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Standen, Capt. Edith A., WAC | Steer, Capt. Kenneth, CBE | Stout, Lt. Cdr. George L., USNR

Steer, Capt. Kenneth, CBE  

Major, British Forces, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFAA) Officer

In 1938, following undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Durham, England, which led to the award of a PhD for a thesis on Roman remains in County Durham, Kenneth Steer was appointed to the post of Assistant Archaeologist with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) in Edinburgh. In 1941 he was commissioned into the British army and was assigned to the Intelligence Corps. In the Italian Campaign of 1943-1945 he served as head of the Air Photographic Interpretation Service in 56th Division. For the final months of the war he was transferred to a similar post in the 5th British Infantry Division and in June 1945, with the prospect of demobilisation still some time away, he was appointed, after interview, to a post with the MFAA North Rhine Division, based in Düsseldorf.

Here, in what he later described as one of the most rewarding parts of the work, he had responsibility for the procurement of building materials for first-aid repairs to ancient and historic monuments heavily damaged during the fighting. This involved taking advice from a small panel of architects and architectural historians, drawing up with them a list of priorities and estimates of cost, and then arguing for resources against competing claims of housing, schools and hospitals at monthly meetings of a committee of the Control Commission. He always considered that his most notable achievement was to win just enough building material to prevent further deterioration of Cologne Cathedral.
During his time in Düsseldorf, Steer was twice mentioned in dispatches and, shortly before his demobilization, was granted the honorary rank of Major.

Steer left Germany in July 1946 and returned to Edinburgh and to his post with RCAHMS. In 1957 he became Secretary (Chief Executive) of the Commission. He was highly regarded both as an archaeologist and as an administrator and, under his stewardship, RCAHMS flourished and expanded. He was President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1972-75 and a corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute. Throughout his career he maintained the keen interest in Roman archaeology that had provided the springboard for his first excavations and graduate studies. As an extension to the main thrust of the work of RCAHMS, which was to compile county inventories recording the monuments of Scotland, and in collaboration with Dr. J W M Bannerman, a lecturer in the Department of Scottish History at Edinburgh University and a Gaelic scholar, he wrote a well-received volume entitled Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands (RCAHMS 1977). He was made a Commander of the British Empire in the New Year Honours’ List of 1978 and retired later that year.


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