The excavation of Carchemish (1912-13) with Leonard Woolley (right) and T E Lawrence (left)
 
Noah Charney writes in The Arts Newspaper that –
 
With the release of George Clooney’s drama about the Monuments Men and their adventures in saving Europe’s art treasures during the Second World War, viewers get a glimpse of a true, dramatic, epic story of the race to rescue an estimated five million cultural heritage objects, from paintings and sculptures to rare books and valuable archival materials, that were looted by the Nazis and were threatened with complete destruction. The Clooney film is only loosely based on historical fact—it necessarily compresses, condenses and alters reality to fit the rules of a Hollywood feature. But one aspect of the Monuments Men that most American accounts skip past or exclude altogether is the fact that the Monuments Men began as a British operation—and was led by a very British brand of hero, Sir Leonard Woolley.
 
In anticipation of the film, much has been written about the Monuments Men, but what tends to go overlooked is the role of British scholar-soldiers in protecting the world’s cultural heritage. It was the British who first recognised, early in the war, the need for a division of officers trained in, and dedicated to, the protection of art and monuments in conflict zones. In January 1943, during a pause in the fighting near Tripoli in North Africa, Mortimer Wheeler, the director of the London Museum and a renowned archaeologist, grew concerned about the fate of three ruined ancient cities nearby along the coast of Libya: Sabratha, Leptis Magna, and Oea (the ancient city around which Tripoli grew).