Site menu:

Subscribe to email updates


Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

The National Archives began to think, after the invasion of North Africa in World War II, of the practical importance of records in connection with the government of conquered territory.  Archivist of the United States Solon J. Buck and senior National Archives official Oliver W. Holmes took an active interest in the proper organization of archives in enemy and other occupied territory and, according to The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, “were primarily responsible for establishing plans and personnel for the effective preservation of much of this irreplaceable documentary material.” Also taking an interest in the fate of archives and records in Europe was Dr. Ernst Posner, professor of archival administration at American University.

Ernst Maximilian Posner, born in Berlin on August 9, 1892, attended the University of Berlin and served in the peacetime military.  When World War I began he rejoined the infantry and saw action on both the western and eastern fronts, and before he was mustered out in December 1918, he had been awarded both first and second class of the Iron Cross.  He then resumed his studies at the University of Berlin, where he received his doctorate in 1920, and that year he became an archivist with the Prussian State Privy Archives.  As a result of the Nuremberg laws of 1935, he was involuntarily pensioned off from his position.

In 1938, deciding it was time for he and his wife to leave Germany, Posner made a two-month trip to the United State to explore job prospects.  While in this country he delivered, in English, a lecture at the National Archives in April on German archival administration.  Despite Buck thinking highly of Posner he was not in a position to offer employment.  Posner returned to Germany, and then in November, after the Kristallnacht riots, he was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.  In January 1939, thanks in part to Buck’s assistance, American University offered Posner a lectureship in archival administration.  It was not until much later that year he was able to get to the United States, where, in the fall of 1939, he began teaching, with Buck, a two-semester course entitled “The History and Administration of Archives” at American University. After Buck became Archivist of the United States in 1941, Posner taught the course by himself. Besides teaching archives administration he subsequently taught in the History Department, including, among others, courses on the Middle Ages, Europe, Germany, and historical research.

Posner’s suggestive paper, entitled “Public Records Under Military Occupation,” first read to a small luncheon group at the National Archives on May 5, 1943 and soon thereafter published by the National Archives, was the spark that, according to Holmes, “suddenly lit our sluggish imagination and opened our eyes to the importance of protecting records as a military measure.” 

Posner’s paper prompted Fred Waldo Shipman, Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, NY, who had listened to Posner’s presentation, to write a memorandum the next day to President Roosevelt in which he set forth the importance of protecting records in war areas, both for their eventual usefulness to military government and for their cultural value. Two days later Roosevelt read the memorandum at one of his regular cabinet meetings and asked that the members give the problem their attention and issue any orders required to ensure that records in war areas were given necessary protection.

Following up on Roosevelt’s interest and concern, on May 8, General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, sent cables to Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower (then Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces) and Jacob L. Devers (then commander of European Theater of Operations, United States Army) that it was felt that the great loss suffered in the past because local archives in cities and towns had been destroyed could be avoided during the war if special care was taken to preserve such archives.  He informed them that the President was anxious that every effort possible be made for their preservation at the time of initial occupation and during the period of occupation, and all appropriate commanders in the field were directed to issue the necessary instructions to prevent damage to archives in localities occupied.

The first full meeting of the American Council of Learned Societies’ Committee on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas took place on in New York City on June 25. At the meeting, Buck, who was a member of the committee, expressed the hope that archival material would not be overlooked and that information concerning this material was readily available in the National Archives.  Copies of Posner’s paper were circulated and Buck stated that Posner would be interested in helping to prepare a full inventory of archival institutions of Europe.

On July 9, William B. Dinsmoor, acting in his capacity as chairman of the Committee on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas and the committee’s executive secretary Sumner Crosby met with Maj. Gen. J. H. Hilldring, Chief of the Civil Affairs Division of the War Department.  At this meeting Hilldring approved the committee’s idea of providing the War Department with cultural maps.  Five days later Dinsmoor wrote Hilldring that the committee was proceeding with the greatest possible speed in the preparation of maps of cities in European war areas, beginning with Italy.  He noted that the collection of the factual data to accompany the maps was proceeding in collaboration with the Library of Congress, National Archives, and the Smithsonian Institution and that on July 15 they were preparing to start a similar program at the Frick Art Reference Library.

