Louis Allen Papers

Scope and Content

Sources and working papers largely related to Louis Allen's research on Japan and World War II. The primary sources include original documents (partly collected during Allen's own war service in the Far East) and much material in transcript and photocopy. There is also later correspondence concerning Allen's involvement in attempts to develop understanding between British and Japanese ex-servicemen by arranging visits of parties of ex-servicemen to each other's countries; scholarly correspondence; drafts of Louis Allen's books; and extensive correspondence with ex-servicemen and others relating to reactions to his book on the war in Burma.

Administrative / Biographical History

Louis Allen (1922-1991) was born Louis Levy, of Lithuanian Jewish and Irish Catholic parentage, at Redcar in Yorkshire, and was educated at the University of Manchester and the Sorbonne. Japan's entry into World War II in December 1941 gave the intelligence services an urgent need for recruits with a knowledge of Japanese. Having graduated in French from Manchester and joined the Seahawk Infantry Battalion, Louis Levy was one of a small band of talented linguists recruited for the intensive language courses provided for the War Office by the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. In February 1943 he was sent on the Services translators' course in Japanese at SOAS, before being posted to New Delhi in 1944, where the headquarters of CSDIC, the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, and SEATIC, the South East Asia Translation and Interrogation Centre, were located.

While serving with the 17th Division in Burma in 1945, Levy recognised that a Japanese document captured by a forward patrol was a vital operation order outlining the plans for a massive Japanese break-out across the Sittang River in the final stages of the war. This was a crucial intelligence coup, and Levy was mentioned in despatches. After the Japanese surrender he was employed on liaison work, persuading Japanese soldiers in the jungle that hostilities had ended, and as a language officer for four months at Payagyi camp for Japanese surrendered personnel, north of Pegu in southern Burma, where he was involved in interviewing Japanese staff officers on the development of Japanese strategic planning. In 1946 he was twice posted to French Indo-China to help organise the evacuation of Japanese troops. He kept in touch with some of the Japanese soldiers he encountered until the end of his life, and his war-time experiences set in train his life-long efforts for reconciliation and mutual understanding between British and Japanese.

After the war Levy adopted his mother's maiden name, Allen. He returned to academic life, and a career as lecturer (later Reader) in French at the University of Durham, but became best known as a historian of Japan and World War II, and as a broadcaster on programmes such as Round Britain Quiz and the arts review Kaleidoscope. He wrote five books on the war in the Pacific, and numerous articles on Japanese history, politics, and literature. Meticulously researched and even-handed in their treatment of evidence, his books sought to extend understanding of the experience of ordinary Japanese as well as British soldiers. This balanced approach at times provoked controversy, seen particularly in reactions to his translation, with Hidè Ishiguro, of Yuji Aida's Prisoner of the British, and in the responses to his own book, Burma, the longest war.

In retirement Louis Allen continued his work for Anglo-Japanese mutual understanding through increasing involvement in an enterprise to sponsor contacts and exchange visits between Japanese and British ex-servicemen who had served in Burma. He was also active in both the European Association for Japanese Studies, and the British Association for Japanese Studies, of which he was president in 1980.

Conditions Governing Access

Not yet open for consultation, pending sorting and listing.

Acquisition Information

Purchased, together with Louis Allen's library on Japan, from the Allen family, 1997 (accession 1997/98:3)

Other Finding Aids

This collection description only.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

The papers will be appraised as sorting and listing proceeds.


Aida, Yuji, Prisoner of the British: a Japanese soldier's experience in Burma, translated by Hidè Ishiguro and Louis Allen (London, 1966)  Allen, Louis, Burma, the longest war, 1941-45 (London, 1984)  Allen, Louis, The end of the war in Asia (London, 1976)  Allen, Louis, Japan, the years of triumph: from feudal isolation to Pacific empire (London, 1971)  Allen, Louis, Singapore 1941-1942 (London, 1977)  Allen, Louis, Sittang, the last battle: the end of the Japanese in Burma (London, 1973)  Oba, Sadao, The 'Japanese' war: London University's WWII secret teaching programme and the experts sent to help beat Japan, translated by Anne Kaneko (Folkestone, 1995)