During World War II John Skilton wanted to use his training as an art historian to help preserve European works of art from damage and theft, so he joined the United States Army with the goal of becoming a Monuments Specialist Officer. In this book he recounts the difficulties he encountered before achieving this unusual objective, as well as his experiences in France and Germany during 1944 and 1945, including accomplishments for which he was later decorated by the governments of both countries.
While still a private, serving as an interpreter with a Civil Affairs unit, Skilton rescued the damaged pieces of an important 17th-century roadside shrine in Brittany, placing them in a nearby barn so the sculptures could later be restored. Eventually he was reassigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, with which he helped to discover a huge cache of stolen art that the Nazis had stored in Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.
Skilton's most significant accomplishments took place in Würzburg, where he arranged for the construction of a roof over the bombed-out palace of the prince-bishops, preventing destruction of its extensive interior frescos and other decorations. He also arranged for the recovery and safe storage of numerous artworks and archives that had been dispersed throughout the countryside for safekeeping during the war, and took steps to ensure that various historic churches and castles in the Mainfranken region were protected from looting.
Lieutenant Skilton's memoir offers an engaging and elegantly-written narrative of his dealings with a broad range of people, including princely art collectors and civilian refugees, former Nazi officials and regular G.I.s., as well as his often frustrating encounters with Army bureaucracy at all levels. This book will appeal to art and military historians, both professional and amateur, as well as anyone interested in a lively and personal perspective on the intersection between art and war.