Eminent historian, biographer and author Nigel Hamilton has produced a series of three books which trace Montgomery's entire life. They are; Monty - The Making of a General (1887-1942), Monty - Master of the Battlefield (1942-1944) and Monty - The Field Marshal (1944-1976). Confusingly, some of my reviews for these titles have also appeared against the wrong book! I have, therefore, revised my review to include all three books and I hope the reader finds this useful.
No detail has been spared in providing as complete a picture as possible of this great man - with each volume being in the order of 400-500,000 words and standing pre-eminent because of previously unpublished supporting photographs and other material. With access to his private letters, diaries and other papers, in "The Making of a General" he takes the reader from the birth of Montgomery in 1887 to his promotion to Lt General and command the Eighth Army in 1942. This is a fine account of the years in question. Pictures of Montgomery as a child, boy, young officer, family man, and in every rank up to Lt General are an important part of the history of this man. As an example, of the many thousands of officers and soldiers present, how ironic that a "Lt Colonel" Montgomery should be photographed standing in front of Winston Churchill during a Victory Parade in 1918. Elsewhere, the numerous other historic photographs include a young Major A. E. Percival (who as Lt General Percival surrendered Singapore to inferior Japanese forces in 1942!) to name but one.
In "Master of the Battlefield," the depth of research and revelation continues as Hamilton provides a truly extraordinary analysis of Montgomery's time at the forefront of WW2 in Europe and the Mediterranean. From his time as Army Commander in charge of some 180,000 soldiers through to his responsibility for the planning of D-Day - which time he commanded over 2 million Allied Troops. As Hamilton freely admits; this story reveals "the true torment, frustration, misunderstanding and dissatisfactions that are the hand-maidens of those who make history." For me, the work is also an exceedingly fine account of what was easily Montgomery's most difficult, yet worthwhile, years on earth.
In the third and final part of the trilogy (Monty - the Field Marshal) we have the difficult years of Montgomery having to live with his achievements - from the closing stages of WW2 right up to his death in 1976. Montgomery was promoted Field Marshal on 1 September 1944 - in time to take command of the liberation of Europe. Nothing is overlooked in this exposé which provides an understanding of why there were the bitter disagreements with other senior Allied commanders. His time as Military Governor of post-war Germany, his appointment as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (Head of the British Army), his attempts to provide the British Labour government obsessed with retreat from the country's Imperialist past with a clear plan for the defence of the Realm, his battles with that government, his role as architect and founder of NATO and, above all, his continued propensity for antagonising both his Allies and his superiors.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery was finally transferred to the inactive list (British 5 star officers never retire!) in 1958 as he approached his 71st birthday. This milestone, however, heralds yet another chapter in the life of a busy man which, in this work, was revealed for the very first time.
Hindsight is, of course, a fine science, and there are many interesting events which the historian (and even the amateur psychologist!) might now regard as the reason why Montgomery became what he became and did what he did. There was his strict upbringing as the son of a Reverend (later Bishop) both at home and abroad, public school, formative years in an army of Empire and the events of World War 1 which almost claimed his life. In 1936 there was the tragic death of his wife. In this series of three books, Hamilton reveals the very best that Montgomery ever was whilst also providing the reader with an understanding of his difficult side. Commendably, he has not allowed his personal friendship for his much older subject to blur his objectivity and thus provides a full and fine account of a great man. In so doing, these 3 books have become an important contribution to both British history and the history of the Second World War. More importantly for some, they are also an excellent read.