MONTY: The Making of a General 1887-1942 by Nigel Hamilton
Kirkus Star

MONTY: The Making of a General 1887-1942

Email this review


Nigel Hamilton (The Brothers Mann, 1979) identifies himself as Monty's ""second son""; and this, based primarily on the Montgomery private papers (entrusted to Hamilton's editor/news executive father, a friend from World War II), is the official biography, or at least the first half. But it is not hagiography--though Montgomeryhaters will doubtless consider it an apologia, and others will have their reservations: on contested points of personal behavior, Hamilton naturally presents all the evidence in Montgomery's favor; on contested military points, he tends sometimes to weigh the evidence to Montgomery's advantage. (And he is not above sneers at the character and competence of Montgomery rivals and detractors.) But he fully recognizes Montgomery's perhaps ""insane"" fixations--source of his genius, too--and sets himself to trace their roots. This is the book's most fascinating material: the maternal grandfather, an inspired schoolmaster and repressed homosexual, whom Monty, his heir in both respects, fiercely rejected; ""Poor, dear Father""--an uncommonly practical, outwardly successful clergyman, but a meek supplicant at home; and, foremost, Montgomery's tyrannical, unloving mother (bearer of five children before she was 24)--against whom Bernard alone rebelled, yet whose affection he constantly, futilely sought. . . until ""the advent of fame relieved him from that onerous servitude"" (and he became ""boastful, vain,"" and ""at times breathtakingly mean""). In the interim he found and married Betty Carver, a spontaneous, outgoing, artistic widow with two children, who supplied his long lacks--and whom Hamilton credits with helping Montgomery ""survive the gruelling ascent to power and command."" That ascent is chronicled here from young Bernard's defiant enrollment in ""Army"" class at St. Paul's through his increasingly responsible WW I service (via his increasingly assertive letters home) to his inter-war career: Ireland, during the ""Troubles"" (an ""impossible"" situation, to realistic, Anglo-Irish BM); training commands (his demonstrated forte); teaching at the Staff College (overweening, sometimes--but plain-spoken, logical, effective); service in Palestine, 1931 and 1938-39, and, teaching also, in 1934-36 India. He was a ""soldier's soldier,"" Hamilton stresses--possessed of an almost childlike simplicity and clarity, and committed to proper training and ""limited, realistic and identifiable objectives."" Hence, in part, his conflict with the proponents of mobile warfare--which runs through the 500-plus pages devoted to World War II, up to Alamein. Here, the problem of the book's sheer (850-pp.) bulk obtrudes--along with some bias. Through Dunkirk, Hamilton is balanced, convincing, and enlightening; on Monty in North Africa--and particularly on the conduct of the landmark Battle of E1 Alamein--there will be dissents from Hamilton's claims. And, right along, he is often repetitive. But there is a wealth of new material--anecdotal and documentary--for historians and intrepid readers to pour through.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1981
Publisher: McGraw-Hill