Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Caiger, George (1903–1991)

by N. T. McLennan

This article was published online in 2019

George Caiger (1903–1991), teacher, author, broadcaster, and army officer, was born on 9 January 1903 in Brisbane, only surviving child of English-born parents Jasper Stoneman Caiger, Anglican priest, and his wife Edith Maud Mary, née Godwin, a former nurse. George’s twin brother, Harry, died in infancy. In 1908 the family returned to Britain. George was educated at Denstone College (1914–22), Staffordshire, and St John’s College, Oxford, where he completed a second-class honours degree in English (1925). He played rugby for St John’s and the university and served as a lieutenant in the East Lancashire Regiment of the Territorial Army.

In 1925 Caiger joined the teaching staff of Sedbergh School in Yorkshire. Three years later he took leave of absence to teach English, French, and economics at The Armidale School, New South Wales, Australia. There he met Nancy Roberta Constance Rendle, who was working at the New England Girls’ School. On 26 June 1929 the couple married at the Anglican Church of St Margaret’s, Sandgate, Brisbane. They travelled to England and George resumed at Sedbergh. He would later claim that Yorkshire’s poor weather prompted him to accept a position to teach English at Musashi Koto Gakko, a private high school in Tokyo. By September 1930 he and Nancy had arrived in Japan. He obtained further work lecturing at Peers’ School. Immersing himself in Japanese language, history, and culture, he wrote and edited several books, including English language textbooks, guide books, and pictorial volumes. From 1938 to 1939 he was president of the Association of Foreign Teachers in Japan.

Following the outbreak of World War II, the family returned to Australia. By June, Caiger was working as a censor for the army in Sydney. On 10 April 1941 he joined the Citizen Military Forces and, having risen to captain in the Intelligence Corps, transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in September 1942. From March 1943 he was assigned to the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section, located in Brisbane. Placed in charge of the information section, he was given the task of extracting and indexing data derived from captured documents and interrogation reports. He was promoted to major in December 1943. In June 1945 he relocated with ATIS to Manila, Philippines. A skilled linguist, he was one of a small group entrusted to translate documents and accompany Japanese emissaries during surrender negotiations commencing on 19 August. Later that month he was part of the advance party to enter Japan. The American head of ATIS, Colonel Sidney Mashbir, commended his abilities, noting that General Douglas MacArthur had made ‘important decisions’ based on Caiger’s ‘extensive knowledge and understanding of Japan and the Japanese people’ (NAA B883).

Returning to Sydney in late 1945, Caiger transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 18 December. Hoping that his wartime experience would lead to a diplomatic career, he applied to the Department of External Affairs, but without success. He then freelanced as a journalist and gave numerous public lectures, before being engaged to organise the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) radio program ‘The Nation’s Forum of the Air.’ Seeking to enhance Australians’ knowledge of the region, he compiled (1946–48) the East Asia Newsletter. In 1948 he was appointed general secretary of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and undertook (1949) an international tour of similar organisations in Canada, the United States of America, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and South Africa with the support of a Carnegie Foundation grant.

After Caiger’s younger son, Michael, was diagnosed with Down syndrome, he and Nancy sought alternatives to institutional care. In March 1951 they became founding members of the Mosman District Auxiliary of the Subnormal Children’s Welfare Association. Over the years that followed, they helped to establish schools and supported accommodation for children with disabilities. George was also employed briefly as secretary of the association before returning (1952) to the ABC, attached to the talks department. In 1955 he was appointed public relations officer at the New South Wales University of Technology, a position that afforded him ‘a real measure of stability for the next decade’ (Caiger MS Acc08/124). Describing himself as an ‘opsimath’ (mature student) he relished the opportunity to learn about the research undertaken at the university and to promote it within and beyond the campus.

Caiger retired in late 1966. By then grey haired, bespectacled, and sporting a trim moustache, he judged it better to leave while in good health. Soon after, he and Nancy returned to Tokyo for a year. While there he renewed the acquaintance of several of his former students and taught part time in the Department of English and American Literature at Rikkyo University. Nancy, a founding member of the Sydney chapter of Ikebana International, undertook further training and later became a director of the association. An engaging speaker and prodigious writer, he continued to pen radio scripts and articles on a range of subjects including Japanese life and psychology, the Australian way of life, and the English language in Australia. After Nancy’s death in 1987, he went to Canberra where his son, John, was a lecturer in Asian studies at the Australian National University. Survived by his two sons, he died on 6 May 1991 in Canberra.

Research edited by Joy McCann

Select Bibliography

  • ABC Weekly. ‘A.B.C. Man Tutored Emperor’s Brother.’ 9 November 1946, 13
  • General Headquarters Far East Command, Military Intelligence Section. Operations of the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section GHQ, SWPA. Intelligence Series, vol. 5. [Tokyo]: The Command, [c. 1948]
  • Mashbir, Sidney Forrester. I Was an American Spy. New York: Vantage Press, 1953
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX123363
  • National Archives of Australia. SP368/1, 7/13/15
  • National Library of Australia. MS Acc06/75, Papers of George Caiger, c. 1920–1991
  • National Library of Australia. MS Acc08/124, Papers of George Caiger, c. 1920–1991
  • Redman, Sir Vere. ‘Foreign Teachers in Japan. G. Caiger: Undying Love Affair.’ Asahi Evening News, 30 November 1967, 6

Additional Resources

Citation details

N. T. McLennan, 'Caiger, George (1903–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/caiger-george-27850/text35602, published online 2019, accessed online 26 June 2019.

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