Visit to Souda Bay War Cemetery, Crete

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Me at Souda Bay. The beach and War Cemetery in the background.

In April I was lucky enough to visit Crete twice. On the first of these visits I made my way to Souda Bay War Cemetery, just outside of Chania, to see John Pendlebury’s final resting place.

Souda Bay is one of the most tranquil spots that I visited in Crete. The water in the bay is as placid as a lake, a peaceful sandy beach runs between the sea and cemetery, and the cemetery itself is well cared for with lush green grass and plants surrounding the site.

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Main entrance to Souda Bay War Cemetery
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Souda Bay War Cemetery

This is, in fact, John Pendlebury’s 3rd resting place. Though the circumstances of his death (and whether or not he was actually dead) were sketchy for some time after the events, the details are now clearer. This is thanks to a concerted effort on Hilda Pendlebury’s part to establish what had happened to her husband in the confusion of the May 1941 Battle of Crete.

Material in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive includes testimonials gathered from local Cretans who interacted with John during his last hours, letters between Hilda Pendlebury and Herbert Pendlebury about John’s death, and letters from some who were with John in Crete such as Lieutenant Commander Mike Cumberlege (who died in 1945).

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John Pendlebury’s grave, Souda Bay War Cemetery

The exact circumstances of John’s death are detailed in ‘John Pendlebury in Crete’ (250 copies printed for private circulation in 1948). To summarise: on the 21 May 1941 John was wounded in battle outside of Canea Gate in Heraklion, taken prisoner and deposited in a local house for treatment; a new German unit arrived the next day, searched the house, took John outside and shot him; he was first buried near the main road from Heraklion to the west; later he was moved to the British part of the Heraklion cemetery; and then to Souda Bay War Cemetery.

On my second visit to Crete, we (I was with British School colleagues) visited the cemetery that John was buried in, and Pendlebury Street outside Canea Gate which should be (more or less) the site of John’s death/first burial.

A sign on Pendlebury street, “English Archaeologist, fell in the Battle of Crete”



Weeks 23-29, 28th Mar – 13th May

I have spent the last 7 weeks of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive Project cataloguing the photograph series, preparing material for digitisation and working with a digitisation company to begin digitising the archive.

So far I have catalogued 5 out of 7 large photograph albums. The majority of photographs in these albums document John and Hilda Pendlebury’s travels and work in Crete. I was lucky enough to travel to Crete twice in April and to see some of the places documented, and so cataloguing the albums at this time has been particularly interesting. I will write more about my time in Crete in forthcoming blog posts.

A photograph of the Lasithi Plain seen from the Trapeza Cave (Crete), in the John Pendlebury Family Archive. We visited the cave, and saw a similar view, in April 2016. Copyright: The British School at Athens
Photograph taken from near the Trapeza Cave, April 2016

Cataloguing the photograph albums has taken a long time because, like the travel logs, they are simply crammed full of photographs (the 5 albums catalogued so far contain around 1500 photographs). I am giving each photograph its own description, and some descriptions take more time to compile than others.

The descriptions take longer if:

  • I need to look up the place name in a thesaurus (as explained in my blog post of the 18th of December).
  • I don’t recognise a landscape or archaeological site (and they are not captioned) and then need to spend some time identifying the subject.
  • I have seen the photograph before, so need to find the duplicate for cross referencing. As explained in my previous blog post there is a lot of duplication of photographic prints in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive.

I have also been preparing the parts of the archive which have already been catalogued for digitisation. This preparation has included checking the numbering and packaging of items, and writing specific guidance for the digitisation of each section.

Pages from a photograph album of Crete (PEN 7/2/4), in the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive. Copyright: The British School at Athens

So far digital images of sections 1 and 2 have been captured on flat-bed and book-eye scanners (the correspondence and travel logs). The first 5 photograph albums have already gone off for digitisation and once the photograph section is finished, we’ll be halfway through the digitisation aspect of the project.

During the next few weeks, as well as liaising with the digitiser and transporting material to the digitisation office, I will continue cataloguing photographs in the collection. I have just started an album which contains over 900 photographs, so I imagine this may take some time. After the photograph albums are completed, I will move on to some loose photographs of Greece and Egypt, and family photographs.


Weeks 17 & 18, 15th-19th & 22nd-26th Feb

Over the past 2 weeks I have completed cataloguing section 2 of the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive (records of travels and journeys); sorted a file of around 100 undated letters from John Pendlebury to his father (and succeeded in dating some of them); continued cataloguing correspondence; and prepared an order for archival repackaging materials.

