John Pendlebury

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

For the rugby league footballer and coach, see John Pendlebury (rugby league)
John Pendlebury
John D.S. Pendlebury.jpg
JDS Pendlebury in 1928 at age 24, one year after arriving at the British School of Archaeology at Athens, fresh from college
Born12 October 1904 (1904-10-12)
Died22 May 1941 (1941-05-23) (aged 36)
Resting placeSouda Bay
NationalityFlag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Alma materWinchester College, Cambridge University
Known forEnvironmental studies at Knossos while Curator there
Spouse(s)Hilda (White) Pendlebury
Scientific career
InstitutionsBritish School of Archaeology at Athens, Knossos
InfluencesArthur Evans
InfluencedAll archaeologists and historians of ancient Crete

John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury (12 October 1904 – 22 May 1941) was a British archaeologist who worked for British intelligence during World War II. He was captured and executed by German troops during the Battle of Crete.

Early life[edit]

John Pendlebury was born in London, the eldest son of Herbert S. Pendlebury, a London surgeon,[1] and Lilian D. Devitt, a daughter of Thomas Devitt, part owner of Devitt and Moore, a shipping company.[2] At the age of about two, he lost an eye in an accident of unknown nature while in the care of a friend of his parents, who were away for a few days. On their return, conflicting reports of the accident were given. The eye could not be successfully treated.[3] He used a prosthetic glass eye, which, it has been said by people who knew him, was generally mistaken for a real one.[4] Throughout his life, he remained determined to out-perform persons with two eyes. As a child, he was taken to see Wallis Budge at the British Museum. During the conversation, he apparently resolved to become an Egyptian archaeologist. Budge told him to study Classics before making up his mind. His mother died when he was 17, leaving him a legacy from his grandfather that made him financially independent. His father remarried but had no further children. Pendlebury got along well with his stepmother and her son, Robin. He remained the centre of his father's affections, whom he called "daddy" in letters.[2]

He was educated at Winchester (1918-1923), before winning scholarships at Pembroke College, Cambridge where he was awarded a Second in Part I and a First in Part II of the Classical Tripos, "with distinction in archaeology."[5] Despite his disability, he also shone as a sportsman, with an athletics blue and competing internationally as a high jumper.[6][page needed]

The archaeologist[edit]

During the Easter holidays of 1923 at Winchester, Pendlebury and a master from Winchester had travelled to Greece, Pendlebury for the first time; visiting the excavations at Mycenae, they conversed with Alan Wace, then Director of the British School at Athens. Wace remembered him as a boy who wished "to see things for himself."[4] The visit solidified his determination to become an archaeologist.

Student at the British School[edit]

On leaving university in 1927 Pendlebury won the Cambridge University Studentship to the British School at Athens. Unable to decide between Egyptian and Greek archaeology, he decided to do both and study Egyptian artefacts found in Greece.[5] This study resulted in his Catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area, published in 1930.

In Athens, Pendlebury stayed at the British School Student's Hostel, which was not only for students. It also provided lodging for visiting scholars doing research in Greece. They dined with the students in the same room, conversing with them and each other on scholarly topics. Pendlebury wrote his first impressions to his father, that they were so learned, "It makes me feel such an imposter being there at all."[7] He soon found the companionship more to his liking. He hiked the Greek countryside with Sylvia Benton, who had excavated in Ithaca, competing with her to see who could walk the fastest, and became friends with Pierson Dixon, later British ambassador to France, then an archaeology student. He struck up a friendship also with another archaeology student, Hilda White, 13 years older than he and several inches shorter. Exploring the Athenian Acropolis with her, he climbed over the parapet and announced to the guard "I am a Persian."

The students explored Greece in groups, living an athletic life, in contrast to the sedentary preferences of the scholars. John discovered 10 miles of an ancient road at Mycenae, where he also attended a village dance by a bonfire. Systematically the students visited most of Greece. Pendlebury also found time to play tennis and hockey, and to form an athletic team for running and jumping. He first visited Crete in 1928 with the other students. After a rough sea crossing at night they hastened on to Knossos, which John at first concluded was "spoilt" by the restorations.[8] The students then toured eastern Crete by automobile over muddy dirt roads, and in frequent heavy rain and snow. At the eastern end, they attempted to reach Mochlos and Pseira by leaking boat, but failed. They were prepared to swim for it. John wrote a poem about the fleas he encountered while lodging in Sitia.