Early in July, Dinsmoor and Crosby visited the National Archives and asked for its advice and cooperation in the development of lists of cultural monuments, treasures, and institutions to be made available to the armed forces, the military authorities having already indicated to these committee officials that such lists would be welcome and highly useful. A plan for the compilation and furnishing of such information by the National Archives on archival repositories in Europe was presented and agreed upon.

Most of the needed information was in the National Archives library, but a person of Posner’s background, knowledge, and general ability was required to interpret and organize it in usable form. Posner was eager to help.  The National Archives furnished overall supervision, materials, typing assistance, and assistance in revision, and editing; and, according to Holmes, Posner addressed the project “with his customary energy and efficiency in the months that followed, giving, except for his classes, almost full time to the project.”  Work was begun on archival repositories in Italy a few days before the invasion of Sicily on July 10. Before that campaign was over, information as to the name, location, official head, holdings, and buildings for some 140 archival repositories had been furnished on four-by-six inch cards to Dinsmoor’s committee.  Similar information to that produced on Italian archives was furnished for archival repositories in Greece, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Bulgaria in August.  Before the end of September, similar material had been furnished for about 370 archival repositories in France.

At the end of August, Buck, in sending a copy of the National Archives-Posner 29-page listing of archival repositories to Hilldring, wrote that the National Archives had been compiling for and sending to the Committee on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas data concerning archival repositories in various countries.  He noted that the National Archives had furnished data on archival repositories to the committee for Italy, Greece, Rumania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia and they were nearly ready for France. These data, he wrote, were supplied in the form of slips, in order that they may be readily combined with data from other sources. Buck wrote that the National Archives had put together the data concerning Italian archival repositories and reproduced it in a limited number of hectographed copies, one of which he was transmitting. He asked Hilldring whether, in his opinion, similar assembled lists of archival repositories in other countries would be likely to be of sufficient use to justify the National Archives proceeding to produce the hectographed copies for other countries, in addition, of course, to the combined data that would be supplied by the Committee on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas.  Upon his receipt of “Archival Repositories in Italy,” Hilldring had a copy immediately sent to General Eisenhower, where it was intended that it be distributed to the proper officer for use in protection of archives within Italy.

On September 7, Hilldring responded to Buck that until the War Department had received reports on the usefulness of the Italian list he was not in a position to say whether the National Archives should prepare similar assembled lists for other countries. If possible, however, he informed Buck that he believed that the project should be coordinated with pending studies of the newly established American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe (in 1944 “Europe” changed to “War Areas”).  He added that on August 25, the Commission had held its organizational meeting and appointed various committees to consider the whole problem of protecting works and materials of cultural, historical, and scientific value in countries occupied by the Allies.  Hilldring wrote that he was hopeful that one result of these studies would include the Commission’s preparation of a comprehensive program for the protection and restitution of all such works and materials.  Such a program might well contain specific recommendations covering the points raised by Buck’s letter, if the Commission considered that archival repositories and materials were included within its responsibilities.  Hilldring noted that he agreed with Buck that every practicable effort should be taken to preserve local archives, and that the War Department would be glad to consider any specific additional measures consistent with military necessity that the National Archives might recommend.  He added that ample general instructions had already been issued for all efforts to be made to preserve local archives and to utilize the information contained therein.

As it turned out, the Committee, the Commission, and the War Department welcomed the assistance the National Archives provided, all realizing the importance of archives and archival institutions.  Much of the information on archival repositories in enemy-occupied territory that the National Archives furnished army authorities was incorporated onto maps prepared by the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas and published and distributed by the Military Government Division of the Provost Marshal General (PMG)’s Office.  Lists of archival repositories and information on record keeping practices of existing agencies were also furnished directly to the PMG’s Office, which distributed them to overseas theaters of operations.  These lists contained the names, location, official head, holdings and buildings for 1,619 important archival repositories in Europe.  When these lists of archival repositories were received they were generally used as reference tools by Intelligence units and the information in them incorporated on maps used by bomber commands. They were also distributed to the Monuments Men of the various Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives units for the purpose of identifying and checking on the fate of important archival collections, and subsequently providing for their care and protection.

