

Extract relating to military intelligence work:

Roland had joined the [Cambridge] University Training Corps, and had hoped for a commission in the Welsh Guards. But the army’s medical examiners classed him C-3 in view of an injury to his left elbow, sustained in a riding accident when he was twelve. He seemed destined for a humdrum war; he was rescued by Donald Beves, the senior tutor at King’s (and prominent in Cambridge theatricals). Beves arranged an interview with John Tiltman, from military intelligence; as a result Roland was able to ignore a summons to the Glasgow barracks of the Pioneer Corps. Instead, he reported at Bedford for a six-month course in cryptography, supplemented by language study, during which he made friends with Angus Wilson and Edward Boyle.

Early in 1943 Roland’s intake at Bedford was transferred to the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park. Here he began work in the Naval Section, mostly translating decrypted signals, but he was soon assigned to a team which decrypted hand ciphers. His colleagues were mostly academics, but by the end of the year the team included Caroline Linehan. Aged thirty-three, she had become an expert on wireless intelligence, and was prominent in the social life of Bletchley. She lived with a female colleague in lodgings at Woughton-on-the-Green; they had a room to spare and before long Roland moved in. He met up again with Wayland Young, a friend from Stowe and King’s, through whom he became a close friend of Elizabeth Jane Howard. She was already beginning to write fiction, but Roland thought her ill-read and brought her a book list ranging from miracle plays to Middlemarch.[10] For lighter entertainment, Bletchley could call on its own resident wits. Many years later, Roland could recite satirical verses about life at Bletchley, composed for Christmas revues. One such piece gently mocked Jack Plumb, who had been a research fellow at King’s and now ran his own section of codebreakers. He was the oldest of several Cambridge historians at Bletchley who later achieved distinction: among them were Asa Briggs, Peter Laslett and Harry Hinsley.[11]

During the last year of the war, Roland was employed on various short-term cryptographic jobs. In October 1945 he returned to Cambridge for a final undergraduate year.

10 E. J. Howard, Slipstream (London, 2002), p. 142.
11 For connections between Cambridge and Bletchley, see A. Briggs, Secret Days (Barnsley, 2011).

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

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