It was the wrong time of year for visiting Crete. Resuming a busy life in Athens, John was invited to his first excavation by the Assistant Director of the school, Walter Heurtley, at an ancient Macedonian site in Salonica. Hilda was invited also. She became his constant companion by preference. Unknown to Pendlebury, a close connection had always existed between the British School and Sir Arthur Evans. Evans apparently heard of Pendlebury's activities in Crete and Macedonia. Later in the year, in more propitious weather, Pendlebury was invited to stay at the Villa Ariadne with Evans and Duncan Mackenzie. Hilda stayed in Heraklion. She reported that Mackenzie confided to Pendlebury in having "my own idea," which he did not tell to Evans.

By the end of the visit Evans was suggesting that Pendlebury might excavate in southern Crete, or even at Knossos.[9] For a time Pendlebury became preoccupied with his marriage to Hilda. His family was at first opposed to the match on the basis of the age difference. After Pendlebury wrote that they could not live without each other, the wedding was approved, after an acquaintance of one year. For a honeymoon, the couple undertook a physically arduous exploration of the mountainous northern Peloponnesus.[10]

In the winter of 1928-1929, the Pendleburys visited Egypt for the first time. They assisted briefly in the excavation at Armant, then, late in 1928, at Tel el-Amarna. Excavations at Amarna had been started 40 years earlier by Flinders Petrie, but were then continuing under the directorship of Hans Frankfort for the Egypt Exploration Society. Hans and his wife, Yettie, had been students at the British School before Pendlebury's arrival there. They were friends of Humfry Payne, whose wife, Dilys, would become Pendlebury's biographer in the latter part of her life. Humfry was appointed Director of the British School in 1929, still in his 20s.[11]

John's studentship ended at the end of 1928; however, it was replaced by the MacMillen Studentship for another year's study, but only in Greece. The Pendleburys missed the subsequent winter at Amarna. In 1930 Payne and Dilys travelled to Crete to survey Eleutherna prior to its excavation, inviting the Pendleburys to accompany them. Humfry and Dilys stayed in the Villa Ariadne, where Evans, MacKenzie, and Gilliéron, Evans' fresco restorer, were at work, while John and Hilda joined Piet de Jong, Evans' artist, at the nearby Taverna.[12] Knossos had been donated to the British School in 1924, but Evans retained control for the time being, continuing the restorations, and bringing affairs there to a conclusion. The donation had not only disposed of the estate, ensuring its continuity, but gave Evans virtual control of the British School as well. One matter requiring disposition was the retirement of his Director of Excavation, Duncan MacKenzie, now past 65 and in very poor health due to alcoholism, malaria, and the effects of a career of physically demanding work at Knossos. He was in fact non-functional. His retirement was set for the end of 1929, but John Pendlebury represented an opportunity Evans could not neglect.

Pendlebury was looking for a position to begin when his studentship ran out. Someone at Knossos suggested he apply for permission to excavate in Crete. Later back in Athens his father recommended he return home and apply for a lectureship. He wrote back rejecting the plan, stating that he did not want "an academic life." Shortly afterward an unsigned, confidential telegram arrived asking if Duncan should retire in the autumn of 1929, would he be interested in the Directorship of Knossos? The telegram could only have come from Evans or Payne. Guessing Evans correctly, Pendlebury cabled back, "answer affirmative."[13] There is no evidence that he was party to, or even knew about, the events of that autumn. Evans claimed that he had found MacKenzie sleeping during working hours and that he was drunk. Retirement was to become effective immediately. Piet de Jong opposed this move, claiming Duncan did not drink. The truth of the story made little difference to Duncan. He was so ill that he had to be placed in the care of his family, and could not be moved from Athens.

Director at Knossos and Amarna[edit]

John Pendlebury in 1934.

