It has been more than 70 years since the British Army last had the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives sections during the Second World War.
Their job was to protect, stabilise and recover cultural property on the battlefields of North Africa, Italy and, after D-Day, across northern Europe.
Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, an Army Reservist and former tank commander during Desert Storm, is Chairman of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group, which has been working since early 2014 towards the return of the ‘Monuments Men’ to the frontline of the British Army.
This blog will follow that journey.
The first meetings of the Military Cultural Property Protection Working Group took place at the Defence Academy at Shrivenham in Oxfordshire, hosted by Victoria Syme-Taylor, Head of Military Outreach at King’s College London who was based in the Academy’s building. Victoria was already looking at inserting cultural property protection into the courses being run for military officers at the Defence Academy.
Led at the Working Group meeting on 28th April by Army educator, Maj Al Mason from the Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU), we looked at the skill sets required by a Cultural Property Protection (CPP) officer. This process ended up with a whiteboard covered, in an orderly fashion of course, with different coloured stickies each labelled with a skill. This first step helped Al to write the Operational Performance Statement (OPS) which would then define what future CPP officers would need to be taught on their Special to Arm trade course as they came into a future military CPP unit. We also discussed around the table what was happening in academia and at the international level with CPP. The next meeting was fixed for December.