Verifying a quote attributed to Field Marshal Montgomery

I’ve been doing some reading on Field Marshal Bernard “Monty” Montgomery (of El Alamein and Operation Market Garden fame).

Monty said a lot of quotable things in his time, but his last words were apparently “Well, now I must go to meet God and try to explain all those men I killed at Alamein.”

Not surprisingly, the remark appears in countless “Famous Last Words” lists - however, pretty much the only source I’ve found for this (and the source that’s cited all over the internet) is “The Columbia Encyclopedia, 1976”.

Which makes me a bit dubious as to whether A) They actually were his last words (or made in an interview in his declining years), and B) why there’s only one source cited for them,* and an encyclopaedia at that. You’d think one of his official biographers would have mentioned something like that if he’d really said it, after all.

So, do any of the other military history board members (I’m not the only one here, right? :D) know if he actually said that, and if so, if those actually were his last words, or, if not, the context they were said in?

  • The obvious answer is that everyone’s copying the Wikipedia page’s cite, but that still doesn’t explain why I’m not finding “official” attributions for the quote anywhere, excepting extraordinarily weak Google-fu at the moment

The entire 6th edition is online; the entry on Montgomery didn’t have any quotations.

And I’ve deleted the quote – if it’s from an online encyclopedia, link to it, folks.

A Google Books search turned up a better cite (as it often does) as “among his last words”, but second-hand. http://books.google.com/books?id=BDgnD0omDo0C&pg=PA246&dq=“all+those+men+I+killed+at+Alamein.”&hl=en&sa=X&ei=x0vdT9CZE5Og8QSfx4XxCg&ved=0CEAQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=“all%20those%20men%20I%20killed%20at%20Alamein.”&f=false

[hijack] To whom was he planning to explain Arnhem? [/hijack]

Dropzone, as most quotes describe him talking to God, I fail to comprehend your question. Could you please further explain your question?
Or are you seeking to disparage the account that is cited?
Indeed, considering the quote and considering the citation AND other sources that were easily found, but varying, I fail to comprehend your query.

[hijack] Well, the question had been answered to the best of anyone’s ability so we could go from there. I assume his explanation to God about what happened after Alamein didn’t get him into Heaven, so he had someone else to explain his career to. Clue: I don’t like Montgomery and meant to disparage him but Alamein really should not have needed explaining. Arnhem, on the other hand, did and my WAG is that, being old and feeble, he meant to say Arnhem. [/hijack]

It appears that one of his biographers did, indeed, mention it.

I did a bit of sleuthing, and the first place i landed was here, a page from a book called On War and Leadership, by Owen Connelly. If the link shows you the same preview that it shows me, you should see page 299, and in the top half of the page you will see footnote number 9. This footnote discusses the quote, and cites “Horne, Monty, 352” as its source.

The book in question is Alistair Horne and David Montgomery, Monty: The Lonely Leader, 1944-1945 (1994). Unfortunately, neither Google nor Amazon have a full preview of the book available, but Google does have a snippet preview, and i searched Horne’s book and managed to find this.

The snippet view only lets you see a few lines of text, but it does appear that Horne discusses your quote at the top of page 352 in his book. The next question to answer, i guess, is where Horne got his information. I’m not sure if his book has comprehensive footnotes, but if it does then presumably he would have cited his sources.

My university has an electronic delivery service, which allows me to order articles and book chapters. The library scans them and sends them to me. I’ve put in an order for 10 pages of the Epilogue to Horne’s book, including page 352, as well as any associated footnote pages. If my request passes the library’s copyright clearance (10 pages is usually no problem), they should send me an electronic copy of the relevant pages in the next few days. Once they do, i’ll share the results.

One more thing:

A search of the Proquest Historical Newspapers database also turned up an article that mentions your quote, although the wording is a bit different. It is from the British newspaper, The Guardian, November 19, 1987. In this article, the story goes like this:

I’ve uploaded the page from The Guardian so you can see the article for yourself: Link (pdf) The article in question, “The Luck of the War,” is at the top-right of the page.

Wow, mhendo - I’m deeply impressed. Above and beyond, and all that. I really appreciate it all so far!

If nothing else, I think it shows how pervasive Wikipedia’s become that so many people on the net just assume it’s right and attribute from there without looking into it any further.

David Montgomery, who helped Horne with the book, was Montgomery’s son, so presumably he knew something about his father’s final days. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what you turn up.

