British Army turns its eyes to Portsmouth for to recruit specialist team of treasure hunters

(l to r) Bill Murray, Dimitri Leonidas, George Clooney and Bob Balaban in Columbia Pictures' THE MONUMENTS MEN.
(l to r) Bill Murray, Dimitri Leonidas, George Clooney and Bob Balaban in Columbia Pictures' THE MONUMENTS MEN.
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RESERVIST troops and civilian history experts with a flair for Indiana Jones-style adventure are needed to protect – or recover – ancient treasures in a special Monuments Men-esque unit.

The British Army is forming a 15-strong team of reservists who would be willing to risk life and limb to defend some of the world’s greatest cultural treasures.

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Pictured: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. See PA Feature FILM Cowboys. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lucas Film 2007.

Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. Pictured: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. See PA Feature FILM Cowboys. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Lucas Film 2007.

And as part of that, the man in charge of the new squad – Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick – is turning his eye towards Portsmouth to recruit officers for his specialist team.

In particular, reservists who are curators, art specialists, archaeologists and investigators by day are being sought after to join the new cultural property protection unit.

But he is also looking for civilians in the city with similar backgrounds, who would be eager to join the army reserve and the team, to apply..

Speaking to The News, Lt Col Purbrick said he has already worked closely with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, based in Portsmouth, and is eager to gain more support from the city.

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, Commanding Officer of the newly formed Cultural Property Protection Unit, 77 Brigade. Photo: Soldier Magazine

Lt Col Tim Purbrick, Commanding Officer of the newly formed Cultural Property Protection Unit, 77 Brigade. Photo: Soldier Magazine

‘There will be, I have no doubt, civilians in Portsmouth and the wider Hampshire area who have the necessary skill set and have the time and commitment to tackle the selection process to become and army reserve officer,’ he said. ‘So I would absolutely welcome them coming forward and submitting an application.’

The squad’s job will be to return works of art stolen by invasion forces or terrorists, investigate looting, bring smuggling gangs to justice, protect ancient buildings and report on important cultural sites in places where British and allied forces are operating.

Looting and selling antiquities has been proven as a fund-raising method for terrorist groups.

‘Our staff could find themselves out on an exercise doing operational planning or sitting at a border, checking vehicles for stolen artefacts,’ said Lt Col Purbrick, a Gulf War tank veteran-turned-arts dealer and reservist who is the squad’s only member. ‘There’s a strong possibility we’ll be working with allies such as the French out in somewhere like Mali where they are trying to prevent antiquities being smuggled out of the country.’

The cast from The Monument Men

The cast from The Monument Men

The unit – part of the army’s specialist 77th Brigade which deploys to war-torn and disaster-stricken parts of the globe to provide stability and security alongside other government agencies – has been set up partly in response to the destruction of historic sites by the so-called Islamic State.

Its forces bulldozed the ancient Nimrud palace in Iraq, flattened or blew up most of the mosques in Mosul and destroyed some of the Roman ruins in Palmyra as part of a deliberate campaign against historic and religious sites.

Beyond preserving or recovering some of the world’s most important historic sites or works of art, the aim of the unit is also to stem the flow of money into the hands of terrorists.

As with drug-running in the Middle East, money generated by the illegal sale of artefacts and artwork is known to fund terrorist groups.

‘Looting and selling antiquities has been proven as a fund-raising method for terrorist groups,’ Lt Col Purbrick said. ‘Part of our job is about preventing “threat finance” – you have an adversary extracting cultural property from the region you are operating in and then, in effect, sending it back at you in the form of bombs and bullets.’

Lt Col Purbrick has identified an Arabic-speaking archaeologist from the army reserve and a historic building inspector from the Royal Navy Reserve as potential candidates to join his unit.

He said he is looking for experts in art, archaeology and art crime investigation, and is eager to recruit trained reservists first but added those who aren’t yet in the reserves could still apply.

This would mean they would have to pass the army reserve officer selection course and have the necessary education and experience.

For details on how to apply, see https://army.mod.uk/77thBrigade