In the autumn of 1929 Arthur Evans appointed John Pendlebury curator of the archaeological site at Knossos in central Crete to replace Duncan MacKenzie. His title was to be Knossos Curator. He was not required to assume the post until the spring of 1930. Meanwhile, he and Hilda toured Sicily and hiked over the mountains between Athens and Thebes. John taught Hilda the art of fencing. He organized a student hockey match with a team from the British Navy. Academically an article of his attempting to fit the siege of Troy into history was attacked by H.R. Hall of the British Museum. Pendlebury was outraged at this first professional critique of his work, claiming he had supported his conclusions fully with data. The Pendleburys arrived at the Villa Ariadne in March to assume the new post, but there was no improvement in contention. Almost immediately they received a second shock. A student at the British School had been invited to photograph some Greek vases in a private home. During the shoot, the police burst in, arresting the owners of the vases for trying to sell antiquities out of the country. Spyridon Marinatos, director of the Museum at Heraklion, wrote a note of protest to Pendlebury. John demanded an investigation. Humfry Payne complained to the Ministry of Archaeology. Ultimately the British School was exonerated with an apology. Hall died in October. Of John, Dilys Powell wrote, "He would never ignore an offence."[14]

By the time Pendlebury assumed the curatorship of Knossos, the site was overgrown, animals browsed freely among the ruins, and some buildings were in disrepair. In addition, the remaining agricultural land had to be leased. Visitation increased, much from dignitaries who required hosting. They littered the site. Sir Arthur arrived with detailed instructions. While the latter refurbished the Taverna, situated on the edge of the Villa Ariadne property, with furniture and rugs, John began sorting crates of artefacts from the excavation. John planned to add an archaeological library to the villa, now the headquarters of the British School on Crete. The Pendleburys were to occupy the Taverna, which, like the Villa, was a social centre for the archaeologists when the curator was not in residence. Piet de Jong had left Knossos to be with Humfry Payne during a new excavation at Perachora (near Corinth).[15]

Because of the amount of work, which kept the Pendleburys and Arthur Evans busy from dawn until dusk, John welcomed the end of the season in July. Arthur and John excavated the Theatre Area. Evans' enthusiasm for his young acolyte was not entirely reciprocated. Pendlebury wrote to his father, "Evans is obviously itching to get my time here extended. That I will not have." When Evans left for the season, he wrote, "We have got rid of Evans thank the Lord ...."[16] The Pendleburys returned home for a visit, not knowing that, in a single season, John had established a reputation for being a man willing and able to take the responsibility of leadership. He began work on his Guide to the Stratigraphical Museum. Meanwhile, Frankfort had resigned suddenly from the directorship at Amarna to excavate in Iraq. In a crisis, the Egypt Exploration Society made a bid for Pendlebury's services, offering him the directorship of the excavation. The latter could hardly say no to this fulfillment of a lifelong ambition. He accepted. At age 26 he now held two of the most important positions in Aegean archaeology. He did not see a conflict. The climatic differences between Greece and Egypt made it possible to excavate in both countries each year: Egypt in the winter, Crete in the spring, with a break in the summer.[17]

Pendlebury brought enthusiasm and colour to the excavation at Amarna, during which a handful of Europeans supervised up to 100 native workers. John had learned sufficient Arabic to get by from a textbook in 1928. Hilda learned practical Arabic from the servants. The living arrangements for the director and other Europeans were not entirely modest; however, John was democratic in his bearing and manner, a policy on which he and Evans had been united. Just as Evans as a young reporter in the Balkans had purchased formal Turkish garb to wear at social occasions, Pendlebury purchased formal Cretan garb to wear on similar occasions at Amarna. In a photograph, however, he is shown shirtless posing wearing ancient Egyptian faience. He scowls, poking fun, perhaps, at ancient Egyptian statuary. He impressed the then British directors of Egyptian archaeology to such a degree that at the end of the first season he was offered a permanent post at the Cairo Museum. He turned it down, reporting privately that he did not wish "a stationary job."[18]

In 1932 Pendlebury inherited the tedious work of cataloging about 2000 sherds that had been excavated from Knossos. Evans went home, not to return until 1935, which relieved John greatly. As assistants in the cataloging task, he used his wife, Hilda, and two graduate students at the British School, Edith Eccles and Mercy Money-Coutts. That year also he built a tennis court at the site and added a nursery to the Taverna for his first child, David, born in England. Hilda rejoined him as soon as she could. In 1934 they had a daughter, Joan.

