30th March 2009
When I first read Field-Marshal Montgomery’s four part 'Notes on the Occupation of Germany' I ignored the speeches, reprinted in the appendices, which he gave on receiving numerous honours in Britain and in Europe, such the Freedom of the Cities of Manchester, Newport, Brussels, Antwerp, Londonderry and Canterbury, of the London Boroughs of Chiswick and Lambeth and an honorary degree from Queen’s University, Belfast.
At first I thought this showed his vanity and that success had gone to his head, as he wrote, for example, of being greeted by cheering crowds in the streets of Brussels and elsewhere. The speeches all seemed to say much the same thing, fine words and platitudes about soldiers and civilians depending on each other and the importance of the British Empire.
But on a second reading, it seemed to me that these speeches may be as close as we can get to what Montgomery’s own views really were and what he aimed to achieve after the war was over. Why else would he include all these speeches in the Notes, word for word, if he didn’t mean what he said?
On other occasions, for example when he spoke to the press and journalists, he was eminently practical, detailing the problems faced by British Military Government and the steps they had taken in response to these. He talked about issues such as the shortage of food, the problems of refugees, displaced persons, lack of accommodation, the threat of disease, shortage of coal and absenteeism in the mines, the problems of denazification, the formation of political parties, trades unions, and the need for cooperation between the allies. Some of these addresses read as if they were written for him.
The speeches he gave on receiving honours were quite different in tone. Perhaps they were an opportunity for him to say what he really thought and believed?
In these speeches the same themes re-occur again and again, expressed in different ways: the need to rebuild civilisation after the chaos and destruction of war, which can only be done through hard work, sweat and blood (if not tears); the need for personal sacrifice to achieve this, and a firm “spiritual basis” on which to build; how older men, such as himself, were tired after the stress and strain of years of war, and younger men were needed to take over the task from them; the importance of a strong and united British Empire as one of the main pillars of the post-war world.
Here are some extracts:
From his speech in reply to receiving the freedom of the city of Antwerp, on 7th June 1945
“Our first task in now ended. Together we have won the war, and have destroyed the Nazi tyranny of Europe. Our hardest task remains to be tackled. Out of the chaos and confusion which the war has inflicted on Europe we have to rebuild our European civilisation. In destroying the Nazi power, we have destroyed one great evil; much that was good and beautiful has also been destroyed, and the economic organisation of Europe lies in ruins. We can rebuild what has been destroyed only by toil and sweat, and there is no short cut back to prosperity.”
On receiving the freedom of Chiswick, 28th July 1945
“The war in Europe is now over, and the war in the Pacific will be relentlessly pressed to its certain conclusion. But even then much will remain to be done. We must now start to face the problems of rebuilding our civilisation in Europe, and in the world. As a result of this war much of Europe has been destroyed. We have lost much that was good and much that was beautiful, and the whole economic framework of Europe lies in ruins. We have got to rebuild that framework in England, in Europe, in the World, and this can only be done by toil, and sweat, and much hard work; there is no short cut to prosperity.”
On receiving the Freedom of Lambeth on 15th August 1945
“We are all tired as a result of the strain and stress through which we have passed; we all want a rest and some relaxation. I do myself. But we cannot any of us rest for long. We have a job to do which will call for all our energy and purpose. We have got to rebuild a new England and a new Europe out of the ruins of the old. Much of Europe will look to us to give them a lead and we cannot afford to neglect this great responsibility. If we do neglect it, we may well allow the seeds of yet another war to be sown.”
“I firmly believe that every enterprise which man undertakes, if it is to achieve any lasting success, must have a strong spiritual basis; if we attempt any great thing for soles material reasons, the results cannot be good. Today our task is greater and more complex that ever before. We have won the war; we now have to rebuild a new civilisation: a new world in which all nations may live in peace and prosperity.
We cannot achieve success in this great task unless we have a firm spiritual basis on which to build.”
“But we do not only want peace. We want prosperity; and there are many who think that this will be provided for us by the State: but this is a great mistake. The State can merely provide the opportunity and ensure that it is fair for all; we have got to win prosperity for ourselves, or else go without it; and we will win it for ourselves only by much hard work and by personal sacrifices on the part of us all.”
