Leys Ainsworth France (1895-1947)
Diplomat and banker, Leys Ainsworth France was born in Terre Haute, Indiana on May 29, 1895. He served during World War I with the 17th Field Artillery regiment of 2nd Division, American Expeditionary Force. His unit held back the German advance into northeastern France, participating in such well-known battles as Aisne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne. Following the Armistice, 2nd Division was re-outfitted and progressed through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and into Germany as the advance American division. Upon his return to the United States, France completed a degree from Princeton University and worked in banking.
In 1924 France began a long career with the U.S. Department of State which included appointments at embassies around the globe. He served as Assistant Trade Commissioner in Riga, Latvia, Stockholm, Sweden, and Montreal, Canada. During the 1930s, he received a succession of posts as Assistant Commercial Attaché in Vienna, Austria and Cairo, Egypt. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, France worked as a U.S. consul in Mexico City, Mexico as well in Canada at Ottawa and Winnipeg.
France enlisted in the U.S. Army in April 1942. While little is known about his wartime service, he became a Military Government Officer assigned to 6thArmy Group by at least November 1944. He was later stationed in Mannheim, Germany as MFAA Officer for Detachment E7 of 2nd Military Government Regiment, conducting inspections of numerous churches, castles, museums, and cultural monuments in the area, advising on repairs and liaising with German museum officials. In August 1945 he inspected Heidelberg Castle, where he discovered in the basement hundreds of books, paintings, and etchings belonging to Heidelberg University, the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg, and the Kunsthalle Mannheim. After a cursory inspection of the contents, France placed the room off limits, locked the door, and entrusted the only key to the lead curator at the Kurpfälzisches Museum.
At nearby Schwetzingen Castle, France found that the castle’s valuable contents had been mistreated by billeted troops. He and the castle’s long-suffering caretaker walked through each room of the castle, collecting pieces of damaged porcelain for temporary storage in the caretaker’s personal apartment until all troops could be evacuated. In his report, he even mentions finding porcelain “scattered about the courtyard.” In the following months, France visited an impressive number of suspected repositories for looted art and other cultural objects. Following his devoted service with the MFAA, he returned to his wife and daughter in the United States. He died in Cleveland, Ohio on October 15, 1947.
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