A great warrior goes to visit the front

November 7 1959

A great warrior goes to visit the front

November 7 1959

A great warrior goes to visit the front


“June 10th, 1944. The P.M. had called me up, stating he

proposed to visit Monty on Monday and wanted me to come with him. Smuts also coming, We are to leave by train on Sunday night and make an early start by destroyer on Monday.”

On receipt of this information Montgomery sent a telegram to Brooke; “Note that you and P.M. coming over Monday 12th June. Will meet you and give you full picture. Roads not — repeat —not one hundred percent safe owing to enemy snipers, including women. Much enemy bombing between dusk and dawn. Essential P.M. should go only where Í take him. and you must get away from here in early evening. Am very satisfied with progress of operations,” 4* ‘‘June 12th, Í drove to Ascot station where l picked up the P.M.’s train.

“We continually passed convoys of landing-craft, mine sweepers, bits of floating breakwater (Phoenixes) being towed out, parts of the floating piers ( Whales). etc., and, overhead, a continuous (low of aeroplanes going to and coming from France. It was a wonderful moment to find myself re-entering France almost exactly four years after being thrown out, for the second time, at St, Nazaire. Floods of memories came back of my last trip of despair, and those long four years of work and anxiety at last crowned by the success of a re-entry into France.

“Monty met us on the beach with a team of jeeps which we got into and drove off on the CourseullesBayeaux road to about half-way to the latter place. There we found Monty's H.Q. and he gave us an explanation on the map of his dispositions and plans.

“After lunch we returned to Courseulles and did a trip along the sea-front.

“Close by was a monitor with 14 in. gun firing away into France. Winston said he had never been on one of His Majesty's ships engaging the enemy and insisted on going aboard. Luckily we could not climb up owing to seaweed on the bulges, as it would have been a very noisy entertainment had we succeeded. Then we returned to our destroyer and went right back to the east end of the beach where several ships were bombarding the

Germans. Winston wanted to take part in the war and was longine to draw some retaliation. However, the Boche refused to take any notice of any of the rounds we fired. We therefore started back.

4* “July 19th. 9.30. P.M. sent for me. I found him in bed in a new blue and gold dressing-gown but in an unholy rage! What was Monty doing dictating to him; he had every right to visit France when he wanted? Who was Monty to stop him? As Defense Minister he had full right to visit any front he wanted! Haig had always allowed him in the last war when he was Minister of Munitions. He would not stand it. He would make it a matter of confidence, etc., etc. I found it hard to discover what the trouble was, or to put in a word edgeways. At last I discovered that Eisenhower had told him that Monty has asked not to have any visitors during the next few days, and the P.M. had argued out that Monty had aimed this restriction mainly at him. Nothing that I could say would make him believe otherwise . . .

“I assured him that I could put the whole matter right in five minutes with Monty and left him. Tedder had very kindly lent me his plane in which I had an excellent crossing to an improvised landing-strip near Monty’s H.Q.

“I had a long talk with Monty. First I put matter of P.M.'s visit right by getting Monty to write a note to P.M., telling him he did not know that he wanted to come and inviting him. Then warned him of tendency of P.M. to listen to suggestions that Monty played for safety and was not prepared to take risks.

"Got back to flat to find a letter from Secretary of State showing that P.M. had been unbearable all day on the question of Monty trying to dictate to him. He (P.M.) had finally drafted a letter which he wanted S. of S. to send to Eisenhower notifying him of the intended visit of the P.M. and of the fact that he would not see Monty. S. of S. called me up on the telephone. I told him what I had done, and while we were talking

he received a message from the P.M. stating that the

letter to Eisenhower was not to be sent.

“Shortly afterwards P.M. called me up and said that he was delighted with Monty's letter and felt rather ashamed of himself for all he had said."

“Winston had never been very fond of Monty;

when things went well he put up with him, when

they did not he at once became 'your Monty.' Just as this time Eisenhower had been expressing displeasure and accusing Monty of being sticky, of not pushing sufficiently on the Caen front with the British whilst he made the Americans do the attacking on the right. Winston was inclined to listen to these complaints.

“When 1 saw Monty I asked him what he was doing stopping the P.M. from coming to France. He assured me that he was doing nothing of the kind. I then told him that whether he was or not did not matter, but the important thing was that the P.M. was certain he was.

“Monty then told me that Stimson had visited Bradley's H.Q. and had remained with him so long that orders for an attack could not be got out. and the attack had to be postponed for twenty-four hours. Monty had therefore asked Ike to stop visitors for the present. This message had been passed on to the P.M. by Ike.

“I, therefore, told Monty to go into his caravan and to write a letter to the P.M. on the following lines; 'The C.I.G.S. has just informed me that you are under the impression that I am trying to stop you from coming to France. This is the very last thing l should do, and I will always welcome your visits. I shall always have a caravan available for you, and if my duties prevent me from coming round with you personally, I shall always have a staff officer at your disposal. I only hope you will pay me a visit soon.’

“The letter worked like magic. I think Winston had forgotten that I had gone to France when he called up and said; 'I have had such a nice letter from Monty: he wants me to come to France whenever 1 like, he will meet me himself when he can, if not he will have a staff officer at my disposal, and he will also always have a caravan at my disposal.’ ”

4* The Rhine at Wesel—“the greatest water obstacle in Western Europe" — was five hundred yards wide, and a million men had been assembled to cross it. Facing them was the flower of what remained of Hitler's Western Army. That he should be present was the Prime Minister's intense desire and. after his disappointment over D-Day, he did not mean to be thwarted. Brooke, who in military matters was nearer him than any other man, was well aware of this. Immediately after their return from Germany he had written to Montgomery.