The file of undated letters included 21 sent from Pembroke College, Cambridge, when John was a student (1923-1927). I had previously thought that these letters were missing from the archive, and wondered what had happened to them, so it was a relief to find that they were here after all. Subjects covered include John’s examinations, Herbert Pendlebury (John’s father) sending him academic notes, John’s contemporaries and tutors, and sporting activities.

Undated letters from John Pendlebury to his father (Herbert Pendlebury), sent whilst John was a student in Cambridge (1923-1927). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Dating the letters from Pembroke College was fairly straight forward, as most were written on College paper or Hawks Club headed paper (a members-only social club for sportsmen at the University of Cambridge). Some of the other undated letters have presented more of a challenge. It has been necessary to read the letters carefully, look for any clues or events which may date the letters, and cross reference them with letters that do have a date. For example, I was able to roughly date some letters that mentioned using Uncle Stanley’s camera, as there is another dated letter in which John describes meeting Uncle Stanley who was generously giving him a large camera.

One of the undated letters gives an amusing glimpse into social and sporting life on an Egyptian Exploration Society excavation in Armant, Egypt, in January 1929. The camp had just received a delivery of hockey sticks and John writes…

“They improve the game immensely and are a great advantage, our game has gone up tremendously since we stopped using walking sticks”.

In another undated letter, John recounts how he had accidentally revealed himself to a dining room full of strangers in Munich during his trip across Europe with Bob Dixon in 1927.

Extract from a letter, from John Pendlebury to Herbert Pendlebury (Munich, Oct 1927). Copyright: The British School at Athens

The later part of the records of travels and journeys (section 2 of the archive) contains accounts of John and Hilda Pendlebury’s travels in Greece, written up by Hilda and with added photographs. These accounts were written after the events, and a small section was published as ‘A Journey in Crete’ in ‘Archaeology’ (Autumn 1964, Vol. 17, No. 3).

This last section of “records of travels and journeys” also contains a folder of information about travel routes in Crete which came from the British School at Knossos. This folder is part of an accession received from Sinclair Hood (Director of the BSA 1954-1962 and Honorary Curator at Knossos 1962-63). The folder seems to have been kept in Knossos for use by others wanting to travel around the island, and contains details of journeys made by John and Hilda Pendlebury but also by their contemporaries including Humfry Payne, Thomas Dunbabin and Mercy Money-Coutts.

Folder and contents, “Routes in Crete”, from the British School at Knossos (1927-1939). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Finally, I have decided how to repackage the material within the John Pendlebury Family Papers Archive and prepared an order for the repackaging material. Perhaps not the most exciting or glamorous area of archive work, but certainly essential to the task of preserving the archive for future generations. Repackaging is particularly important for photographic material which is much more susceptible to environmental factors such as heat and humidity, and is often damaged by original packaging. The collection includes a variety of photographic negatives in different sizes, glass plate negatives, and many photographic prints (around half of which are in volumes such as travel logs or photograph albums).

Next, I will be returning to cataloguing correspondence. I will catalogue the next section of letters in less detail (than the earlier letters) in order to get them ready for digitisation. I’ll hopefully be able to return to the descriptions later and add more information, but for now getting the digitisation element of the project underway is a priority.

Week 9, 30th Nov-4th Dec

Folder of letters from John at Winchester College
A file of letters sent to Lilian and Herbert Pendlebury from John Pendlebury whilst he was at Winchester College. Copyright: The British School at Athens

Whilst completing the catalogue descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester College I discovered more about the terminology that I was puzzling over last week. This terminology is called ‘notions’. There have been official books of the terms published, and John refers to spending time learning them in his letters. The number of notions in use has declined over time, but there is still a current booklet which pupils of the College can purchase and a glossary of some of the terms on Winchester College’s website.

I also discovered that Winchester College Football is a distinct game from football, and that both are played at the College (and were played by John). Depending on the context and terminology used it is usually possible to determine which sport John was discussing in his letters. He was a very sporting pupil and as well as playing  both types of football he took part in activities including competitive rifle shooting, cricket, fives, athletics (hurdles and high-jump) and the Steeplechase race.

After finishing the first draft of the descriptions of John’s letters to his parents from Winchester, I checked through the descriptions again making additions and adjustments. I found I was able to make more sense of some of the letters once I had learnt more about the Winchester College environment and context that John was writing in.

