Nigel Hamilton Describes How Churchill’s View of the
Field Marshall Evolved From Fractious to Friendship
New Orleans, 4 April: Nigel Hamilton, official biographer of Lord Montgomery, spoke to the 31st International Churchill Conference about the complex and evolving relationship between the prime minister and the field marshal that came to a head soon before the D-Day landings. According to Hamilton, Churchill initially despised Montgomery in private but respected his abilities. As one officer explained, “Monty was not a nice man, but nice men didn’t win wars.” Still, when Churchill learned that Montgomery planned to take over 2000 officers and clerks in the early days of the cross-channel invasion simply to keep records, the prime minister decided to have it out with the commander of the armies in person, an episode not related in Churchill’s official biography or in most leading accounts of the war. Hamilton, however, had the story from Monty himself.
Churchill arrived at Montgomery’s 21st Army Group Headquarters and was received in private by the commanding officer. Monty explained that he had personally approved the logistical arrangements for the invasion following well-established procedures. To make any last-minute changes would undermine the confidence of his staff in their commander. “I could never allow it–never,” Monty pronounced. “If you think that is wrong, that can only mean you have lost confidence in me.” Churchill was moved to tears. “But to Monty, Churchill’s weeping was not a sign of weakness,” Hamilton explained. “They were tears which sealed a bond of mutual trust and esteem.”
As a 19-year-old student, Hamilton was befriended by the old Field Marshal. One day he received a call from Monty asking him to come along with him to visit Churchill, who was then in his final years. “The old boy needs me,” Monty explained knowing that a visit to Chartwell would help cheer up the fast-declining statesman. This time, Hamilton observed, it was Montgomery’s eyes that moistened as he gazed with deep emotion at his old boss. Contrasting personalities are precisely what is required to make a successful partnership.