“As regards the P.M.'s proposals for his next visit, do not take this matter too light-heartedly; there are seeds of serious trouble ahead. In his mind you stopped him before the start of Overlord visiting troops, you tried to stop him in Normandy, and now you are attempting to do so again! Note that I said 'in his mind'; but that is the important point, as when he gets such ideas nothing on earth can get them out.

“He is determined to come out for the crossing of the Rhine and is now talking of going up in a tank! I feel the safest way would be to find some reasonably secure view-point (not too far back or there will be hell to pay) to which he can be taken and from which he can see and have explained what is happening.

To this Montgomery replied:

“P.M. If he is determined to come out for the Battle of the Rhine, I think there is only one course of action: and that is to ask him to stay with me in my camp. I shall then be able to keep an eye on him and sec that he goes only where he will bother no one. I have written him a letter; Simpson will show it to you; it should

please the old boy!”

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Brooke, none the less, had doubts. “Tomorrow,” he wrote in his diary, “I start off with P.M. on this visit to sec the Rhine crossing. I am not happy about this trip; he will be difficult to manage and has no business to be going. All he will do is to endanger his life unnecessarily. However, nothing on earth will stop him!”

+ “March 23rd. Monty’s H.Q. Venlo,

Germany. “We left Northolt in a Dakota about 3 p.m. We had a very good two hours’ flight over Calais, Lille and Brussels. On arrival here wc drove on to Monty’s H.Q.

“We found Monty very proud to be able to pitch his camp in Germany at last. Monty described plan of attack for the crossing of the Rhine which starts tonight on a two Army front, with Ninth American Army on right and Second British Army on left. Crossings take place throughout the night, and the guns have already started and can be heard indistinctly in the distance.”

“After dinner Monty went off to bed early and Winston took me off. First of all. wc walked up and down in the moonlight; it was a glorious night, and we discussed the situation we were in at the momentous moment of crossing the Rhine. We went back over some of our early struggles, back to Cairo when we started Alex and Monty off. How he had had to trust my selection at that time, the part that the hand of God had taken at the critical moment, etc. He was in one of his very nicest moods and showed appreciation for what 1 had done for him in a way in which he had never done before.”

4* “March 24th. Venlo. At breakfast Monty told me that from all reports he had received the forcing of the Rhine was going well. At 8.45 the P.M. and 1 started off together with Monty’s A.D C. We had a three-quarters of an hour’s drive to a viewpoint about 2,000 yards south of Xanten from which an excellent view can be obtained when the weather is clear. Unfortunately, it was rather hazy, but we could just make out the line of the Rhine from Xanten to Wesel and could just see some of the boats ferrying across the Rhine where landings had taken place.

“We were in the middle of the battery positions supporting that portion of the front, and there was a continual roar of guns as they were busy engaging German A.A. guns in anticipation of the arrival of the airborne divisions. The 6th British and 17th American Divisions were due to start, arriving at 10 a.m., to land in the area about two to three miles beyond the Rhine, the far side of the Dienfordter Wald. The 6th Airborne Division was starting from Fast Anglia and the 17th Airborne Division from the Paris area. They arrived punctual to time, and it was a wonderful sight. The whole sky was filled with large flights of transport aircraft. They flew straight over us and over the Rhine. Unfortunately they disappeared into the haze before dropping their loads of parachutists. The flak could be seen bursting amongst them before they disappeared. Shortly afterwards they began to stream back with doors open and parachute strings hanging under them. A few of them burst into flames on their way back and

shed their pilots who floated down in their parachutes.

“Winston then became a little troublesome and w'anted to go messing about on the Rhine crossings and we had some difficulty in keeping him back. However, in the end he behaved well and we came back in our armoured cars to where we had left our own car, and from there on back to the H.Q. P.M. went off for a sleep which he wanted badly; he had been sleeping in the car nearly all the way home, gradually sliding on to my knee.

“After lunch wc got into a tank-landing-craft which was plying across the Rhine and crossed over. It was a great thrill setting foot on the far bank. We spent a little time examining the German river-defenses and then recrossed the river.

“We got back into the car and motored to the main road bridge over the Rhine at Wesel. The bridge had been broken in several places but partly boarded over so that one could scramble about on it. Winston at once started scrambling along it for about forty yards. We found Wesel was still occupied and that considerable sniping was going on inside the town. About two hundred yards lower down, the bridging parties w’ere getting ready to start a new bridge. They had apparently been seen by the Germans as shells began to fall some three hundred yards downstream. Reports then came in that the Germans were shelling the road behind us; at the

same time shells began to fall about a hundred yards upstream of us. We decided it was time to remove the P.M.. who w'as thrilled with the situation and very reluctant to leave! However, he came away more obediently than I had expected.”

“I must interrupt the diary here, as I failed to record a picture which is as vivid in my mind as it was on that day. It is that of the U. S. General Simpson, on whose front we were, coming up to Winston and saying, ‘Prime Minister, there are snipers in front of you; they are shelling both sides of the bridge and now they have started shelling the road behind you. I cannot accept the responsibility of your being here and must ask you to come away." The look on Winston's face was just like that of a small boy being called away from his sand-castles on the beach by his nurse! He put both his arms round one of the twisted girders of the bridge and looked over his shoulder at Simpson with pouting mouth and angry eyes. Thank heaven he came away quietly, it was a sad wrench for him; he was enjoying himself immensely.”

“It was a relief to get Winston home safely; I knew that he longed to get into all the most exposed positions possible. I honestly believe that he would really have liked to be killed on the front at this moment of success. He had often told me that the way to die is to pass out fighting when your blood is up and you feel nothing.” +


"I knew that he longed to get into all of the most exposed positions possible."