Sir Hilary Jenkinson of the Public Record Office: An Archivist Monuments Man

This is the eighth in an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men. Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Bradsher. See related posts on Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, Walter J. Huchthausen, Seymour J. Pomrenze, Mason Hammond, Edith Standen, Karol Estreicher, and S. Lane Faison.

The forthcoming movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II.  Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals. This post focuses on British archivist Hilary Jenkinson, and is the eight in the series of blogs on the Monuments Men.

Charles Hilary Jenkinson, born in London on November 1, 1882, was educated at Dulwich College and Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1904.  Two years later he joined the staff of the Public Record Office (PRO, now the National Archives of the United Kingdom), where he worked as a processing and reference archivist.  During World War I he served in the artillery in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1918, and then worked at the War Office until 1920.  He returned to the PRO, where in 1922 he authored Manual of Archive Administration (which was republished in a second edition in 1937).  In 1938, Jenkinson was appointed secretary and principal assistant keeper of the PRO.  In 1943, the year he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), he was appointed to the War Office to advise on the protection of archives in occupied enemy territory.
On February 21, 1944, acting in his capacity of Archives Advisor to the War Office, Jenkinson arrived in Italy to oversee the work of the Archives section of the MFA&A Sub-Commission of the Allied Control Commission (ACC).  He used every opportunity to call attention
to the special danger to which Archives are subject owing to their unique character, to their easy destructibility, to the fact that they may be damaged almost as irretrievably by dispersal as by actual destruction, and to the general ignorance even among men who might be expected to appreciate the possible value of a picture or sculpture, of the possible value of stores of papers or registers; especially when these are not obviously antique.
For Jenkinson and Fred W. Shipman (Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, acting as Temporary Archives Adviser to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Sub-commission of the ACC) who came to Italy six weeks after Jenkinson to review the archival situation, a major challenge was trying to ensure that those involved in the exploitation of captured records and archives for intelligence purposes understood the archival principles that applied to them, e.g., original order., as well as their importance in administration.  They were able to have produced policies and instructions providing guidance to those encountering and exploiting records and archives.  After dealing with the intelligence officers, they turned their attention to “records of historical interest and current administrative value to the communities.”  They were also able to have their respective countries send archivists for duty in Italy and arranged for archivists to be attached to the armies to go forward with the troops to better control the handling and exploitation of records when needed for intelligence purposes, as well as for the protection of historic archives in areas occupied by Allied forces.
Back at the PRO after his Italian sojourn, and after the Normandy invasion, Jenkinson provided advice to the military about the importance of current records and archives and the necessity for their protection from destruction and souvenir hunters.  He held meetings with intelligence officers to discuss the handling and exploitation of records and archives and during August he fired off two letters to Sir Leonard Woolley at the War Office, who was providing advice and helping establish policies and procedures that would guide the Monuments Men in their work on the continent in 1944 and 1945, about archival issues.
Acting on Jenkinson’s advice and that of others, on August 20, General Eisenhower issued a letter on the preservation of archives which marked the first concrete definition of policy on archives as distinct from monuments and works of art.  This letter stated:
Accumulations of documents connected with business of all kinds, public and private, secular and ecclesiastical, are to be found in all towns. Some of these Archives date from early times, others from the present day; but whatever may be their intrinsic worth, all have great value for every kind of research and organization, and may be of considerable importance to the Intelligence Service and to agencies concerned with the reconstitution of civil life.
The importance of these Archives lies in the fact that not only do they contain valuable information, but also they are continuous series of related documents. They may be almost as effectively ruined by the displacement of a few documents as by the destruction or dispersal of the whole. Moreover, their value as evidence depends largely on their continuous preservation in authorized custody.
In order to insure that Archives are not destroyed or damaged, all buildings in which they are house will, where practicable, be put out of bounds to all troops. Should it be essential to occupy parts of such buildings, the necessary steps will be taken, in consultation with the responsible custodians, to insure that there is no access to the Archives except for officers duly authorized by Army Group Commanders.
Important archives are for the most part kept in official buildings, but, in order to insure that none are overlooked, the local authorities in all large towns will be consulted as to their whereabouts.
At the request of the military during the summer and fall of 1944 Jenkinson prepared a document on the preservation, care, and use of archives, as well as an appendix, briefly summarizing the nature and location of important German archives.  Thanks to his efforts, in the revised Directive for Military Government of Germany prior to Defeat or Surrender, issued November 9, 1944, an important and comprehensive section on “Records and Archives” was added. This directive set forth that the Supreme Commander’s policy was to ensure the preservation from destruction, alteration or concealment of all German records, documents, plans or archives of value to the attainment of the objectives of Military government.  Commanders were directed to take such steps as might be necessary to carry out the above policy; seize and hold records and archives of interest to military government; supervise the custody and preservation of records and archives and make provision for their availability to authorized persons; prevent removal of records and archives unless required by military purposes or for safe preservation; use care in the handling of records and archives; take steps to ensure that no unnecessary or wanton damage was done to German records and archives by troops; require German authorities to give any assistance needed; and, ensure that responsibility for the preservation of records and archives was placed on all military commanders.
During the last six months of World War II, and until late 1945, Jenkinson continued to play a role in the development of policies and procedures regarding German records and archives.
In 1947 he was promoted to Deputy Keeper (chief executive officer) of the PRO and that same year, with H. E. Bell, for the British Committee on the Preservation and Restitution of Works of Art, Archives and Other Material in Enemy Hands, published Italian Archives During the War and At Its Close (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1947).  He was knighted in 1949 and retired from the PRO in 1954.  The following year he was elected the President of the Society of Archivists, holding that position until 1961, the year he died.

Both the National Archives and Records Administration and the National Archives of the United Kingdom, one of our partners in the International Research Portal for Records Relating to Nazi-Era Cultural Property, have substantial documentation about Jenkinson’s MFA&A activities.  The latter archives also holds his personal papers (the archival reference for that collection is PRO 30/75).

One thought on “Sir Hilary Jenkinson of the Public Record Office: An Archivist Monuments Man

  1. I saw Dr. Jenkinson’s name in an appendix to , but could find neither text nor index entry for him. Thanx for clearing this up! I’ll send it to my intenrs.
    Larry Hibpshman, Senior Archivist
    Alaska State Archives

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