Much of the tension between Evans and Pendlebury came from their disagreement on the nature of the Knossos Guidebook. John disagreed with Arthur on a number of key issues. He wanted to write the work himself according to his own outline, express his own views fully, have it published under his name, and get paid for it. Evans wanted merely a summary of Palace of Minos to be produced as part of John's curatorship; however, he did want John to ghostwrite it. The latter flatly refused. George MacMillan, of Evans' publishing firm, was called in to negotiate. He successfully wined, dined and convinced Pendlebury to undertake a compromise work. The book, published in 1933, was mainly written by Pendlebury, with additions and a Forward by Evans. The now more experienced Pendlebury had at last seen Evans' point of view on the restorations. He wrote in the Preface: "Without restoration, the Palace would be a meaningless heap of ruins ... and would eventually disappear completely." The book sold out very quickly, leaving none for distribution at Knossos. On complaining to Harold MacMillan, MP, Pendlebury was told that the MP himself would look into procuring more copies.[19]

Freelance archaeologist[edit]

Pendlebury was Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna from 1930 to 1936 and continued as Curator at Knossos until 1934. By then it was clear to the scholars and archaeologists who were on the board of the British School that he was spreading himself too thin. John had formulated a new plan, to write an archaeological guide to all of Crete. It required extensive explorations of all of Crete, which Pendlebury began in 1933. His successor at Knossos, R.W. Hutchinson, later wrote such a guide, which the board did not find objectionable, but in 1934 they wrote to Pendlebury stating that they had changed the terms of the Curatorship. From then on the Curator was "not expected" to conduct "independent archaeological work out of reach of Knossos." Complaining that the board had "cracked the whip," Pendlebury resigned. He was solicitous about indoctrinating his successor, R. W. Hutchinson, who arrived with his family in 1935. In that year Evans visited Knossos for the last time to attend the unveiling of his statue. The Pendleburys were also present. Hard feelings had vanished.[20]

From 1936 he directed excavations on Mount Dikti in eastern Crete and continued there until the war was imminent.[21][22][23]

War service[edit]

Patrick Leigh Fermor said:[24]

... [Pendlebury] got to know the island inside out. ... He spent days above the clouds and walked over 1,000 miles in a single archaeological season. His companions were shepherds and mountain villagers. He knew all their dialects...."

Manolaki Akoumianos, a Cretan and one of the workers at Knossos, said:

...[he] knew the whole island like his own hand, spoke Greek like a true Cretan, could make up mantinadas all night long, and could drink any Cretan under the table.[25]

Anticipating the coming war and strategic nature of Crete, Pendlebury eventually succeeded in convincing the British military authorities of the value of his unique knowledge. They sent him back to England for military training, and in May 1940 he returned to Heraklion (then called by its Italian/Venetian name - Candia) as British Vice Consul, but his job title did not hide from most of the diplomatic community the nature of his duties. He immediately set-to working up his outline plans: improving the reconnaissance (routes, hiding places, water sources and chiefly sounding out the local clan chiefs like Antonios Gregorakis and Manolis Badouvas. Turkey had relinquished control over Crete only 43 years before and these kapetanios would be the key to harnessing the Cretan fighting spirit. In October, on Italy's attempted invasion of Greece, Pendlebury became liaison officer between British troops and Cretan military authority.

By the time Germany had occupied mainland Greece in April 1941 Pendlebury had laid his plans, unfortunately, they could not include the Cretan division of the Greek army which was captured on the mainland. The invasion of Crete started on 20 May 1941, Pendlebury was in the Heraklion area where it started with heavy bombing followed by troops dropped by parachute. The enemy forced an entry into Heraklion but were driven out by regular Greek and British troops and by islanders now armed with assorted weapons.

