A newly-released letter written by Bernard Montgomery and sent from the north African desert in World War Two tells how he ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ his first face-off with Rommel, the Nazis’ Desert Fox.
In the epistle the great Spartan General also details his theory that ‘we all wash too much’ and, perhaps oddly, admits that he hadn’t had a bath in a month.
The hand-written, two-page letter penned to his brother Harold has been donated by a relative of ‘Monty’ to the Tank Museum in Dorset and is dated October 6 1942.
On that same date Montgomery also sent orders to his officers and men stating that if cut off in the next battle they must fight on and not surrender – this would be the Battle of El Alamein.
The intense planning before the battle against Rommel probably explains why the letter to his brother is brief.
In it, he thanks Harold and his wife Betty for their invitation to stay but adds ‘at present it is quite out of the question’.
He confirms that he was sent to North Africa so quickly to take over the Eight Army that he didn’t have time to see his son David at Winchester ‘where he is doing very well’.
Monty tells Harold that he has already had a ‘contest against Rommell [sic]’, adding: ‘he was seen off … I have never before had to face up to a Field Marshal in battle, and I thoroughly enjoyed it’.
This was the engagement on August 31 known as the Battle of Alam Halfa.
He goes on to say how much he enjoys life in the desert, adding: ‘It has the great advantage of being extremely healthy and I have never felt better in my life.
‘I have not had a bath for over a month but it seems to make very little difference; I am convinced now that we all wash too much. As a result, I presume, of no baths I now have no colds. Normally in England I have regular colds’.
David Willey, curator of the museum where the letter is on display, said: “The letter has been donated by Hugh Galton-Fenzi. It is a generous gift and a splendid addition to the museum.
“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.
“Montgomery had originally been tasked with taking over the First Army for Operation Torch, the Morocco landings.
“But after General William ‘Strafer’ Gott was killed when his plane was shot down, Monty was picked to replace him as the new head of the Eighth Army.
“He was informed of his role while he was having a shave on August 8th and was hustled out to Egypt two days later.
“His orders were simple: destroy Rommel and his army.
“At the end of October the decisive Battle of El Alamein began and Monty’s newly motivated troops gained a famous victory and helped turn the tide of the war.
“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.
“And despite the enormous pressure on his shoulders he is able to discuss family news including mention of his other brother Colin, and he tells how he sent his son to Winchester rather than Harrow ‘because of the bombing’.
“Although he says he hadn’t had a bath in over a month other sources describe how he regularly bathed in the sea.”
The donor Hugh is the son of Betty Galton-Fenzi, who was married Bernard’s brother Harold.
He found the letter and decided it should be given to the museum for the public benefit and so it could be with Monty’s other items.
It is displayed in the new WWII exhibition.
Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery fought in the First World War, Irish War of Independence and World War Two. He died in 1976 aged 88.
Picture: David Willey, curator of the Tank Museum with the letter by Bernard Montgomery