For additional information regarding Posner, the National Archives, and the protection of European archives see Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165; The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, Report of The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1946); Oliver W. Holmes, “The National Archives and the Protection of Records in War Areas,” American Archivist, Vol. IX No. 2 (April 1946), pp. 110-127;  and, Rodney A. Ross, “Ernst Posner: The Bridge Between the Old World and the New,” The American Archivist, Vol. 44 No. 4(Fall 1981), pp. 304-313.


Today’s post is written by David Pfeiffer, a reference archivist at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

There has always been public interest in railroad accident reports, especially by genealogists eager to learn the circumstances of an accident that an ancestor was involved in.  The National Archives at College Park textual reference has accident report summaries and accident investigation case files dating between 1911 and 1993.

A typical example of these accident reports is the accident report file of a head-on collision between two freight trains of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad operating under the Chessie System near Orleans Road, West Virginia, on February 12, 1980, which was recently requested by a researcher.  The accident involved one fatality.  The fireman on the train designated Extra #4367 West was killed and three others were injured.  The engineer of Extra #6474 East was also injured.  At the time of the accident, the weather was clear and the temperature was 30 degrees.

The following is a chronology of the accident according to excerpts from the accident report.   After testing the brakes, the train of Extra #6374 East left Cumberland, Maryland, at 4:50 a.m., with two locomotives, 111 cars, and a caboose and a crew of four, including the engineer, conductor, brakeman and flagman.   Extra #4367, which had originated in Philadelphia, left Brunswick, Maryland, at 4:21 a.m., with two locomotives, 42 loaded flat cars, and a caboose.  The crew consisted of an engineer, fireman, brakeman, conductor, and flagman.   The report states:

“[Extra 4367 West] was on the left hand track (#2 Main) at about 45 miles per hour and passed a signal at Milepost 137 that was observed displaying an approach indication.  A brake application was made with the intention of stopping clear of the westward signal located just west of Milepost 139 (near Orleans Road)… The engineer dimmed his lights after seeing a reflection on the tracks.  He thought that the approaching train was on the other (#1 Main) track.  Visibility on the curve was restricted to about 400 yards by a wooded ridge on the inside of the curve.  After realizing that a collision was imminent, there was very little time to take action.  The train was travelling at 30 mph when the collision occurred approximately 1/2 mile east of MP 139.  The leading locomotive was derailed and the right side was demolished by trailing cars in the train which overran the unit.  The second locomotive and seven cars derailed, however the rest of the train was undamaged.”

Since the engineer of Extra 6474 East sustained brain injuries, the precise order of events from the standpoint of that train could not be determined.  Apparently, however, the speed of the train increased after passing a signal displaying an approach (slow down and stop at the next signal) aspect.  The speed of the train was 24 mph at the time of the collision, which resulted in the derailment of both locomotives and ten cars.

Estimated damages to equipment and track consisted of four locomotives, 18 freight cars, and track for a total of $1,579,550.  The official cause of the accident according to the field investigator was that the “engineman of Extra 6474 East failed to operate the train in accordance with signal indications.”

This accident report file (A-4-80) was included in the Accident Investigation Report Files, 1969-93, in the records of the Federal Railroad Administration (Record Group 399) which are by far the largest series of accident reports (172 cubic feet).  These files typically include the factual accident report, copies of the railroad rules and regulations that relate to the accident, other railroad publications including timetables, statements of witnesses to the accident, railroad test and inspection data reports, railroad bulletins and notices, railroad investigation reports, and drawings and photographs of the wreckage at the accident site.  These records have not been completely processed and there are privacy issues especially with medical information and witness reports in the files.

The National Archives at College Park textual reference has custody of several record series of railroad accident reports.  In the records of the Interstate Commerce Commission (Record Group 134), there are the Railroad Accident Investigation Reports, 1911-63.  These records include summaries of accident report investigations. In the records of the Federal Railroad Administration (Record Group 399), there are several series of reports, including the Reports of Investigations of Railroad Accidents, 1950-64, and the Published Accident Reports, 1947-60, which are additional summaries.  The Railroad Accident Investigation Jackets, 1969-71, and the aforementioned Accident Investigation Report Files, 1969-93, include the actual case files of the accident investigations.

There are also Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) accident report databases, dating after 1968, in the custody of the National Archives Center for Electronic Records.

