You may have heard of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) officers, better known as the ‘Monuments Men’ – if you haven’t seen Clooney’s movie, maybe you have read this blog on art looted by the Nazis in Bruges. Both focused on the essential part these special officers of the Allied armies played in the recovery of looted works of art during and after the Second World War.
But it seemed to me that their action to safeguard historic monuments located on the European battlefields was less known. As a placement student from the Institut National du Patrimoine, the French school which provides training for curators, I thought that my seven weeks at The National Archives would be a great opportunity to investigate some of the records held here on the subject. I was especially curious to know more about what the Monuments Men had done in Normandy after D-Day.
Someone with only art and architecture in mind might feel the Allies could not have chosen a worse region for their landing operations. Normandy is rich in monuments, including some of the world’s architectural treasures, such as Mont Saint-Michel or the cathedral of Rouen. It also has a great deal of churches, castles or ancient houses ‘which while [they can] not rank as artistic or historic monuments of the first order, yet [possess] such interest or charm as to make their loss deplorable’ (T 209/13). In 1944, their number was actually so high that it ‘horrified’ the Allied Command, as Lt. Geoffrey Webb, head of the MFAA, reported at the time (T 209/2). Continue reading »