September 4th has been the 77th anniversary of the Liberation of Louvain (Leuven), our hometown, which is known for it’s University (world top level in theology and medicine), and for Stella Artois beer. On this day in 1944 the Armed Guards arrived and set the town free from the occupation by Werhmacht troops and Nazi-civil servants. Almost exactly two long months of bitter fighting after D-Day, on June 6 on the coast of Normandy. On September the 4th, or a day or so later, this interesting photo was made. The original is in the Town Archives, lead by mrs. Keunen, a colleague historian of mine.
Bernard Montgomery, the bringer of the first big succes after years of Allied defeats against general Erwin Rommel at El Alamein in 1942, Commander in Chief of the Land Forces during Operation Overlord, had his chauffer made a stop on the main square, Grote Markt, with the famous and wonderful mediaeval Town Hall in his back. Monty had received the honor of the title of Fieldmarshal a couple of days before.
This man, who had to fight his terrible mother daily as a boy, was a fierce fighter with typical pluck & with a particular kind of tactics. As a younger Frontline Soldier he was severely wounded and escaped death thanks to a comrade’s help (the man died on the spot) after being wounded on his leg. He was in that instance helped by his original fighting spirit in a man-to-man fight and thanks to good luck/providence/coincidence.
In private, he was found to be a difficult person by some colleagues. General Alan Brooke, himself an able person stemming from a family of soldiers since generations, was taken aback by “Monty’s breathtaking conceit”. This treat of character must have been a so called over-compensation of some inferiority complex.
Montgomery ‘s father had been a priest, a reverend, blessed with a soft character, and with many children but without much means. The marriage of the eternal Soldier Montgomery is worth mentioning. The love of the couple seems to have been plenty. They had one child, a boy. Sadly enough, the wife was often alone due to the responsibilities of her husband, and much worse the union did not last very long. During a visit to an English beach, an insect stung the woman. She became very ill and died after a few weeks. Monty writes in his Memoires: “I never thought of re-marrying; you do not do that after such a deep and true love.”
Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Dwight Eisenhower was too big a man to take offence when Montgomery forbade him to light a cigarette in his presence. Montgomery did not smoke or drink. He introduced the principle of fitness and harsh physical training for the troops. Churchill mostly liked Bernard. They both had a knack for gallantry. Both risked their lives several times as warlords by lodging close to the danger zone or coming to observe action at close range to the Frontline.
The general is often remembered for the great and daring but rather hastily prepared operation Market Garden, using a vast amount of paratroopers behind the ennemy lines in Holland in 1944. What can I tell about it in a few lines? Montgomery was very proud. Like other Generals, he acted out a strong Competition. Montgomery doubtlessly wanted to create a great Victory, reach an even higher cult status than he already had, and he wished help to defeat Nazi Germany fast to be able finally to end the bloody War. The aims and targets were reached for the biggest part. The farthest Bridge to be occupied, Arnhem, proved too much of a challenge. Reasons being amongst others the underestimated fighting power of a famous tough Pantzer Division that happened to be around, weather circumstances and bad luck in the landing operations. Churchill, who as we all know after his political defeat in 1945 took the position of a historian and wrote his own “History of World War II”, writes that most goals of Market Garden were met, that it shortened the war. He was “satisfied with the results of Market Garden, and fostered no regrets about it.” The post war public in the mean time has been imbued with the painfulluly hard fighting and the high losses of lives during the battle by the great Movie “A Bridge too far”, released in 1987, with major roles for magnificent actors as Sean Connery (general Urqhard), Robert Redford and Anthony Hopkins.