Saturday, August 02, 2008
My Favourite General
In between long stressful shifts on the newsdesk and cooling swims in the pool I'm spending time reading up about one of this country's best army commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, and having a number of long held assumptions gathered from films etc shattered in the process.
Teetotal Monty was at his best when he did all his planning and went to bed early. He had made his dispositions, was comfortable that he had done so to to the best of his considerable ability, and appeared to sleep well - even though people would be killed the following day.
Monty was at his worst when like many celebrities, he began to believe in his own PR. He was good but not infallible. After he started to believe totally in his infallibility along came the dreadful adventure at Arnhem. Part of the problem was he couldn't admit that plans had to change when new circumstances came along unexpectedly.
Monty had no sense of 'otherness' to his troops. He had a system of Liason Officers who travelled everywhere, quizzed everyone, then reported directly to him about what was going on to the point where he was better informed than every other commander. He toured the lines, addressed all ranks from the top of his car and told them what he was doing; explaining to troops personally what his objectives were and what was expected of them.
In return he appeared to be bothered about their welfare, their food, their clothing and appeared to recognise how much the average infantryman cared about his own survival. They responded to him and he got the best out of them - even though they were a long way from home, poorly equipped when compared to the Wermacht and sometimes weren't even from his own country; he often found himself leading Poles, French and even Americans when there was a failure of leadership post D-Day.
My Dad, a corporal in WWII saw Monty on at least one occasion. This was a period when the majority of commanders were generally well behind the lines and within reach of a bar and a decent golf course. He broke the mould and brought himself and us victory in the process.