I have now moved on to cataloguing John’s letters to his father which were written whilst he was based here, at the British School at Athens, from 1927-28. John arrived in November 1927 with a studentship and a task to trace all archaeological finds of Egyptian origin in Greece up to 664 BC. His letters to his father reveal first impressions of the British School and his fellow residents, including his future wife Hilda White.

…Miss White who alone of the lot strikes one as being at all human, she reminds me of Vera rather. The rest are definitely sub-human.” (20 Nov 1927)

“I only wish everyone wouldn’t be so obviously learned to the eyebrows. It makes me feel like such an impostor being here at all.” (20 Nov 1927)

The British School residents wasted no time in organising expeditions to other parts of Greece. The letters I have been cataloguing are full of descriptions of trips to Thessaly, the Argolid and Crete – which has prompted regular searches on Google maps!

Map from letter about East Crete trip 1928 BSA 1410
A map of John’s trip around Eastern Crete with Hilda White, Vivien Whitfield and Margaret Rodger (from the British School at Athens) in 1928. From a letter to Herbert Pendlebury. Copyright: The British School at Athens

John’s letters from Greece are written solely to his father. His mother, Lilian Pendlebury, had died of heart failure in September 1921 when she was only 50 and John was just 16. The archive does not tell us much of John’s reaction to this tragedy as there is a gap in the surviving correspondence between March 1921 and November 1927.

The only material within the John Pendlebury Family Papers dating from the mid-1920s are a few letters sent to Herbert about John from Winchester College and Pembroke College, a travel log of John’s travels in Greece in 1923, some school notebooks containing essays, and a hand-drawn plan of Tanagra (from John’s travels in 1923). I am not yet certain whether the letters from the schools to Herbert contain much about John’s reaction to the death of his mother, but this will become clear once they are catalogued.

Herbert Pendlebury, photograph in the John Pendlebury Family Papers. Copyright: The British School at Athens

So why is there a gap in the letters? Perhaps John ceased writing, or (as I believe to be more likely) the letters have been lost. He certainly did write to Herbert from Greece in 1923, as those letters were transcribed by Herbert into the 1923 travel log. Herbert moved to Malvern to live with his new wife, Mabel Dickinson (“Dickie”), in 1925. So perhaps the letters were lost in the move.

This week I will continue cataloguing John’s letters sent to his father from Greece in 1927-28, and then hopefully move on to his letters from London (when preparing for his marriage to Hilda White in 1928), Greece (during his honeymoon) and Egypt (1928-29).


Week 7, 16th-20th November

This week I have finished cataloguing the section of correspondence sent to Hilda Pendlebury, and begun cataloguing correspondence sent to John’s parents (Herbert and Lilian Pendlebury).

Some of letters that I catalogued at the beginning of the week were sent to Hilda after John’s death in 1941. These are evidence of how Hilda, Herbert and John’s friends and colleagues tried ascertain the exact circumstances of John’s death. This included gathering eyewitness reports from local Cretans (which are in the archive).

Photograph of John Pendlebury’s Grave at Souda Bay War Cemetery, Crete. Hilda visited John’s grave during a visit to Crete in 1947. Copyright: British School at Athens.

The letters sent to Hilda after 1941 also show how John was commemorated with an endowment for a school prize, a donation of books to the Villa Ariadne, obituaries, a bust in Heraklion (Crete) and the publication of ‘John Pendlebury in Crete’.

‘John Pendlebury in Crete’ was published in 1948 and includes a summary of what was known from investigations into John’s death in the form of a chapter written by Tom Dunbabin (‘Last Days – May 1941’). Hilda gave a copy of the book to many of John’s friends which prompted letters of reply reminiscing about John.

So many things come back to me as I think of him – his quirks and pranks as assistant secretary of the P.C.D.S. Ye Joyeux Companie of St Pol which he founded – a strange secret society assembled to tell stories, one of which was told by the Grand Seneschale on behalf of the absent Master of the College

(From a letter by Rowe Harding, a friend of John’s at Pembroke College)

I spent the second half of this week (back-in-time a few decades) cataloguing some of John’s childhood letters to his parents. I have been cataloguing letters sent from St George’s School in Broadstairs, Kent, from 1915-1916. The school faced out to the English Channel and John witnessed warships (passing by and once firing at a submarine), air raid sirens and being called to the “dug out” (air raid shelter), and aeroplanes and zeppelins flying overhead. This was all very exciting to a boy of 12 and the games he played with his friends often involved battles, raids on dormitories, and building armoured cars and trains.

