Monty ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ his first fight with Rommel, letter reveals

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ his first encounter with Nazi general Erwin Rommel, a newly discovered letter has revealed.

The handwritten, two-page message to his brother Harold was found by a family relative and subsequently donated to the Bovington Tank Museum in Dorset.

Bernard Montgomery in 1943. The newly discovered letter was addressed to his brother, Harold, just weeks before the Battle of El Alamein.

Often known as ‘Monty’, Field Marshal Montgomery fought in the First World War and Irish War of Independence, before playing a prominent role in the Second World War. During the Western Desert campaign of that conflict, he led the British 8th Army to victory over Rommel at the Second Battle of El Alamein in late 1942.

The letter is dated 6 October of that year, just weeks before the battle that marked a turnaround in Allied fortunes in the war. By that stage, Montgomery had already faced Rommel once, months earlier at the Battle of Alam Halfa on 31 August.

‘He was seen off,’ Montgomery wrote of the event, adding ‘I have never before had to face up to a Field Marshal in battle, and I thoroughly enjoyed it’.

The letter is brief, perhaps because of the intense preparations that were going on ahead of El Alamein. Montgomery also said to his brother that he was sent to North Africa so quickly to take over the 8th Army that he did not have time to see his son David at Winchester, ‘who is doing very well’.

Lieutenant-General William Gott had been the previous commander of the 8th Army, but after he was shot down and killed, Montgomery was hastily drafted in to replace him.

Of the environment, Montgomery added that: ‘It has the great advantage of being extremely healthy and I have never felt better in my life.’ He also discussed a theory that ‘that we all wash too much’ and that bathing too often led to colds, which he said he had ‘regularly’ in England but not in Africa.

Montgomery died in 1976, aged 88. The letter was found by Hugh Galton-Fenzi, the son of Betty Galton-Fenzi, wife of Bernard’s brother Harold. Galton-Fenzi decided to donate it to the Tank Museum, where it now forms part of a new exhibition on the Second World War.

Commenting on the donation, museum curator David Willey said: ‘We already have some important items belonging to Montgomery, including his famous black beret that appears in so many photographs. This letter is a wonderful addition, and it gives some subtle insights into the man.’

He added: ‘To have a letter from this hugely important period is wonderful, and gives a glimpse into the mind and thinking of the great field marshal and how he intended to get a “grip” on the situation.’

Located by an active military base, the Bovington Tank Museum is the home of some 300 tanks from key battles of every major conflict since the First World War.

Images: Bovington Tank Museum/Wikimedia Commons.