In the dying days of the Raj …
One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia …Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).
This is one question that has long puzzled me!
Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield – and put him into archaeology! Especially, in the middle of WW II! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek! Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, put a general on to the job of digging dirt.
Dirty brown Indian dirt!
Especially, when it was clear that they would be departing from India – sooner rather than later. Remember, the deceptive Operation Mincemeat had just been completed. The Allies were readying their armies for their assault on Hitler in Europe.
The end of WW2 was still distant – and the outcome, far from certain.
Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, in hindsight, from a Western perspective, this was sound decision. Looking at the manner of his appointment, there is little doubt that Wheeler’s appointment had little to do with history!
Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, who appointed Sir John Marshall, was employed by the British Intelligence bureau.
As a spy!
The facts behind the story
In 1938, Sir Leonard Woolley, an expert in ‘Biblical’ archaeology, was appointed as head of review committee to report on Indian Archaeology. During WW2, Leonard Woolley became advisor to the British War Office. Woolley’s committee completed and submitted its report during WW2. Based on this report, Mortimer Wheeler was appointed as head of ASI.
Wheeler’s handler? Sir Charles Leonard Woolley!
The Biblical agenda
Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was an interesting player, closely allied with the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). PEF, a famed ‘Biblical’ institute, and Woolley was its chief archaeologist. The excavations at Ur and Carchemish were to his ‘credit’ as was the ‘discovery’ of Biblical Abraham’s ‘birthplace’.
Along with TE Lawrence and Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, Woolley was a part of team of “intelligence agents who ventured to the land of the Bible hoping to find spiritual redemption under cover of patriotic duty.” Britain turned these “archaeologist-spies into an intelligence operation in Cairo, known as the Arab Bureau”.
History – mangled by Western spies and intelligence agents!
The political agenda
TE Lawrence, confided to his mother that these excavations were “obviously only meant as red herrings, to give an archaeological color to a political job”. In WW1, they were recruited by the British military to survey of the Negev Desert, under the garb of archaeology, funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for Biblical “Wilderness of Zin”. These archaeological excavations served the purpose of intelligence gathering.
The most famous example of this intelligence work was that of TE Lawrence and Leonard Woolley who were excavating at Carchemish in Syria prior to World War I. Their archaeological endeavours seem to have been secondary and perhaps even a cover for more covert activities.
The British were hardly alone in this.
In 1940, J. Edgar Hoover decided to start “as comprehensive a programme as is possible in utilising the services of archaeologists” for the CIA. The CIA, under William Langer, recruited and “enlisted archaeologists, art historians and other academics to use their fieldwork for CIA intelligence-gathering purposes.”
History written by such ‘archaeologists’ is what India is trying to unravel!
Again … just why?
The original questions remain!
For instance, knowing that they would be leaving India, sooner rather than later, Britain nationalized Indian Railways, stopped investing in and maintaining Indian Railways from 1925 – which steadily increased accident rates and incidents.
Just why would an imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him onto the job of digging dirt. Why were the British focusing on Indian history? In the middle of WW2?
It is this one incident which possibly contains answers to many unanswered questions like: –
- The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
- The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan,
- The many myths in Indian history,
- The clues to the partition of India
- The dating problems
There may be the facile answer that the British were after all ‘searching for history and truth’. The answer may lie in the remarks made by Mortimer Wheeler,
“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”
Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for a existence at a higher level!
Ironically, in 1965, the Government of India, appointed another Review Committee, this time with Sir Mortimer Wheeler as Chairman. So, we now know why Indian history has changed so little from colonial version.
This post provoked some interesting off-site discussions. Most of such ‘fault-finding’ was nitpicking. One comment stated that “Sicily was invaded in July 1943 so whatever Wheeler was doing in August 1943 it wasn’t drawing up plans for an invasion of Sicily.”
A quick search showed that
In September 1943, he (Mortimer Wheeler) commanded the 12th Anti-Aircraft Brigade during the landing of the Allied Forces at Salerno, Italy, which became known as Operation Avalanche. (from New World Encyclopedia)
Some others writing about the Salerno landings had this to say
The German 10th Army had come close to defeating the Salerno beachhead. The stubborn initial resistance by 16th Panzer Division’s battlegroups and the Germans’ ability to reinforce them by land quicker than the Allies could land follow-up forces by sea or air had almost tipped the battle. 5th Army planners had concentrated the main weight of its forces in X Corps on its left wing, in line with its major objective of advancing on Naples. This had left its right wing thinly manned to defend X Corps’ right flank and left a particular weakness at the corps boundary. (from Wikipedia).
In another thread the entire post was dismissed because the rank of Brigadier General was abolished after WW1. But a more knowledgeable source pointed out that “After WW 1 the War Office wanted to reduce the number of Generals … the Army obeyed orders at the same time keeping the status of their one-star Generals intact by the simple expedient of abolishing the rank of Brig-Gen and re-designating them simply as Brigadiers.”
On reader refused to take a 2ndlook, as he did not “think that there is any great puzzle here nor do I see any dastardly design to ‘invent’ the theory of European Origin for the Aryans, as the linked article seems to suggest.
Mortimer Wheeler was … 54 years old. He had taken an active part in WWI and WWII. He retired from the Army Service simply because he was 54 years old, which, I would think, is the usual age for Brigadiers to retire. Also, by 1944 and after Normandy the rolling back of the German War Machine was well on its way. Mortimer Wheeler must have been quite pleased to get this assignment after his retirement!”
Why would this respondent think that 54 was the retirement age for a Brigadier? Even if it was, why did this posting occupy the minds of the British bureaucracy in the middle of WW2.