John Pendlebury

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

Early life

John Pendlebury was born in London, the eldest son of Herbert S Pendlebury and Lilian D Devitt. At the age of eight he blinded himself in one eye with a pencil. After a private education at Winchester College (1918-1923), he obtained scholarships to Pembroke College, Cambridge where he was awarded a 1st class Classical Tripos in 1927. Despite his disability, whilst there he also shone as a sportsman, an athletics blue and international high jumper. ["Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford: OUP. (2004)]

The archaeologist

In his last school vacation (1923) Pendlebury travelled to Greece for the first time, he visited the excavations at Mycenae and developed a love of Greece and deep interest in archaeology. On leaving university in 1927 he won the Cambridge University scholarship to the British School of Archaeology at Athens. Until then he had been unable to decide between Egyptian and Greek archaeology, he decided to do both and studied Egyptian artifacts found in Greece. While in Athens he met another archaeology student called Hilda White, they had a mutual attraction and married in 1928.

The climatic differences between Greece and Egypt made it possible to excavate in both countries each year and late in 1928 Pendlebury started excavating at Tell el-Amarna, in Egypt. In 1929 he was fortunate to be appointed by Arthur Evans curator of the archaeological site at Knossos in central Crete. Doubly fortunate the job came with the "Taverna", situated on the edge of the site this house provided accommodation for married couple and a centre for social activities amongst the archaeologists.

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. [C. Michael Hogan, "Knossos fieldnotes", The Modern Antiquarian (2007) [] ]

Pendlebury was Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna from 1930 to 1936 and continued as Curator at Knossos until 1934. From 1936 he directed excavations on Mount Dikti in eastern Crete and continued there until the war was imminent. [Powell, Dilys. "the Villa Ariadne". (1973), London: Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-17770-5.] [ [ Swansea University (Classics)] ] [ [ British School at Athens] ]

War service

Patrick Leigh Fermor said:

... [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...". [Leigh Fermor, Patrick. "J Pendlebury and the Battle of Crete". "The Spectator" p57-58. (20 October 2001) in Patrick Leigh Fermor (ed Artemis Cooper). "Words of Mercury" London: John Murray. (2003) ISBN 0719561051 ]
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. [ [ Quotation by Alan Wace] .]

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 Manoli Bandouvas. Turkey had relinquished control over Crete only 43 years before and these 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 successfully 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 in Greece. 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.

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 15km to the southwest. They had the intention of launching a counter attack, 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. Aristeia 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.Nicholas Hammond, from chapter "John Pendlebury" in "John Pendlebury in Crete". Cambridge: University Press (1948).]

The next day Pendlebury had been changed into a clean shirt. The German 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.

He was buried nearby, later being reburied 1km 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.

Work by Pendlebury

* 1930 "Aegyptiaca. A Catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area". Cambridge: University Press.
* 1933 "A handbook to the palace of Minos at Knossos". London: Macmillan.
* 1933 "A guide to the stratigraphical museum in the Palace at Knossos" (3 vols). London: British School of Art [?Archaeology] at Athens.
* 1935 "Tell el-Amarna". London : Lovat Dickson & Thompson.
* 1939 "The archaeology of Crete : an introduction". London: Methuen’s Handbooks of Archaeology.
* 1948 "John Pendlebury in Crete". Cambridge: University Press. (Published privately after Pendlebury's death – with appreciations by Nicholas Hammond and Tom Dunbabin).

Further reading

* Imogen Grundon - "The Rash Adventurer: The Life of John Pendlebury" (London: Libri, 2007)
* Anthony Beevor - "Crete, the Battle and the Resistance" (includes info about Pendlebury's wartime exploits)


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