Lord David Montgomery (or David Bernard Montgomery, 2nd Viscount Montgomery of Alamein CMG CBE, to give his full name), who died last month at 91, is remembered in Argentina for both the right and wrong reasons.
Since the latter seem to predominate – at least according to recent headlines – which in most media anounced him as “Argentina’s English ally during the Malvinas war,” it might be best to start by setting the record straight here.
While he was indeed an outspoken critic of the 1982 South Atlantic conflict (a rare bird indeed within his own Conservative Party), dubbing him an “Argentine ally” would be too simplistic. Montgomery’s advice to Margaret Thatcher in so many words was: “General Galtieri is looking for a smokescreen to cover up all the disasters of military dictatorship. Don’t give him that smokescreen.” As we all know, Thatcher didn’t listen, of course.
That stance might just be construed as making him an ally of Argentina in a deeper sense, but he was certainly no friend of Galtieri. Nor did his tireless work to mend post-war Anglo-Argentine relations – which constitute the right reasons for remembering him – include having much time for subsequent Malvinas (Falkland) Islands sovereignty claims by elected governments, dismissing them as new distractions from such economic problems as “rampant inflation” and foreign debt.
He always defended the islanders as an unavoidable voice in any negotiations and even considered independence an option, thanks to fisheries and oil wealth.
For many years, from the resumption of relations in 1990 until early this century when advancing age and Kirchnerite isolationism alike prompted him to call it a d a y , L o r d Montgomery was pretty much t he automatic leader of all major British trade missions here. Good at it too with a naturally gregarious personality and passion for dialogue making him an ace at networking. But although a businessman himself (starting with Yardley soap and developing his lifelong fascination with Latin America via business links), he saw trade as a means to an end – as a catalyst towards constructive engagement in doing good by stealth.
Chairman of the AngloArgentine Society and Canning House among other organisations linked to this region, Viscount Montgomery was interested in Latin America as a whole, being decorated by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela as well as Argentina for his expertise in commercial relations (he mastered both Spanish and Portuguese).
For many years he ran his own trade consultancy, Terimar Services, which introduced British companies across South America and he also spoke on South American issues in the House of Lords.
PRIDE AND EMBARRASSMENT
From the day of his birth, August 18, 1928, David Montgomery was never going to be a nobody as the only child of the war hero “Monty” – Field-Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976), the 1st Viscount of Alamein, that 1942 victory widely regarded as a turning-point of the World War II alongside Stalingrad a couple of months later.
Montgomery’s relationship with his famous father was complex. Always a loyal defender of both his personal and military reputation, he co-authored with Alistair Horne The Lonely Leader: Monty 1944-5 about the years in which the field marshal fell into partial discredit, due t o s e r i o u s errors of judgement i n the “bridge too far” Arnhem campaign.
And yet in my Herald interviews with the trade mission leader, which only touched marginally upon his father, he spoke with a mixture of pride and embarrassment – aware of the war hero’s feet of clay.
It is a paradox that a man who did more than almost anybody else to stop Hitler should be prone to what might qualify today as rabid anti-Semitism, although that was common enough in polite society in pre-war Britain – especially in his old age, subscribing to such conspiracy theories as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the gnomes of Zurich when addressing the Oxford Union Society. Monty did have words of praise for the Jewish Brigade during the war but was racist towards Africans, describing them as “complete savages.”
But there were also entirely personal reasons for a certain distance – losing his mother when only nine, David effectively lost his father too since the widower could not cope with raising a child and, in any case, he was out of the country for much of the war, entrusting his care to Major Thomas Reynolds and his wife Phyllis (his true parents in many ways).
Yet one positive heritage of his father’s war record was a lifelong friendship with his contemporary Manfred Rommel (1928-2013), the Christian Democrat mayor of Stuttgart for over 20 years and the son of his father’s great rival General Erwin Rommel, aka “The Desert Fox.”
Lord Montgomery was schooled at Winchester public school before graduating in engineering from Trinity College, Cambridge (which would make him a Wykehamist and a Cantabrigian in the jargon of the old boy network). He inherited his father’s title in 1976 and sat as a Conservative in the House of Lords until 1999 when most hereditary titles were scrapped in the reform of that year, returning to the House as a cross-bencher in 2005.
He is survived by his
second wife Tessa, two
children and eight grandchildren.