Stanley Casson (1889-1944)
Stanley Casson was a universally renowned expert on classical archaeology. Born in England in 1889, he studied Classics at St. John’s College, Oxford University before traveling to Greece on behalf of the British School at Athens. Feeling at home among the monumental remnants of the Classical world, Casson engrossed himself in Greek culture. He became fluent in Greek and undertook pioneering studies of Greek history and art, including the second volume of a new catalogue of the collections of the Acropolis Museum.
Casson served in the British Army during World War I, including commissions in the East Lancashire Regiment in Flanders and with the General Staff in Salonika under General Sir George Milne, Commander-in-Chief of British Troops in Macedonia. His accomplishments included being one of the first Allied officers to enter Constantinople and trekking through the desert in Turkestan. He was ultimately awarded the Greek Order of the Redeemer, the oldest and highest decoration awarded by the Greek government.
Upon his return to England, Casson resumed his promising career as a respected scholar and writer, quickly rising to the top of his field. In 1920 he became Assistant Director of the British School at Athens, and was elected Fellow of New College, Oxford University. His book, Macedonia, Thrace, and Illyria (1929), an in-depth historiography of the countries’ relations with Greece based on his travels during the war, received the prestigious Conington Prize by the University of Oxford in 1924. An abbreviated list of his accomplishments between the wars includes multiple publications, groundbreaking archaeological excavations in Constantinople, and such prestigious appointments as Reader in Classical Archaeology at Oxford, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Before the start of World War II, Casson joined the officers’ emergency reserve. In 1939 he received an assignment with the Intelligence Corps, serving in the British Mission with the Greek Army and on the staff of the British Expeditionary Force in Greece. Twice he narrowly escaped capture by German forces. He was present during the Nazi invasions of the Netherlands and Crete, but on both occasions was rescued at the last minute by the British Royal Navy.
Casson’s deep knowledge of Greek history and culture made him the ideal candidate to head MFAA operations in the Balkans. In June 1943 the British Embassy in Athens, the Foreign Office, and the War Office hosted a conference to address the protection of cultural monuments and antiquities in Greece. Monuments Man Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Woolley, Archaeological Advisor to the War Office, recommended that Casson be appointed as a senior officer attached to the General Staff to act as a liaison between Greek officials and the War Office. On April 17, 1944, Casson departed England for Cairo, Egypt but was killed when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff.
In appreciation of his service to Greece and its rich history, the Greek government held a requiem mass in his memory at the Greek Cathedral in London. He was the first British officer to receive such an honor during World War II. Similarly, the Greek journal Hellas published the following epitaph in Casson’s memory:
The monuments he loved in peace
He strove to shield in war,
And gave his life for them and Greece
Upon a distant shore
Stanley Casson is buried at Fairpark Cemetery in Newquay, Cornwall, England.