John Pendlebury - Archaeologist

John Devitt Stringfellow Pendlebury (1904-1941) was a British archaeologist who died in action in the Battle of Crete during World War II. He had an equal interest in Greek and Egyptian archaeology and had wanted to be an archaeologist since childhood. Pendlebury was the son of Herbert Stringfellow Pendlebury and Lilian Dorothea Devitt. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge and was an outstanding sports-person who competed internationally as a high-jumper at Cambridge. His athleticism informed the way he worked as an archaeologist and intelligence officer.

Pendlebury’s first association with the British School at Athens was when he travelled to Greece in 1923 as a school student and met Alan Wace (Director 1914 - 23) at Mycenae. He became a student at the British School at Athens in 1927 having been awarded the Cambridge University Studentship to the School, followed by the Macmillan Studentship. There he studied and recorded Egyptian artefacts that were then in Greece, combining his interest in both areas. He met his wife, Hilda White, who was also a student archaeologist, at the School.

Pendlebury and White excavated at Tell el-Amarna where he later became Director of Excavations and at Knossos, Crete, where he became Curator of Knossos. Pendlebury and White became good friends with BSA Director Humfry Payne and his wife Dilys Powell, who later wrote about Pendlebury in The Villa Ariadne. Pendlebury worked closely with Evans at Knossos. Pendlebury and White spent much time in Crete travelling around the countryside, getting to know the landscape and people and finding possible excavation sites. This intimate knowledge of Crete greatly informed his work as a resistance organiser.

In World War II, Pendlebury as appointed Vice-Consul in Crete by the British government and he helped to organise Cretan resistance to the expected German invasion, which came in May, 1941. He was shot in the street by German soldiers shortly after the Battle of Crete and executed soon after and is buried in Suda Bay War Cemetery, Crete. In Crete, he is still revered as a war hero.

Artist’s Note: From the photos provided to me from the BSA archive, Pendlebury had two distinct presentation styles: the first a very official upstanding look appropriate to a young English gentleman but the second, of an archaeologist and adventurer (with hints of Indiana Jones) with a sense of excitement on his face. So it was clear that Pendlebury’s LEGO portrait needed to visually depict this second side especially.