The Monuments Men

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John Edward Dixon-Spain ( 1879-1955 )

British architect John Edward “Ted” Dixon-Spain was born in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, England in 1878. He became an expert on English architecture after touring the country extensively creating sketches and taking measurements of the great English monuments. He studied architecture firsthand with notable architects of his time including William Scorer and Charles William English. In 1899, he passed his qualifying exams at the Royal Institute of British Architects and began practicing in 1900.

Dixon-Spain’s career was interrupted to serve in the South African “Boer” War, after which he was awarded the Queen’s Medal with five clasps. He also served in World War I in France and the Middle East with The Hampshire Regiment, the Royal Field Artillery, and the Royal Flying Corps. For his services to England, he was made an Order of the British Empire in 1919.

Along with his longtime business partner Charles Nicholas, Dixon-Spain was responsible for the Central Public Hall and Baths at Newcastle upon Tyne, the London Pavilion at Piccadilly Circus, Qaer-El-Aini Hospital and the State Medical School (Cairo), Fuad-el-Awal Hospital (Cairo), and The Rock Hotel, Gibraltar. He also designed the churches of St. Joan of Arc at Farnham and St. Alphage at Hendon.

At the start of World War II, Dixon-Spain volunteered for service with the Royal Air Force. In June 1944, he was transferred to MFAA operations as a Squadron Leader and Special Officer with First U.S. Army under the auspices of 21st Army Group. As one of the first Monuments Men in the field, he arrived at Normandy in July 1944 (two weeks after the invasion) alongside Lt. George Stout and Capt. Bancel LaFarge. He would later trade assignments with Capt. LaFarge in October 1944, who had been assigned to 2nd British Army. With 2nd British Army, Dixon-Spain served as an advisor to the Army during negotiations with the National Office for Reconstruction at The Hague regarding monuments and significant buildings in the Netherlands.

In the field, Dixon-Spain soon recognized that, aside from enemy fire, the greatest threat to monuments was the carelessness and curiosity of troops. Dixon-Spain successfully argued for the printing and distribution of notices for posting at protected sites. Due to the shortage of supplies, such notices often had to be improvised. In July 1944, Dixon-Spain submitted a suggested wording for the 18 inch by 10 inch posters: “It is strictly forbidden to remove stone or any other material from this site. Souvenir hunting, writing on walls, and damage in any form will be dealt with as military offences.” His suggestions were approved and printed notices were made available bearing the official signatures of General Eisenhower and Dixon-Spain.

One of Dixon-Spain’s MFAA comrades, Major Ronald Balfour with the 1st Canadian Army, was killed in March 1945 while moving works of art from a combat area in Cleve, Germany. Dixon-Spain had been working with Balfour during the week leading up to his death. He remained in the area afterwards in order to complete some of Balfour’s remaining cases and to consult with SHAEF. In April 1945, Dixon-Spain retired from active service due to health and was sent home to London. For his services during the war, he was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour by France.

Once back in London, Dixon-Spain resumed his career as an architect at his practice in Hanover Square. He designed many modern Roman Catholic schools and was elected a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He died on May 7, 1955 in Graveley, Hertfordshire, England.