From Asia Times:
The 1950s in Britain was a decade of post-war reconstruction, growing prosperity and conscription, when some 2.5 million young men had to do their “national service” in the name of queen and country.
For most it meant endless square-bashing and a fairly mindless submission to authority, but for a lucky few it involved discipline of the mind rather than the body. For over 5,000 conscripts this meant learning Russian, and their little known story was vividly told in Secret Classrooms by Geoffrey Elliott and Harold Shukman (2002). A much smaller number, under 300, spent their national service studying Chinese, and this is the topic of this fascinating study by three men who were drafted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the 1950s.
The decision to teach a select group of servicemen Russian or Chinese was closely linked to the Cold War, for clearly it was necessary to know the enemy’s language if we were to have any idea of what Moscow and Peking (Beijing) were thinking and planning. Not that most of the recruits gave grand strategy a great deal of thought.