From the Archives: a glimpse into the life of Sir John Wheeler-Bennett

College staff and members were recently given a special insight into the life of one of St Antony’s Founding Fellows, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett (1902–1975). A small display curated by College Library and archive staff with Marcus Choo (MPhil Russian and East European Studies) brought together items from the College’s library and archive collections relating to Sir John and his fascinating life.

A man of great personal charisma, Sir John had an extraordinary ability to make important connections with a range of influential people. A pioneer in the art of writing history in the twentieth century, he became an authority on Germany in the interwar years, seeing himself as an ‘unofficial channel of communication between leading German politicians (excepting Nazis) and London’, and was one of the last people to interview Leon Trotsky. As King George VI’s official biographer, he met and interviewed (and even developed friendships) with many major leaders in Europe and North America in the post-war period including US Presidents, British Prime Ministers, and members of the Royal Family.

Sir John joined St Antony’s as a fellow in 1950, remaining in close touch with the College for many years until his death in 1975. The College Library holds some of Sir John’s personal papers which illuminate this extraordinary life. They include correspondence, photographs and research materials compiled by Sir John for the writing of many of his books and articles.

For further information about the papers of Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, or any of the archival collections held by St Antony’s (apart from those within the Middle East Centre Archive) please contact Alice Millea, College Archivist & Records Manager, at

The exhibition included Sir John’s ID card for the British Embassy in Washington – which marks his employment as ‘on Special Mission at His Majesty’s Embassy, Washington’.

A photograph of John Wheeler Bennett's ID card, with his employment given as 'on special mission at His Majesty's Embassy, Washington'.

The exhibition included items from throughout Sir John’s life, including this bust, a personal letter from the Queen Mother (pictured here in the background) and family photographs.

An image of a bust of John Wheeler Bennett

A feature of the special exhibition were several books from Sir John’s private collection, many of which were gifted to him from famous figures and contained personal messages. These included UK Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden, Leon Trotsky, and US President Harry Truman.

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