The researcher of these records should keep in mind that in order to search these records, textual reference needs to know the name of the railroad and the location and date of the accident.  Textual reference also needs to know whether the Federal Railroad Administration or the National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident, if the accident is dated after 1968.  If the accident investigation was done by the NTSB, the National Archives does not have custody of the records.

If you are interested in requesting information from or copies of railroad accident reports, please contact

In addition, it is useful to note that the railroad accident reports summaries, dating 1911 to 1994, are available full-text online on the USDOT Library Special Collections website at

Today’s post, written by  Dr. Sylvia Nayloris the next installment to an ongoing series of posts on real-life Monuments Men. See related posts on Sir Charles Leonard WoolleyWalter J. HuchthausenSeymour J. PomrenzeMason HammondEdith StandenKarol EstreicherS. Lane FaisonSir Hilary JenkinsonWalter HornDouglas CooperRonald Balfour and Walter Hancock.


The newly released 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 it focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett respectively.  Beginning in December 2013, Dr. Greg Bradsher thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. I wanted to bring attention to Julianna Bumbar, a Monuments Woman who was actively engaged in restitution work in post-war Germany.

Julianna Bumbar was born on July 24, 1920 in Buffalo, New York.  Her parents, Elko and Mary Bumbar, were both born in Galicia to Ukrainian-speaking families and immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s.  Julianna completed high school and worked as a grocery packer before she enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on September 18, 1942, shortly after it was established.

In August 1945, 1st Lt. Bumbar reported for duty with the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Section, Reparations, Deliveries and Restitutions (RD&R) Division in Höchst, Germany.  She worked as administrative officer under Lt. Col. Mason Hammond, with whom she developed a close working relationship.  On November 26, 1945, Lt. Col. Hammond wrote a letter to “Julie” during a trip to the United States that provided her with both a summary of his travels and suggestions regarding ongoing restitution work.  He closed the letter as follows: “All my best to the boys. Sent you all a couple of packages for Xmas which will probably be too late for your Xmas party but may do at some point.”

While working in the Restitution Branch, Economics Division, Office of Military Government for Germany, US (OMGUS), Lt. Bumbar participated in several restitution tasks.  She was one of the three MFA&A officers who accompanied Dr. Karol Estreicher on the train carrying Nazi looted treasures, including Cracow’s Veit Stoss altarpiece, back to Poland.  After this restitution trip was complete, Lt. Bumbar prepared a detailed report titled “Informal Report Covering Return of Veit Stoss Altar and Cultural Objects to Poland,” dated May 24, 1946.  Traveling as the group’s interpreter, she described both the positive and the negative aspects of this endeavor.  She noted that the Polish people and officials were very grateful and enthusiastic and that the American delegation was received very warmly with the utmost honors.  The American delegation attended several events, including a dinner and dance hosted by the Polish Army.  During this event, the train commander, MFA&A officer Lt. Frank P. Albright, presented a toast, thanking the people of the city of Cracow and its organizations for the many hospitalities they extended.  His toast, translated into Polish by Lt. Bumbar, “was well received.”  In May 1946, the Polish Government officially recognized several MFA&A officers involved in the returning of looted objects, in particular the Veit Stoss altar.  Lt. Bumbar received the Silver Cross of Merit (Srebrny Krzyż Zasługi), a Polish civil state award.

[Click any image below to enlarge.]

Lt. Bumbar was honorably discharged in 1946 and joined the Air Force Reserve.  Upon returning to the United States, she married Edmund W. Glinski, a fellow World War II veteran.  She subsequently served in the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 and retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1962 with the rank of major.  Throughout her military career, she received the American Campaign Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.

Maj. Julianna B. Glinski died on May 11, 1995 after a brief illness.



Informal Report Covering Return of Veit Stoss Altar and Cultural Objects to Poland, May 24, 1946; Administrative Records, 1944-1951 (National Archives Identifier 2435799); Records Concerning the Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”): Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, 1945-1952 (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1947, roll 29); Records of the U.S. Occupation Headquarters, World War II, Record Group 260; National Archives at College Park, MD.

Today’s post comes to us from archivist Theresa Fitzgerald of the National Archives at St. Louis. Theresa has previously shared her expertise with us in a popular post on how to access veterans’ records and today she applies that knowledge to another topic we love, the Monuments Men.


