THE MEN BEHIND MONTY
by Richard Mead
There have been many books about Monty, and it might be said that there is no particular need for another one. As the author says in his concluding chapter ‘More has been written about Monty than any other British general since Wellington’. But this book takes a different and revealing angle. It is about the small and loyal group of staff officers who worked for Monty, often behind the scenes. As the author acknowledges, there are also some interesting comparisons here with The Iron Duke, since they both surrounded themselves with young hand-picked officers, investing them with special responsibilities. For Monty, he employed his ADCs and Liaison Officers as, in effect, his eyes and ears, and this became an invaluable part of his way of command.
Monty has generated some strong views from historians over the years, and opinions about both him as a general and individual can be stark. Indeed, there is probably no other general in modern times who has attracted so much of a mixed press. What is particularly good about The Men Behind Monty is that it gives a complementary perspective; we see Monty through the views and recollections of those staff officers who worked for him, along with the author’s own analysis and interpretation.
Foremost among Monty’s most loyal staff officers was, of course, Freddie de Guingand, who was Monty’s trusted Chief of Staff from the early days at El Alamein, remaining with him until the end of the war. His role as an interlocutor for Monty, and much more besides, was hugely important to the smooth running of Monty’s style of command. As described by the author, Freddie had three roles: managing the activities of Main and Rear HQ; advising Monty himself; and thirdly, being a link between Monty and the Supreme Commander. Any one of these roles would have been ample for a senior staff officer, but the fact that de Guingand managed all three was indeed a remarkable achievement. Monty was so often away from his Main HQ, preferring to spend time at his small and tightly-knit Tactical HQ, leaving de Guingand to run a large HQ while also keeping in touch both ‘up and down’ the command chain. Giving advice to Monty was never an easy task since de Guingand was by no means the only adviser and invariably ‘Monty had total faith in his own judgement’.
Freddie de Guingand’s third role was arguably the most exhausting and demanding since Monty’s relationships with his own senior commanders was never easy, to say the least; he either selectively ignored them or could be openly contemptuous. It was left to Freddie to keep the channels open, maintaining reasonably good relations. While this probably worked in the desert, by the closing months of the war the task had become vast, complex, and highly political. Consequently, it was a task that ‘was not always successfully fulfilled and not through any fault of Freddie’s’.
The footnote in this story is that de Guingand never received the full recognition he deserved for his remarkable tenure as Monty’s principal staff officer. Promised by Monty the post of Vice Chief of the Imperial General Staff after the war, he was to be denied this by a combination of internal politics and Monty’s failure to demand the appointment. Freddie was ‘devastated’ and his letter to Monty was answered with ‘a brusque reply telling him not to bellyache’. By this stage De Guingand had been forced to revert to his substantive rank of colonel, and was only re-instated to the acting rank of major general after the support of Eisenhower. He resigned his commission on a colonel’s pension early in 1946.
De Guingand’s treatment by Monty, or at best Monty’s total lack of awareness of the unfairness of it all, is another good reason to read this book, because it does help the reader to make a more balanced view of Monty the man. He was more than capable of great kindnesses to those who served him personally, and there are plenty of examples here. His own staff were immensely important to him, both personally and professionally, and in some respects became his surrogate family. But sadly he could sometimes get it very wrong, as in the case of De Guingand who, of course, was older than most of Monty’s young staff officers, and often fighting battles away from Monty’s own HQ. The fact that Monty’s son, the present Viscount Montgomery, ensured that De Guingand was one of the pall-bearers at Monty’s funeral will have gone some way to heal the rift, but it remains a sad story.
In contrast, many of Monty’s other staff officers, both the more senior and the young and talented ADCs and Liaison Officers, went on to successful careers in the Army or beyond; perhaps a tribute in part to Monty’s ability to pick really good people. There were quite a few members of the Household Division among them. Carol Mather, a Welsh Guardsman and one of Monty’s Liaison Officers at the time of D-Day, later became a Tory MP, held senior appointments in the Royal Household, and was knighted. Oliver Poole, who had served briefly with The Life Guards in the 1930s and on Monty’s staff in North Africa and during the Sicily landings, also became a Tory MP, later party chairman, and a peer. Miles Graham served in The Life Guards during the First World War, followed a successful business career in the inter-war years, and rose to become Monty’s Chief Administrative Officer who, along with de Guingand, formed the pairing that was to ‘become the lynchpin of success’ of Monty’s HQs. He was knighted and later became a director of Times Newspapers. Kit Dawnay, Coldstream Guards, had a long association with Monty during the war, and was one of the staff officers invited by Monty to call him ‘General Monty’ as a mark of friendship. Randle ‘Gerry’ Feilden, Coldstream Guards, later became a major general and Vice QMG.
This is an excellent book and thoroughly well researched. It will be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in the huge influence of the human dimension and relationships in war. Monty’s successes could not have been possible without the loyal support of his staff officers, and the challenges they faced were considerable. Monty was not an easy man, a strange mix of emotions that ranged from familiarity, kindness, arrogance, thoughtlessness, and probably loneliness. It would be interesting to know whether the author agrees with Anthony Beevor who has recently claimed that Monty suffered from Asperger’s disease. Either way, Monty was well served by those officers around him, including a good number from the Household Division.
- The Editor
The Men Behind Monty, by Richard Mead, with a Foreword by The Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, is published by Pen & Sword at £25.00