Learning Russian in Bodmin in the Cold War

On a recent visit to Cornwall, we went into the Bodmin Town Museum. The centrepiece of the first room was a display about the Joint Services School for Linguists. This was located in Bodmin from 1951-1956.

The Museum produces a small booklet (8 pages) The Joint Services School for Linguists, Bodmin, 1951-1956, notes compiied by Bodmin Town Museum (2017). The text of the booklet is largely the same as the text of the display.

The British government created the school because of fears that the Soviet Union might invade Western Europe. The aims were:

  • to produce linguists who could work in Britain’s early warning Signals Intelligence System.
  • to create a reserve of interpreters who the armed forces and intelligence service could call on if war did come.

The school was run by the Royal Air Force on behalf of the Army, Navy and RAF. Most of the students were conscripts or National Servicemen.

The first 2 schools were set up in 1951 in Bodmin and in Coulson (Surrey), each taking 500 hundred men. The school trained over 5,000 men over 10 years. Puplis include the playwrights and authors Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Michael Frayn and people who went on to become professors of Russian.

In 1956, the Bodmin site closed. The personal and equipment transferred to Crail on the Firth of Forth, in Scotland, where the school operated until 1959.

Sources listed in the booklet

Secret Classrooms: An Untold Story of the Cold War, Geoffrey Elliot and Harold Shukman

Comrade Jim: The Spy Who Played for Spartak, Jim Riordan

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