II World War Damage

From the summer of 1943 to the end of 1945 a special Anglo-American military unit  operated in Italy with the aim of protecting and salvaging  Italian cultural heritage threatened by the war.

These present the failures as well as the successes of the organization, and provide a wealth of valuable lessons relating to the protection of heritage in wartime, many of which are equally applicable today.The “Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-Commission” (MFAA), which included prominent Anglo-American museum directors, art historians, archaeologists and scholars wearing the military uniforms of their countries, was established not only to record the damage, loss, or survival of historic monuments and collections but also to create a photographic record of its activities in the field.

A large set of photographs, as well as reports, documentation and publications produced by the MFAA,  was deposited in the Archive of the British School at Rome (BSR)  thanks to the dual role played by John Bryan Ward-Perkins as both BSR Director (1945-xxxx) and as first an officer, and subsequently (July 1945) director of the MFAA  in Italy. Ward-Perkins brought  this material with him to the BSR when he moved hereafter the war. These records, therefore, represent an outstanding source of evidence and experience  to inform and develop best practice for protection of contemporary cultural heritage in conflict.

Ward-Perkins was serving in the Royal Artillery in North Africa in 1943, under the command of the famous British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, his pre-war mentor. With Wheeler, he undertook some of the earliest systematic British efforts to protect cultural heritage in the war, especially at the great Roman sites of Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Libya that had just come under British military occupation. In late 1943 he became a formal member of the MFAA in Italy, where he served until the end of the war when he was appointed director of the BSR.

Allied military authorities and official publishers also produced a range of printed booklets to support the cultural heritage protection efforts of the MFAA and military government officers, copies of which are preserved in the BSR archive.

They include (right) condensed versions of regional lists of cultural sites for use in the field, US Army civil affairs handbooks on cultural sites in Italy, and (left) a two volumes of Works of Art in Italy: Losses and Survival in the War, published immediately after the war to record war damage. The BSR also has copies of the detailed typescript region-by-region final reports of the MFAA, written in 1945-46.

These present the failures as well as the successes of the organization, and provide a wealth of valuable lessons relating to the protection of heritage in wartime, many of which are equally applicable today.

These materials, along with the BSR’s archival photographs, have provided evidence for recent research into the MFAA and the value of its experiences to modern cultural property protection. These include:

Carlotta Coccoli, Monumenti violati: Danni bellici e riparazioni in Italia nel 1943-1945. Il ruolo degli alleati (Florence: Nardini Editore, 2017)  

Nigel Pollard, Bombing Pompeii: World Heritage & Military Necessity (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2020).

Nevertheless, the most extraordinary legacy of this archive is the collection of 1,047 silver gelatin photographic prints that provide a visual account of the actions of the Monuments Officers in Italian territory. These images depict damaged buildings, inspections and restoration work that can be linked to field reports written by MFAA officers in the course of their duties. They also depict MFAA officers and soldiers conducting their activities in the field, including the recovery and return to Florence of works of art that had been moved by German troops to Campo Tures and San Leonardo in South Tyrol. These archival photographs help us to grasp visually the destruction of cultural patrimony that faced Italians and monuments officers during the Second World War, as well as the scale of the efforts that were made to recover it. These resources help us to identify and evaluate historical lessons that can still contribute to preservation and protection of global cultural heritage amidst today’s armed conflicts.