Charles Ralph Boxer
A reflection on the life of this great historian, who died in April 2000.
He lived for almost the entire twentieth century and died not too many miles from his birthplace in the south of England. But in between, he saw the world from a perspective shared by few. From his assignment in a Japanese Army regiment as a young British Army officer, to the life of author and professor, Charles Boxer was anything but ordinary.
Readers of this magazine probably know him best for his articles and books revealing the intricacies of the era of Portuguese and Dutch exploration and colonisation of Asia, Africa and South America. In this arena he stands a full head above any other scholar, and students of this field have appreciated his work for the past four decades and will undoubtedly will continue to do so for decades to come.
It would not be surprising that in ninety-six years of life, a man of such intellect would have had more than one career. What is remarkable in the case of Boxer is the diversity of his experiences and how he achieved them. When he went to Nara in Japan, barely twenty years after the Russo-Japanese war, he learned to speak fluent Japanese, but he also began his lifelong quest to under-stand the East. In the process, he developed key Japanese relationships and collected information which would prove invaluable in his next career as an intelligence officer in Hong Kong in the years before the war with Japan.
Even though he was a staff officer there, when the invasion finally occurred he found himself in the thick of the fighting. Wounded and left lying in a ditch over-night, he was rescued but barely alive and spent the entire war recovering in a POW hospital. Despite the harshness of his treatment at the hands of his captors, he never spoke ill of the Japanese after the war. In fact he visited Japan in his later years and was warmly received.