The Monuments Men

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Gerald Finnis Talbot Wagstaff ( 1908-1974 )

Gerald Finnis Talbot Wagstaff was born in Bombay, India on July 27, 1908. The son of a successful British insurance manager, his family relocated to England in 1919. Wagstaff attended Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon, England before completing two degrees in Civil Law from Exeter College, Oxford University. He then began a successful career as a conservative barrister working at a private firm in London. Wagstaff also accepted an appointment to the Library Committee of the Oxford Union, a group devoted to overseeing new acquisitions for the Oxford Union library, one of the largest lending libraries in Oxford.

During World War II, Wagstaff served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 60th Rifles. Following the German surrender, he received a transfer to the British MFAA as Regional Education Officer for Liguria, a small region in northwestern Italy. In July 1945 he volunteered to act as temporary Acting MFAA Officer for Liguria, a position he held until the following September. During this time, Wagstaff conducted inspections of churches, historic monuments, and cultural sites in Genoa, Bordighera, and Ventimiglia, including Chiesa della Santissima Annuziata di Portoria in Genoa and the Grimaldi Caves, near the Italian border with France. In Genoa, he reported that the Ducal Palace suffered extensive damage from bombings while the Doria Tursi Palace was in need of a new roof.  

Following his return to England in 1946, Wagstaff became Director of Education for the World Friendship Association (WFA, known as the World Friendship Exchange before World War II), which facilitated international understanding among youths through pen pal programs and trips abroad to such countries as Holland and Belgium. The WFA closed in 1948 due to allegations of mismanagement, forcing Wagstaff to resume his career in law. He worked first as a legal advisor for the DeVere Company, a manufacturer of photography equipment, before running for local office and practicing public law.

Gerald Wagstaff died in Eastbourne, Sussex in September 1974.