The recently released film, The Monuments Men, has garnered interest in the efforts during World War II to preserve art, culture, and history. As anticipation grew for the movie’s release, the staff at the National Archives at St. Louis became interested in locating and studying the Official Military Personnel Files of the decorated veterans who were to become known as “Monuments Men.” The Official Military Personnel Files provide further detail into the men’s involvement and specific orders depicting their activities.

One record that elicited particular interest is that of Walker Kirtland Hancock. In the movie his character’s name is Sgt. Walter Garfield and he is played by fellow St. Louis native, John Goodman. Hancock was born on June 28, 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri, home to the National Personnel Records Center, the central repository of all Official Military Personnel Files for veterans spanning the course of the late 19th to the late 20th centuries.

Hancock began his education at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He proceeded to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the American Academy in Rome. Upon graduation he became the head of the sculpture department at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1929. During this period in his career he created many works of art: most notably for St. Louis are the statues of four monumental sculpture groups: Vision, Courage, Sacrifice, and Loyalty. These granite monuments were created between 1936 and 1938 and are located outside of the St. Louis Soldiers’ Memorial. In addition to honoring the military outside of the Soldier’s Memorial, Hancock performed his civic duty and registered with the Selective Service System on February 16, 1942.

[Click on any image below to enlarge.]

Hancock, Walker Kirtland (1) sss

Hancock, Walker Kirtland (2)sss

Hancock was drafted into the Army of the United States on October 12, 1942 and assigned serial number 31210708. He served with the Medical Corps and trained as a medic until he was transferred to Washington, D.C. for temporary duty at the Army War College. At the Army War College he had the task of designing the Air Medal. This was an honor that he had won in a competition that was held prior to the war. He served as an enlisted man until February 19, 1943, when he was separated from the service in order to accept a temporary appointment as First Lieutenant with the Army Air Forces of the United States.

hancock 3

Upon his promotion to First Lieutenant, Hancock became part of Military Intelligence. Due to his studies in art and sculpture at the American Academy in Rome, where he had resided for four years, and his time studying art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Hancock was immersed in European culture and language and was fluent in French and Italian.

After earning his degrees from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the American Academy in Rome, and an honorary doctorate degree from Washington University in St. Louis, he had spent thirteen years teaching and directing the activities of young men as the Director and Instructor of Sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His language and leadership skills made him the perfect candidate for a position in Military Intelligence:

hancock 4

After seven months of service at the Pentagon in Military Intelligence, he was promoted to Captain and notified of the President’s creation of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in Europe. In order to implement the recommendations of the Commission, officers such as Hancock, were allocated as advisors for the preservation of museums and monuments. It was at this time in 1943 that he took his place as a Captain with the U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (M.F.A.A.).

hancock 2

As Captain with the M.F.A.A. he was instrumental in compiling lists of protected monuments for France and directives relating to them. Many of his efforts were put forth to identify buildings of historic or artistic importance, as well as archives and movable works of art, so as to prevent avoidable damage. He spent time inventorying collections and providing emergency treatment to prevent deterioration of works of art. Finally, Hancock located numerous depositories of works of art and arranged their safeguarding during combat and carried out the evacuation of the contents to the U.S. Army collection points.

Walker Hancock_Page_2

Upon his release from the military on March 5, 1946, Hancock returned to his position as Director with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. A year after his release from active duty he was promoted to Major for his various contributions to the war effort and for the protection of such important works of art and history.

hancock 6

Walker Hancock_Page_1 - Copy

After the war he continued his contributions to veterans and the military. He was commissioned to create such works as the Pennsylvania Railroad War Memorial located in Philadelphia, a tribute to the thousands of Pennsylvania railroad employees who sacrificed their lives during World War II. Other commissions consisted of the U.S. Air Mail Flyers Medal and the Army and Navy Air Medals.

Hancock received many awards for his achievements during the war and after. His wartime service garnered him the American Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the European, African, Middle Eastern Service Medal. Civilian achievements include the George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal, the Herbert Adams Medal of Honor, the National Medal of Art, and the Medal of Freedom.

Hancock continued his work in art and sculpture up until his death on December 30, 1998.

Hancock’s records are part of  RG 319: Records of the Army Staff, 1903-2009, Official Military Personnel Files, compiled 1912-1998. More information on accessing military personnel files is available here.