On receiving the Freedom of the City of Brussels on 12th September 1945:
“In spite of this war, and in spite of all that has been lost or destroyed by it, Europe still has the heritage of all the culture handed down to us through the ages, and this is immeasurably more valuable that our material possessions which have been destroyed. We must build our future on all that was good in the past, and must this time make sure that what we build cannot again be destroyed.”
Of especial interest were three speeches he gave in Northern Ireland, where his family originated from, and still owned land:
On receiving an honorary degree from Queen’s University, Belfast, on 14th September 1945, he started by saying: “It is a great pleasure for me who am an Irishman to come here today to receive an Honorary Degree of your famous University.”
“The future is in your hands. Many of us older men are tired with the stress and strain through which we have passed during the war. In due course we shall want a rest. But the task ahead calls for great energy and drive and the white-hot enthusiasm of youth. We older men may give the lead for a while, but it is for the younger men to take up the running and shoulder this task. I believe there are now immense opportunities for reshaping our world for the better.”
And on receiving the Honorary Burgess of the City of Belfast, later the same day he spoke of the British Empire:
“This Empire of ours does not stand still. It is a great living and developing organism, and is today, I believe, one of the great forces for good in the advancement of the world towards peace and prosperity. During this war, every part of our Empire has learnt to carry greater responsibilities, and our brotherhood in arms has brought us closer together and more conscious of each other’s problems than ever before. Let us see to it that we do not forget the lessons we have learnt. Now, as never before, we must be prepared jointly to shoulder our Imperial responsibilities, and together to help to build a new world based on our love of freedom and justice for all.”
On receiving the Freedom of the City of Londonderry the following day, 15th September 1945, he continued the same theme, invoking the history of the city “which I almost feel is my home town”:
“Before the war, the Empire was everywhere weak … A weak Empire is a danger to ourselves and to the whole world. But a strong and united Empire, united in a common belief in freedom and justice, is one of the greatest forces for good in the world today.”
“This ancient city of ours can well understand these things, since it has itself been through difficult times and suffered great tribulations: the ancient city of Derry being finally reduced to ashes early in the seventeenth century. But the people of London assisted in the work of reconstruction, and a new city arose on the ruins of the old: and was called Londonderry, on account of its connection with the capital of the Empire.
“We of Londonderry thus have a link with the Empire that can never be broken: a link that binds us strongly to the very heart of the Empire.”
On receiving the Freedom of the City of Newport, on 25th September 1945, he spoke of what he believed needed to be done in Germany:
“For how long we shall occupy Germany we cannot say now. But we will do so until we can satisfy ourselves that she can conduct her affairs decently and will not again become a canker in the heart of Europe. Therefore we must start to reorganise her country for peace, a country which has been completely destroyed. We must re-educate her, and teach her people to want to live a free and decent life, and to accept the ideals of freedom and justice. We must eradicate the poison which has been injected into her for so many years and replace it by decent ideas. This is what we are now trying to do in Germany today. It is part of our task of restoring the shattered fabric of civilisation. It will take a long time, but I think it can be done. We shall not ensure peace unless we succeed in this task.”
On receiving the freedom of the City of Canterbury on 20th October 1945
“Today we stand at the beginning of a new era. Peace has been won; we must now win prosperity. We have got to rebuild our civilisation, much of which lies in ruins. This will call for much hard work, as prosperity is not automatically one of the fruits of victory.”
On receiving the Freedom of the Borough of Maidenhead on 22nd October 1945
“Furthermore, the destruction in this war has been on a far greater scale than anything known before. Our complex modern civilisation lies heavily battered, and in some parts of Europe it has almost ceased to exist.”
And finally, the conclusion to a lecture he gave at St Andrews on 15th November 1945 on 'The Spiritual basis of leadership'
“Finally I do not believe that today a commander can inspire great armies, or single units, or even individual men, and lead them to achieve great victories, unless he has a proper sense of religious truth; and he must be prepared to acknowledge it, and to lead his troops in the light of that truth. He must always keep his finger on the spiritual pulse of his armies, and he must be very sure that the spiritual purpose which inspires them is right and true, and is clearly expounded to one and all. Unless he does this he can expect no lasting success.
For all leadership, I believe, is based on the spiritual quality, the power to inspire others to follow; and this spiritual quality may be for good or may be for evil. In many cases this quality has been devoted towards personal ends and was partly or wholly evil; and, whenever this was so, in the end it failed. For leadership which is evil, while it may temporarily succeed, always carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.”