The family and early days of Field-Marshall Bernard Montgomery
Taken from ‘Romantic Inishowen’ 1947 by Harry Percival Swan
Much has been written and told about Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, most colourful military figure of the war, but little is known about his early life. The News Chronicle sent its Special Correspondent, Louise Morgan, to Donegal to learn more about him. At New Park, a big rambling house built in 1776 by his grandfather at Moville, on the lovely shores of Lough Foyle, she found the answers.
‘The mother was Maud Farrar, one of the five daughters of the famous Victorian, Dean Farrar of Canterbury, who wrote the moral schoolboy tale, Eric or Little by Little. Two months before her seventeenth birthday, in 1881, Maud was married to Henry Montgomery, Vicar of St Mark’s, Kennington, anything but a fashionable parish. He came of an old Irish family, was 34, more than twice her age, and had been one of her father’s curates. They were engaged when she was only fourteen. It was a great love match until his death at 85. Any child with parents as happy as these was bound to have a happy start in life.
The sixteen year old wife faced a gigantic job. Children came very quickly, and at twenty-four she had five. Bernard was the fourth. The job was all the harder because there was very little money. When Henry came into his Irish estate, much land had to be sold, leaving barely enough to keep New Park, the family home. But even at sixteen, Maud had a remarkable and original organising capacity. Every hour was an operation in management by his “little general” of a mother. She may have had to retire now and then from a skirmish, but she never lost a battle. She made use of everything at hand, however unconventional. Getting a job done, not following the traditional method, was the essential thing. She served delicious dishes which cost nothing and when her guests discovered the base was “vermin” (rabbit) they were at first scandalised, and then asked for the recipe.
The boys also had to get their own tea, eat in the schoolroom and clear up. They loved doing all these things, and learned important lessons while enjoying themselves.
Moville knows how much Field-Marshall Montgomery owes to his mother, and pays her the affectionate tribute of expressing it humorously. An old boatman on hearing the news that Monty was making Rommel run, commented with a broad grin: “No wonder; he’s not his mother’s son for nothing”.
This studio photograph from the 1880s is entitled ‘Miss Montgomery’s Group’ from Moville. It has not been possible to name them individually. An insight into social life in Moville is found in the diary of Jane Harvey, who spent August 1876 in Drumaweir near Greencastle. One of the big events of the summer season was the Moville Flower Show, which was promoted mainly by the gentry. The Regatta took place on 8th August and enjoyed a wider appeal. After listening to the band of the 91st regiment of Highlanders, in the evening Jane went to a ball at Kilderry, Muff, which ended at 5.20 am. She knew Ferguson Montgomery, a keen sportsman who organised games of tennis and croquet for the ladies on the front lawns of New Park, watched by his parents, Sir Robert and Lady Montgomery. Jane’s son James preferred cricket, however, and he played a weekly match at Pennyburn. Bathing took place at Drumaweir and afterwards everyone boarded the Harts’s boat for Moville. In the evenings Lady Montgomery was busy organising concerts and games of whist in the schoolhouse or parlour for her guests. On Sundays Jane attended both morning and evening church services and listened to the sermon of the young Henry Montgomery, later Bishop of Tasmania. She described him as impressive but felt he did a better job in the morning. When her holiday ended, she took the evening steamer from Moville back to Derry.’
Featured in The Inish Times 1st March 2006
Field-Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976) soldier, was born 17th November 1887, in Kensington, South London, the fourth of nine children, six boys and three girls, of Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, Anglican Bishop, born in India, and Maud (nee Farrar) Montgomery, of Harrow, North London, daughter of Dean Farrar, Anglican clergyman.
In September 1889, just before Bernard’s second birthday, his family moved to Tasmania, before returning to live in London in 1902. He first visited the Irish family home at New Park, Moville, in the summer of 1897, when they were met by a committee from the then village with an address of welcome. New Park’s 1,000 acre site had been purchased form the Marquess of Donegal in 1768 by his great-great grandfather, Samuel Montgomery, wine merchant of Derry city, and the young Montgomery developed a lifelong affection for an identification with Moville and its people spending a considerable amount of his youth and numerous holidays at New Park.
He was educated by private tutors in Tasmania, at King’s School, Canterbury, for a Summer term, at St. Paul’s School, London (1902-6) before attending Sandhurst Military College from January 1907 until July 1908.
He first became a commissioned officer with the Warwickshire Regiment in 1908 and was wounded twice in World War 1, fighting on the western front in 1914-5 and then assuming training duties in the UK later in 1915.
He was then promoted to brigade Major, 104th brigade, at the first battle of the Somme in June-November 1916, staff officer, 33rd division battle of Arras, April 1917, staff officer 9 Corps, 3 battle of Ypres/battle of Passchendaele, July-November 1917, and staff officer 47th division in 1981. He graduated from the Staff College, Camberley, in December 1920, before being appointed brigade-major of the 17th Infantry brigade at Cork in 1921-2. From 1926 until 1931 he was an instructor at Staff College, Camberwell, before being appointed commander, 1st battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment to the Middle East and India (1931-4) and then general staff officer, grade 1, at Staff College, India (1934-7).
Appointed commander, 9th infantry brigade in Portsmouth (1937-8), he then became commander, 8th division, Palestine (1938-9) until the outbreak of the world War II. In 1939-40 he was appointed commander, 3 division, 2 corps for France and Belgium and was one of the last soldiers to evacuate Dunkirk in May-June 1940.
Back in England he was appointed commander, 5 corps in 1940 and commander, 12 corps in 1941. The following year he was promoted to South Eastern Command and was involved in planning the Dieppe raid of 1942, before commanding the 8th army in 1942-3, during which time he defeated Nazi forces in the North African campaign in major battles of Alam Halfa (August-September 1942), El Alamein (October-November 1942), Medenine (March 1943), Mareth (March 1943) and the last major battle in Tunisia (May 1943).
Thereafter, his men joined up with US forces, capturing Sicily (July-August 1943) and mainland Italy (September-December 1943). Appointed commander 21 army group (1943-5), he was commander-in-chief of ground forces in Normandy (June-August 1944) at the battle of Arnhem (September 1944), at the Ardennes 1944-5), and having crossed the River Rhine in March 1945, he accepted the surrender of German forces in May 1945.
After the war he was commander, British Army of the Rhine (1945-6) chief of the imperial general staff (1946-8), chairman, Western Europe Commander-in-chiefs Committee 1948-51) before coming deputy supreme allied commander. Europe, until his retirement in 1958.
Despite his clipped upper-class accent, Montgomery disliked being called English and throughout his life described himself as Irish and a Donegal man. For most of his life, he spent considerable periods of time at New Park until his mother’s death in 1949 when the house was sold to become a hotel. Given both his personal and lengthy familiar relationship with Inishowen, it is possible to regard him as the most famous person from the peninsula. Frequently described as Britain’s greatest military leader since Wellington, he was unquestionably one of the finest military commanders of the twentieth-century.
His victory against General Rommel, ‘the desert fox’, in North Africa, was the first and only major British ground campaign success achieved without American assistance.
Among his many honours, he was knighted in 1942 and promoted to Field-Marshall in 1944. He wrote a number of books: Memoirs (1958); An Introduction to Sanity (1959); The Path to Leadership (1961); Three Continents (1962); A history of Warfare (1968).
In 1927 he married a widow with two sons, Betty Carver (nee Hobart); they had a son of their own, David, but Betty died in 1937. His main residences were in Tasmania, London, Moville and Portsmouth. He died in Alton, Hampshire, on 24th March 1976.