This is the eleventh 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 WoolleyWalter J. HuchthausenSeymour J. PomrenzeMason HammondEdith StandenKarol Estreicher, S. Lane Faison, Sir Hilary JenkinsonWalter Horn and Douglas Cooper.

The newly released 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.  Beginning in December 2013, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals, and thus started a series of blog posts. I enlisted my colleague Dr. Sylvia Naylor to write some of them.

This post focuses on British Major Ronald Edmond Balfour and is the 11th in the series of posts on the Monuments Men.

Ronald Edmond Balfour was born in England into a wealthy military family in 1904.  He excelled at Eton and won a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a “double first” in history and theology.  He became a lecturer in history and a Fellow at King’s College, where he began amassing one of the largest personal collections of books in Great Britain, some 8,000 by the time war broke out in 1939.  That year, the unmarried, bespectacled and mustached academic joined the French desk at the Ministry of Information. Less than a year later he enlisted in the British Army, passed through the Officer Cadet Training Unit and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in 1940. He was promoted to captain in 1941 and joined the Recruiting Branch of the War Office.

In 1944, after Geoffrey Webb, Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, was appointed to head the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) organization, Balfour was recruited to become one of the Monuments Men.  By April 1 he was on Webb’s staff helping to make plans for MFA&A operations after the landings in France in June.  In the early planning for the invasion of the Continent, Webb thought that United States Capt. L. Bancel LaFarge and Balfour should be with the first group, as he believed they would make a good impression on all sorts and conditions of soldiers. He wrote on April 26 that although they may have missed the practical training and final polish they could have received at the Eastbourne training center, he thought LaFarge’s experience in Sicily and Balfour’s service in the army “and more important, their native mother wit and savvy will in some degree compensate for this.”

By the end of May Balfour had been assigned as a Monuments Man with the 21st Army Group, command by General Sir Bernard Montgomery, and initially composed of by the First U.S. Army and the British Second Army.  Webb’s recommendation for officer personnel for the Normandy landings resulted in LaFarge, Balfour, and British Maj. Lord Methuen reporting with the British forces under the 21st Army Group; and the assignment of Lt. George L. Stout, USNR, Squadron Leader J. E. Dixon-Spain (RAF) and American Capt. Robert Posey with the United States Forces under the 21st Army Group.   After the Normandy landings on June 6, and when sufficient American forces had landed, their own 12th Army Group was activated on September 1, under General Omar Bradley, and the 21st Army Group was left with the British Second Army and the newly activated First Canadian Army.

Balfour arrived in France in August.  Before heading off to combat Balfour made the compelling case for the importance of the task confronting the Monuments Men in a speech he planned to deliver to his men. He said: “No age lives entirely alone; every civilisation is formed not merely by its own achievements but by what it has inherited from the past. If these things are destroyed, we have lost a part of our past, and we shall be the poorer for it.”

His detachment on August 30, as a major, to the First Canadian Army, to be its MFA&A Officer, was delayed by crowded roads, poor transport and destroyed bridges. He arrived in Rouen on September 9 and made his first report, carefully recording the city’s damage from the German air bombardment in 1940, the Allied bombardment in 1944 and the retreating Germans.  From Rouen, Balfour moved on to join up with the First Canadian Army in Belgium.

He arrived in Bruges, just days too late to have hoped to prevent the evacuating Nazis from stealing Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and 11 artworks from the Church of Notre Dame.  He did, however, manage to persuade the Allies to avoid bombing the Church of St. Katharina in Hoogstraeten, a municipality located in the Belgian province of Antwerp.

At the end of September, Balfour reported to Webb that “For the past five weeks movement has been entirely dependent on hitch-hiking or the chance of a vehicle going in the right direction. This is necessarily uncertain and time-wasting.”  He noted that he was supposed to get a vehicle in October and he did indeed get a truck, on October 2, but it developed mechanical problems, and in mid-October Balfour reported the truck was out of commission most of the time.

