Curated Article

Specialized British Army Unit to protect historical sites

A former Gulf War tank commander is recruiting to form a specialist unit that will protect cultural heritage in war zones, similar to the famed Monuments Men who saved artistic treasures during the Second World War.

Editorial Comment

While not specifically archaeology this article grabbed my attention because I have always thought the US military needed units like this. Protecting artifacts like those looted from the National Museum in Iraq in 2003 should be a priority. Problem with war is that I have noticed that people there have other things to do. Worry about the swell ancient statue tomorrow, if we’re here to worry about anything.

It’s important not only from the angle of protecting human heritage. Selling off antiquities is always a great income stream for groups with nefarious intent. Like ISIS for example.

I like the voluntary nature of the units assembly. A person would have to have a passion and commitment to the cause. I can see the results of asking the average soldier to go possibly die protecting a painting. That kind of order might get a Hawaiian good luck sign in the heat of combat.

Bravo Zulu to you Col. Purbrick for paying attention ahead of time.

British Army starts recruiting for revived Monuments Men unit to protect art and archaeology in war

By: Nick Squires
The new British Army unit is inspired, in part, by Allied teams in the Second World War that were depicted in film The Monuments Men
Photo Credit: CLAUDETTE BARIUS/AP

A former Gulf War tank commander is recruiting experts to form a specialist unit that will protect cultural heritage in war zones, similar to the role carried out by the famed Monuments Men who saved artistic treasures from the Nazis during the Second World War.

Lt Colonel Tim Purbrick, who took part in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 as a 26-year-old subaltern, has just taken up command of the newly-created Cultural Property Protection Unit. So far he is commander of one soldier – himself – but has identified a number of specialists, including an Arabic-speaking archeologist and an underwater archeologist, and will start interviewing potential recruits next week.

“It’s a revival of the Monuments Men, which was disbanded at the end of the Second World War, We’re looking for experts in the fields of art, archeology and art crime investigation.” Lt Col Purbrick, 54, of the Royal Lancers, said.

The British team also draws inspiration from the Art Looting Intelligence Unit, set up in 1944 by the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, to try to recover paintings and artifacts plundered by the Germans.

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