HC Deb 05 August 1943 vol 391 cc2484-6W
Mr. Hannah

asked the Secretary of State for War what measures are being taken for the preservation of ancient monuments in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania?

Mr. A. Henderson

I append a statement indicating the measures taken for the preservation of ancient monuments in Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. I have taken this opportunity to outline the result of investigations which show that the charges of vandalism made against our troops by the enemy are entirely without foundation.

Following is the statement:

When the British Forces advanced into Libya in the autumn of 1942 immediate steps were taken for the preservation of any archaeological monuments which might come into our possession during the course of the occupation. In the case of Cyrenaica, similar steps had been taken during the two previous occupations of the territory and despite Axis allegations to the contrary it is believed no damage of any importance was done to the ruins at Cyrene, Appollonia, Ptolemaide or Tocra.

As was anticipated, the Staff of Guardians previously employed by the Italian administration was found carrying on its work at all the important ancient sites and these guardians were retained in the employment of the administration and paid their salaries. This arrangement continues. In the case of Cyrenaica, only Arab Guardians remained at their posts and in order to strengthen their powers in dealing with any troops who might cause damage to the ruins a British non-commissioned officer of low medical category has been posted in charge of the Guardians.

The museum at Cyrene was practically cleared of all exhibits when the Axis forces first retreated from Cyrenaica in January, 1941, but a few large pieces remain. On this occasion the museum was securely closed as soon as possible after the building came into our hands. After our withdrawal from Cyrenaica on this occasion, the Italians prepared a propaganda pamphlet in which they purported to enumerate the acts of vandalism perpetrated by our troops during our three months' occupation of the territory. Among other things they alleged, that the Australian troops did very considerable damage to the exhibits in the Cyrene museum and they published a photograph showing a large quantity of broken vessels and damaged statues said to have been taken in the Cyrene museum. Investigations made during this last occupation of Cyrenaica proved conclusively that this photograph was not taken in the Cyrene museum at all. It was in fact a photograph of a small shed adjacent to the museum in which the Italian archaeologists had collected a large number of broken vessels and damaged statues and were in the process of piecing them together. The photograph published by the Italians was therefore grossly misleading and in no way supported the charges made against our troops.

Soon after the occupation of Cyrenaica arrangements were made for the Director-General of the Alexandria Greco-Roman Museum to visit Cyrenaica and to make a full report regarding the condition of the ruins, the adequacy of the steps taken for their preservation and the action advised for conserving the ruins on a care and maintenance basis. A number of photographs has been taken in order that there may be a permanent record of the state of the ruins at the time of our occupation. The Deputy Chief Civil Affairs Officer, Cyrenaica, and the District Commander are both fully alive to the importance of safeguarding the monuments which are in their custody.

In the case of Tripolitania, similar steps were taken as in Cyrenaica to retain in the employ of the military administration the Guardians, both Arab and Italian, who were responsible under the Italian administration for safeguarding the sites. In addition the skilled Italian, archaeologists who remained in the country have been kept on the pay-roll of the British military administration. The large and important museum at Sabratha is completely intact and is being very carefully guarded. Steps have also been taken to safeguard the ruins at this site. The advice of several experienced archaeologists has been obtained and an archaeologist has been seconded to the British military administration at Tripolitania in order further to advise the Deputy Chief Civil Affairs Officer on the measures which should be taken to safeguard all the ruins in the territories.

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