Grave of John Pendlebury in Souda Bay war cemetery

On 21 May 1941, when German troops took over Heraklion, Pendlebury slipped away with his Cretan friends heading for Krousonas the village of Kapetanios Satanas, which was some 15 km to the southwest. They had the intention of launching a counterattack, but on the way there Pendlebury left the vehicle to open fire on some German troops, who fired back. Some Stukas came over and Pendlebury was shot in the chest. Aristea Drossoulakis took him into her nearby cottage and he was laid on a bed. The cottage was overrun and a German doctor treated him chivalrously, dressing his wounds; he was later given an injection.[26]

The next day Pendlebury had been changed into a clean shirt. The Germans were setting up a gun position nearby and a fresh party of paratroopers came by. They found Pendlebury who had lost his identity discs and was wearing a Greek shirt. As he was out of uniform and could not prove that he was a soldier, he was put against a wall outside the cottage and shot through the head and the body.[26]

He was buried nearby, later being reburied 1 km outside the western gate of Heraklion. He now lies in the cemetery (Grave reference 10.E.13) at Souda Bay maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The inscription is a quote from the 352nd line of Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley:

"He has outsoared the shadow of our night"

Pendlebury's archaeological approach[edit]

Pendlebury was one of the early archaeologists who engaged in environmental reconstruction of the Bronze Age; for example, as C. Michael Hogan notes, Pendlebury first deduced that the settlement at Knossos on Crete appears to have been overpopulated at its Bronze Age peak based upon deforestation practises.[27]

Works by Pendlebury[edit]

  • Pendlebury, J.D.S. (1930). Aegyptiaca. A Catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area. Cambridge University Press.
  • —— (1932). Archaeologica quaedam. Oxford: Classical Association.
  • —— (1933). A handbook to the palace of Minos at Knossos with Its Dependencies. London: Macmillan & Co. Limited.
  • —— (1933). A Guide to the Stratigraphical Museum in the Palace at Knossos. London: British School at Athens.
  • ——; Money-Coutts, M.; Eccles, E. (1935A). Journeys in Crete, 1934. Athens: British School at Athens.
  • —— (1935B). Tell el-Amarna. London: L. Dickson & Thompson.
  • —— (1939). The archaeology of Crete: an introduction. Methuen’s Handbooks of Archaeology. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.
  • 1948 John Pendlebury in Crete. Cambridge: University Press. (Published privately after Pendlebury's death – with appreciations by Nicholas Hammond and Tom Dunbabin).


  1. ^ Powell 1973, p. 61.
  2. ^ a b Powell 1973, p. 65.
  3. ^ Grundon 2007, p. 1.
  4. ^ a b Powell 1973, p. 62.
  5. ^ a b Powell 1973, p. 63.
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP. (2004)
  7. ^ Powell 1973, p. 64.
  8. ^ Powell 1973, p. 67.
  9. ^ Powell 1973, p. 68.
  10. ^ Powell 1973, p. 70.
  11. ^ Powell 1973, p. 71.
  12. ^ Powell 1973, p. 72.
  13. ^ Powell 1973, p. 73.
  14. ^ Powell 1973, pp. 75–77.
  15. ^ Powell 1973, pp. 77–78
  16. ^ Powell 1973, pp. 78–79.
  17. ^ Powell 1973, p. 79
  18. ^ Powell 1973, p. 81.
  19. ^ The previous two paragraphs rely on Powell 1973, pp. 86–90
  20. ^ Powell 1973, pp. 94–95.
  21. ^ Powell, Dilys. the Villa Ariadne. (1973), London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-17770-5.
  22. ^ Swansea University (Classics) Archived 23 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  23. ^ British School at Athens Archived 25 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  24. ^ Leigh Fermor, Patrick. J. Pendlebury and the Battle of Crete. The Spectator p.57-58. (20 October 2001) in Patrick Leigh Fermor (ed Artemis Cooper). Words of Mercury, London: John Murray. (2003) ISBN 0-7195-6105-1
  25. ^ Quotation by Alan Wace Archived 27 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine..
  26. ^ a b Nicholas Hammond, from chapter "John Pendlebury" in John Pendlebury in Crete. Cambridge: University Press (1948).
  27. ^ C. Michael Hogan, Cydonia, The Modern Antiquarian, 23 Jan. 2008


  • Grundon, Imogen (2007). The Rash Adventurer: The Life of John Pendlebury. London: Libri.
  • Powell, Dilys (1973). The Villa Ariadne. London; Sydney; Auckland; Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton.
  • Antony Beevor - Crete, the Battle and the Resistance (includes info about Pendlebury's wartime exploits)
  • Holland, James (2010). Blood of Honour. Heraklion: Magna.

External links[edit]

  • Robertson, John. "Pendlebury". Special Forces Roll of Honour. Retrieved 7 August 2012.