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 Sir Charles H. Jenkinson (1882-1961) 


British archivist Charles Hilary Jenkinson’s interest in archives began at an early age. He was born on November 1, 1882 in London, England and graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1904 with first-class honors in Classics. In 1906, he began working with the Public Record Office (PRO, now the National Archives of the United Kingdom) sorting and classifying the records of the medieval exchequer.

During World War I, Jenkinson was commissioned in the Royal Garrison Artillery and served in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1918, and then worked at the British War Office until 1920. After returning to London, he held multiple positions within the PRO until 1938 when he was appointed Secretary and Principal Assistant Keeper in 1938.


Due to his technical training in the PRO, Jenkinson was selected as Archives Advisor to the War Office during World War II. He arrived in Italy in February 1944 to supervise the protection of both Italian and German archives with the Archives section of the MFAA. His Brief Memorandum, with Appendices and Lists, on the Protection of Italian Archives, became the primary basis for all archival rescue work in the U.S./British Zones. He also wrote the archives section of the MFAA handbook for Germany entitled Care and Handling of Archives. Similarly, his published work Works of Art in Italy: Losses and Survivals in the War endures as an exhaustive list of Italian damages sustained during the war arranged by region.


Jenkinson remained involved in the protection of Italian archives throughout the war, making several campaigns to the country to assist in preservation efforts. During his second campaign in August and September of 1944, Allied Forces had reached Rome and the process of reinstating the Italian Archives Services and transferring archival responsibility back to the Italian government began. In his final campaign with military association during June of 1945, Jenkinson arrived to find the transportation of archival material being completed hastily and haphazardly. With his expertise, the Archival Officers of the MFAA and Italian authorities were able to reestablished organized transportation until completion of the task. Jenkinson worked closely with fellow Monuments Men; Capt. Roger Ellis, Capt. T. Humphrey Brooke, Capt. William McCain, and Fred Shipman. All of whom served in the Archives section under the guidance of Jenkinson and his work.


Jenkinson remained committed to the proper preservation of delicate archives and used his position at the War Office to full advantage. He educated intelligence officers on the subject and advised Sir Leonard Woolley at the War Office on the creation of established procedures against their mishandling or exploitation. Even General Eisenhower took Jenkinson’s advice to heart when he issued an official letter regarding the treatment of archival material in August 1944.


After the war, Jenkinson became the British representative to UNESCO for the International Council on Archives. He was appointed Commander of the British Empire in 1943 and was subsequently knighted in 1949. He returned to the Record Office and was appointed Deputy Keeper from 1947 until his retirement in 1954. He was also appointed President of the Jewish Historical Society and the Society of Archivists. He died on March 5, 1961 in London.

Photo courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

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