By William P Roe, Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 16, 2007
The World War II hero, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976), universally known as ‘Monty’, was the son of the Reverend Henry Montgomery who, in 1880, became the Vicar of St Mark’s Church, Kennington and who was appointed the Bishop of Tasmania in 1890 when Monty was just two years old. It was in Tasmania that a second son, Donald, was born to the Bishop’s wife who was some 18 years younger than her husband.
In January 1902 the family returned to England and moved into a large Victorian house in Bolton Road, Chiswick, quite close to the River Thames and surrounded by still largely undeveloped open spaces and sports grounds, most of which were still owned by His Grace, the Duke of Devonshire. It was from 19 Bolton Road that Monty and his brother attended St Paul’s School, just across the boundary in Hammersmith. The house has now been demolished and replaced by the flats known as Bolton Lodge.
As a boy Monty constantly sought love and affection from his mother but was not successful and suffered painfully as a result of her rejection. Possibly for that reason he failed to shine academically at school, although he was keen on all forms of sport. Nevertheless, he obtained a commission in the Regular Army before the outbreak of Word War I, during which he saw service in France and Belgium and was wounded by a sniper’s bullet which penetrated one of his lungs. Undoubtedly he would have died then but for the fact that one of his men, having been wounded, fell on top of Monty thereby protecting him from further sniper bullets until darkness permitted a rescue to be made.
From then on he applied himself to his army career, not giving any thought to marriage, and always favoured bachelor officers with similar dedication and attention to service. However, when he was approaching 40 years of age he met a widow, Mrs Betty Carver, an artist who lived on Chiswick Mall, in a cottage then known as 2 Riverside. They married on 27 July 1927 at her parish church, St Nicholas, Church Street.
Following his marriage Monty was posted to India where his son, David, was born. It was also in India that Betty developed a strange illness from which she died, just when Monty had completed ten years’ service there.
Service during World War II
By 1938 it was apparent that another war was becoming inevitable and Monty was inspired to apply his energies to his career as an army officer, unfortunately to some extent to the neglect of his son, who was mainly cared for by relatives.
On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Monty was sent with the British Expeditionary Force to serve in France and Belgium. He soon realised that the British Army was not nearly so professional, nor so well-equipped as the German Army. In particular he noticed that many British commanding officers were treating the waging of war as though it was some kind of game. Possibly because of his criticism he was not very popular with many of his fellow officers, although some of the younger and more capable officers admired him for his dedicated professionalism in respect of military matters.former
It was Monty’s experience and proficiency that led to him becoming a lecturer at officer training sessions. This, though, prevented him from personally being able to put into practice his own form of calculated warfare. During the dark days of 1942, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to appoint him the General commanding the Eighth Army which had been driven back to Egypt in the Western Desert.
The United States of America, which had been forced into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and Hitler’s declaration of war on the USA, was now beginning its amazing production of war materials in great numbers, particularly Sherman tanks, and making these products available to their British allies. Monty applied these weapons to great effect at the Battle of Alamein, just west of Cairo, where he had built up the Eighth Army forces in positions behind the Qattara Depression. On the night of 23 October 1942 he launched a massive attack on the German and Italian positions. This proved to be the first of many great victories for the General who went on to lead further victories in the invasion of Sicily and Italy and subsequently in the landings on Normandy and in France, Belgium and Germany. In 1944 he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshall and was considered a hero of the people by the general public, as a result of which a statue of Monty was erected in front of the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall.
Freedom of the Borough
In 1945, the Mayor and Corporation of the Borough of Brentford and Chiswick, which was an independent borough within the administration of the County of Middlesex, decided to offer Monty the Freedom of the Borough. He was pleased to accept, although the ceremony had to await the cessation of hostilities in Europe.
On Saturday, 28 July 1945, the Mayor, Alderman T W Stroud JP, met Monty on the Borough’s boundary with Isleworth on the Great West Road. They rode together in an open landau carriage through cheering crowds, turning into Chiswick High Road until they reached Turnham Green. Chiswick Empire, facing Turnham Green, had been booked especially for the occasion since Chiswick Town Hall, on the other side of Turnham Green, could not accommodate a large number of attendees. There, on the stage of the Chiswick Empire, Monty was presented with the formal Freedom, together with a Cromwellian clock which had been reproduced by the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Company, in recognition of the distinguished services he had rendered to his King and Country, the inscription included the arms of Montgomery as well as the arms of the Borough. Afterwards, the landau took Monty and the Mayor through more cheering crowds to the boundary of the Borough with Hammersmith at Young’s Corner. There is a short film of the Freedom of the Borough ceremony. You can see a clip from it on the Pathe News website here
Recovery from the ravages of six years of warfare was initially very slow but one of the priorities of local government was to provide living accommodation, not only to replace extensively destroyed houses, but also to make amends for over six years when no new development took place. The old St Thomas’s Sports Ground, once used by the hospital of that name, situated on the corner of Sutton Court Road and Fauconberg Road, and extending back to the railway, had fallen into neglect. The Borough of Brentford and Chiswick acquired the site for housing and the provision of a primary school. The roads within the new development were given names such as St Thomas’s Road, Florence Gardens and Nightingale Close to reflect the site’s connection with the Hospital. The block of flats facing Sutton Court Road at the foot of Grove Park railway bridge, though, was named Montgomery Court after the Borough’s honorary Freeman, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery GCB, DSO.
William Roe FRICS was born in Chiswick and has lived here all his life. In 1934 he joined Tyser Greenwood, estate agents and surveyors, and remained at that firm for 50 years apart from military service during World War II. He is the author of Glimpses of Chiswick’s Place in History (1990), Glimpses of World War II (1997; and Glimpses of Chiswick’s Development (1999). He is the vice chairman of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society.