Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Privileged Diplomatic Native Interpreter

Over at The Liaison Interpreter, which you can reach instantly through the Liaison Interpreting in Japan link on my side panel, there was a very striking action photo this week of Major Arthur Herbert Birse, CBE, born 1889, the Briton who was assigned to accompany Winston Churchill as interpreter at several of the latter’s meetings with Stalin. Birse was brought up in an English family in pre-Soviet Russia and was bilingual from childhood, but didn't train as an interpreter. In fact he was a banker by profession who happened to be called up as a British army officer in wartime. He tells a good story of a late-night drinking session between the two leaders.

The photo is perceptively analysed.

(Footnote: Out of nostalgia, I once tried to stay at the old hotel in Moscow — I forget the name — where Birse had been lodged, but I was turned away because I didn’t have an Intourist reservation.)