As it turns out, I have a copy of the book in question (bought it years ago at a second hand book store) and at page 351-352 he says

This was said to Sir Denis Hamilton then editor of the Times who served under Monty at Normandy. The book describes him as a Brigadier, he was according to wiki, a Lt Col.

To the OP, yes it seems accurate.

I have a copy of “Immortal Last Words” and it quotes a lot of military men (and not exclusively final words). However, Montgomery doesn’t get a run. Make of that what you will.

Having read what Mhendo and AK84 say above, I can’t see that the quote in the OP is really accurate. It says more that he will meet the soldiers that died in the battles, not have to explain to God why. And that is more fitting with Monty’s personality- he could never admit he was ever not right (and this was stated by his son).

[Ah, AK84 got there first.]

Just as a small elaboration on AK84’s post, I’ll note that the book mentions that

I add that only to underscore that David Montgomery was with his father in his final days, though perhaps not present for his father’s words with Hamilton.

Hamilton’s son, Nigel Hamilton wrote a bio of Monty as well. I wonder if that book mentions it?

rowrrbazzle found a citation that points to Nigel Hamilton’s Monty: Last Years of the Field Marshal (1983), but I’m having trouble finding this in what Google Books allows us to see of Hamilton’s book. (Note the variation in verbiage between Tsouras’s citation of what’s said to appear in Nigel Hamilton’s book and Horne’s and Montgomery’s inclusion of what Montgomery is said to have uttered to Denis Hamilton.)

For what it’s worth, Tsouras (again, who cites Nigel Hamilton) says that this was “among [Montgomery’s] last words, late February 1975.” The year is clearly wrong, given that Montgomery died in March, 1976.

Unfortunately, that’s true.

Included in that group are the college students in my history classes. No matter how many times i tell them that Wikipedia is not a valid scholarly source, they still keep going there because it’s easier than actually going to the library and reading a book, or searching the academic article databases.

Thanks to AK84 and Tammi Terrell for the elaboration on Horne’s book. I tend to agree with Cicero, too, that the quotes we’ve managed to dig up so far suggest a rather different emphasis, in terms of Montgomery’s attitude, than the quote in the OP.

So it appears the words are his, but that they weren’t his last words, only among the last; that he didn’t mention explaining anything to God, only “meeting all those soldiers I killed…”; and that he mentioned both Alamein and Normandy.

I also see that the quote has not reappeared in his Wikipedia article. I’d regard both Nigel Hamilton and David Montgomery as credible reporters, but I’ll leave it to someone who’s got the book in his hands to replace them.

Nigel Hamilton’s “Monty Volume 3 The Field Marshal 1944-76” dates to quote to late February but he didn’t die for another month (24 March) so they clearly were not his last words but Sir David Hamilton reported that Monty had had a very bad night according to one of his carers (a Miss Cox) and, when he asked him what was troubling him, replied;

“I couldn’t sleep last night - I had great difficulty. I can’t have very long to go now. I’ve got to go and meet God - and explain all those men I killed at Alamein.”

To me it sounds consistent with comments he made previously that he did mean Alamein and not, as suggested earlier Arnhem, as he visited the battlefield of Alamein after the war and was shown around the Commonwealth cemeteries and when asked if he now wished to visit the Axis cemeteries replied something like, “I’ve think I seen enough graves I am responsible for for one day, thank you…”

Finally Monty had many flaws but he was always very careful with the lives of his men and rarely asked more of them than they could give. The same cannot be said for many Allied commanders - Slim maybe springs to mind whereas commanders like Patton and Alexander were verging on pathalogical. I don’t think Market-Garden should be a lightning rod for too much criticism. At least it could have won the war before the end of 1944 if successful, whereas operations like Anzio make Market-Garden look respectable!

The fact that Hamilton after three volumes and well over 1500 pages does not say what his last words were suggests to me that nobody knows or they were not striking enough to be recorded.

I’m sorry, but I think you are totally wrong. He may have been known as "Blood and Guts’ but like his 19th century equivalent, William Tecumseh Sherman, he was always looking to maneuver and save his men’s lives. And they appreciated him for that, although other things they didn’t like. One person from the war department visiting American troops in the hospital noted that his soldiers would always say they were in the Third Army or they were with Patton. Nobody said that about Bradley or Hodges.