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A file of letters from John to his parents (Herbert and Lilian Pendlebury), 1915-1916. Copyright: British School at Athens

Next week I will continue cataloguing John’s letters to his parents.

Week 6, 9th – 13th November

This week I have been continuing to catalogue letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury using the template in Microsoft Word (explained in the previous blog post).

Christmas letter home
Letter sent home by John, Christmas 1940 Copyright: British School at Athens

Whilst reading the letters, which is necessary when cataloguing to item-level, I have been learning more about John and Hilda Pendlebury and people that they knew. The more I read, the more light is shed onto the characters that appear in the collection.

The letter that John sent home for Christmas in December 1940 reveals something of his attitude towards authority. ..

I am making a grand collection of tickings off – usually beginning “In future you should NOT repeat NOT”. As far as I can see the authorities are not unlike Greek grannies and are apt to stand roofs scolding people.

The amount of time it takes to catalogue each letter is extremely variable depending on how easy it is to understand the content of the letter, and how easy it is to read. Below is an example of a letter which took me a little while to decipher. It is from Hilda’s mother and mainly describes her illness, discusses David and Joan [John and Hilda’s children] and gives news of other extended family members.

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Side 2 of a letter to Hilda Pendlebury from her mother Copyright: British School at Athens

Next week I will continue cataloguing correspondence sent to Hilda Pendlebury, then make a start on cataloguing correspondence sent to John’s parents.

Week 5, 2nd-6th November 2015

This week I have mostly been cataloguing the correspondence section of the John Pendlebury Family Papers. I have completed the draft catalogue of a section of letters sent to John Pendlebury (including many thanking him for a copy of his book, ‘The Archaeology of Crete’), and have begun cataloguing a section of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury.

Original file of letters to Hilda
Original file of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury in The John Pendlebury Family Papers

I am initially cataloguing using Microsoft Word. This is because although I now have access to the cataloguing system that will be used for the project (KE EMu), we have not had a chance to perfect the set-up for archives cataloguing. The John Pendlebury Family Papers will be the first archives collection at the British School to be directly catalogued into the program.

KE EMu has already been used at the British School to catalogue museum collections and part of the archaeological sherds collection. It has also been used to enter legacy data from the archives, including the catalogue of the Byzantine Research Fund collection. KE EMu is the basis of ‘Museums and Archives Online: digital repositories of the BSA Collection’ (, and the plan is to present the digitised John Pendlebury Family Papers using this platform.

Beginning the cataloguing in Word rather than KE EMu may be advantageous because it has made me think about the data fields needed, rather than being restrained by what the program initially offers.

Before starting cataloguing I drafted a template of the basic data elements that would be needed for most descriptions. To do this I looked at ISAD(G) and some past catalogues that I have produced. I added a ‘previous reference’ field (even though that does not appear in ISAD(G)) because in my experience this can be very helpful. The John Pendlebury Family Papers have accession numbers stamped onto them, as well as up to 2 more previous references. If someone wants to follow up a reference from their past use of the Pendlebury papers or from someone else’s past use, these previous references will be invaluable.

Here is the basic template for individual catalogue entries:


Reference Code:

Previous reference:

Level of description:

Covering dates:

Extent and medium:

Content and context:

The highlight of this week’s cataloguing has been John’s letters to Hilda. Typed copies of two letters sent from Crete in 1935 paint amusing (if sometimes a little harsh) pictures of his companions.

“The Squire got back looking like nothing on earth! He wore a white (?) suit which he was too modest to take off when sharing a terrace with Mercy. It was also not improved by a vertical tail spin he went into near Erganos which tore the trousers and revealed the good long winter woollies below. His hat was the floppy canvas white one you have at your prep school and the vision I have of him with his trousers rolled up to his knees and his boots around his neck walking up the main street of Arvi from where he had been paddling I will never forget. With all this he insisted on shaving (most inadequately) every morning. But on the other hand he was always up and about early“.

Love from Jehan 1928
A letter sent to Hilda during John’s train journey to Chalkidiki in 1928, signed “Jehan”. This is a reference to Jehane St Pol, a character in John’s favourite book ‘The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and Nay’ by Hewlett (1900). Copyright: The British School at Athens

Next week I will continue cataloguing the section of letters sent to Hilda Pendlebury.