On November 29, four days after advancing into Holland, Balfour fractured his ankle in a traffic accident.  He was driving back to his headquarters from a visit to Dixon-Spain, at the Second British Army, when the accident happened.  He was taken to a hospital in Eindhoven where he dexterously outmaneuvered the doctor by refusing to be shipped home.  Instead they flew him to Brussels for medical treatment. On November 30, Balfour wrote LaFarge a brief note from Eindhoven about the accident.  After receiving the note on December 4, LaFarge rushed to 21st Army Group to tell them the news, which they had not heard.  He then called on British Major Paul Baillie Reynolds, who told him that he had got the news from Balfour himself two days previously, that he had unsuccessfully sought to telephone LaFarge, and that Ronald was in the General Hospital in Brussels. LaFarge then rushed to Brussels and found Balfour in a very good mood. He told LaFarge that he thought he may be about again in a few weeks and that he believed that he might be able to do work at Army headquarters in a month or so, during which time he would be preparing his chief for the German venture,  which was “still a long way off as concerns his own formation.”  He remained hospitalized during the Battle of the Bulge and did not return to duty for two months.

In February 1945, Balfour was back in action as the 21st Army Group attacked the Siegfried Line.  During combat operations that month, Balfour, in several German cities, helped to recover and protect archival collections.  At Goch he successfully persuaded Canadian commanders not to destroy the 14th century stone entrance gate as they attempted to enter the town.  While in Goch he also found the abandoned archives from the Collegiate Church of Cleve, which he transferred to a monastery in Spyck for safekeeping.

His last report, filed March 3, 1945, described his work in the church in Cleve: “Fragments of two large 16th century retables of carved and painted wood have been collected and removed to safety. Parish archives found in a blasted safe and strewn over the floor of the wrecked sacristy have also been removed for safekeeping.”

In his last letter, to Webb, dated March 3, he wrote:

It was a splendid week for my job – certainly the best since I came over. On the one hand there is the tragedy of real destruction, much of it completely unnecessary; on the other the comforting feeling of having done something solid myself.

There are no civilian officials to annoy one; the cares of quick decisions are left to oneself. Added to that, is the excitement of being right in the firing line. I met a battalion of my Regiment one day and ate my sandwiches with them at RHQ less than a mile from the front and I was actually sitting in a building when it was hit by a shell.

The plundering is awful. Not only every house is forced open and searched but also every safe and every cupboard. All that I can do is to try and rescue as much as possible and put up signs of warning. We did that in Kalkar but I do not know whether they actually had any effect.

In the meantime I’ve spent several days arranging the staff I’ve collected. What I did with the Goch archives would make the archivists’ hair stand on end, but I saved them from complete destruction.

And my storage place in Cleves [Cleve] wouldn’t be exactly approved of by Washington as it’s an attic in a building occupied by troops and refugees. The house is without proper protection and shells fall ceaselessly in the neighbourhood but it’s the only building in the town that still has a roof, doors and windows. There’s a local monk there (the only civilian who’s allowed to move freely round the town) in whose charge I can leave the things when I go.

If all goes well, I hope to be back at my headquarters next week as I’ve got a good deal of long-term work to do there. I’ve also got most of my luggage in Holland. I’m afraid I’ll never see it again. Yours very sincerely Ronald.

He did not live to see his luggage again.  Balfour was killed by a shell burst in Cleve on March 10 while he and some other men were attempting to rescue pieces of a medieval altarpiece to safety.   He was buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery, near Cleve.

Paying tribute to him, Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Woolley, Adviser to the War Office on Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, said:

It is a great and unexpected blow. He was so cheerfully delighted at being at the front and was killed when actually engaged in saving some of those works of art, which he loved so much.

He had done wonderfully good work, as those who knew him knew he would do. He leaves a gap in our service, which no one will be able to fill so well. The whole field of art history has suffered a tragic loss.

Balfour left his papers and library to King’s College.  To honor his feats and passion to culture, that college named an archive room after him.  In the mid-1950s, Goch dedicated an archive room in his honor.  And on the 50th anniversary of the reconstruction of the 105-metre tower of the Church of St. Katharina in Hoogstraeten, the municipality held an exhibition in “grateful commemoration of Major Ronald Edmond Balfour.”


For information about Balfour’s activities see File: CAD 000.4 (3-25-43) (1), Sec. 3, Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165; Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; and, General Records, 1938-1948, Records of Central Collecting Points (“Ardelia Hall Collection”) OMGUS Headquarters Relating to the Central Collecting Points, Property Division, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 15 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1941).