three pairs of lovers with space

MONTY’S LITTLE SWISS FRIEND AND OTHER BOYS

 

Bernard Montgomery as a boy

Field-Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery (1887-1976), 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, universally known as “Monty”, was much the most celebrated British general of the Second World War. From 1946 onwards, when he was already fifty-eight and a widower, he had some intense emotional friendships with boys around or approaching puberty that have been characterised by one of the boys and some writers as, in effect, unconsummated Greek love.

Much the best documented of these love affairs was with the Swiss boy Lucien Trueb, whose own account of it has pride of place in what follows. This is followed by a few remarks by Trueb shedding slightly more forthright light on the friendship, a little light on the subject shed by other boys befriended by him, and a few concluding observations on the Field-Marshal’s sexuality.

The accounts of Lucien Trueb and Richard Luckett appeared in Monty at Close Quarters: Recollections of the Man, edited by Tom Howarth (London, 1985), described in the fly-leaf as a “series of recollections of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein by close friends and associates” which “contains many new insights and some surprises”.

 

Monty's Little Swiss Friend by Lucien F. Trueb

Lucien Felix Trueb as born in Zurich on 28 June 1934. The editor’s introduction of him says he “studied chemical engineering, graduating in physical chemistry at Zürich. He pursued a research career in materials science with the Du Pont company and the University of Denver in the USA. Since 1972 he has been the editor of the science-technology pages of the Neue Züricher Zeitung.” He continued in the latter office until 1997, since when he has been a freelance writer.

THE IMPORTANT THINGS in life are usually due to accidents or coincidences. However, my first meeting with Field-Marshal Montgomery at the age of eleven and a half years was a clear case of premeditation. Of course I had never dreamed that this would lead to a rather remarkable friendship and a correspondence which spanned a quarter of a century.

In February, 1946, our family was vacationing in Saanenmoeser (Bernese Oberland) and I had just spent another morning receiving group instruction on the fine points of “stemm-christiania” and other then ultra-modern skiing techniques. When I came home for lunch at our rented chalet, my sister excitedly told me that the great Field-Marshal Montgomery had just arrived and would spend some time at the venerable Hotel Golf & Sport. I decided right away that this was a golden opportunity for finally seeing one of the great Allied generals who had so roundly beaten the detested Germans half a year ago.   

Monty welcomed by crowds in Copenhagen, May 1945

It must be explained here that Swiss neutrality during the Second World War was certainly the official policy, but it was rather obvious on whose side the sympathies of the great majority lay. The important newspapers openly endorsed the Allied cause, and in the French-speaking part of Switzerland where I grew up, France was considered as a sort of mother-country, at least culturally. At school, the French freedom-fighters were our great heroes; for a time I was infected by this and wanted to be an “FFI” myself. So I built a wooden rifle, equipped myself with a tricolour armband and a beret, happily shooting imaginary “Boches” in the garden. Later on I became aware of the fact that the war was really being fought by British armies and the much more remote Americans and Russians. So, at about age nine, I began to devour the newspapers and followed the fronts with pins on the maps I had put up in my bedroom. 

This was the time of the Eighth Army’s spectacular campaign in North Africa, and it thoroughly fascinated me. After a lot of pleading, my father even allowed me to watch the movie about the battle of Alamein. I will never forget the night-scenes with the flashes of fire from the big guns, tanks rushing through the sand-dunes and the Scottish infantry advancing to the tune of the bagpipe. There was no question as to who would be my hero from then on: I had become an enthusiastic fan of the wiry general with the black beret. Obligingly, the papers kept publishing new pictures of him, and I pasted them all over my room. This does not mean that I neglected the Americans: I also had pictures of Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton, but only later, after the Normandy invasion. Nevertheless, Monty seemed to be “more real” than all the other generals, which was certainly due to the skill with which he was able to “sell” himself.   

For a pre-teenage boy like myself, the war was a marvelous adventure. I had not the slightest idea of the sheer horror of the battlefield, of men in the prime of their youth being killed by the hundreds and mutilated or wounded by the thousands as a matter of daily routine. At that age, one is not of course capable of a differentiated opinion; the Germans were sub-human beasts by definition, so the more of them that were killed the better it was. Of course there were casualties on both sides, and that was just too bad, but as long as the Allies outkilled their foes by a reasonable margin, there was nothing to worry about in peaceful little Switzerland, in our beautiful old house overlooking Lake Neuchâtel!    

Back to Saanenmoeser: I had decided I would find Monty that afternoon, and it really was easy. I knew that elderly gentlemen would not ordinarily be skiing, but spent their time curling or walking around in a dignified manner. Nobody was pushing the stones on the skating rink, so I started to check on the trails beyond the railroad station. And there he was indeed, stomping around in the snow, illegally wearing a piece of foreign uniform in a neutral country — his black beret. I might not have recognized him otherwise, as I had imagined him to be much taller. So I skied right up to him and said, “Bonjour, Monsieur”, the way one greeted teachers and other respectable persons. Monty answered something which I didn’t understand, but it sounded friendly; so I went along with him for a minute or so and then quietly slipped away. I had not realized that Monty, as he so often did, was posing for a press photographer who was shooting pictures from some distance. Inevitably, I was in the best pictures of the lot: the great Field-Marshal with a cute “native” kid was the perfect subject, so this eventually appeared in many newspapers with the caption “Monty and his little Swiss friend”. 

Monty and Lucien

Our winter vacation was just about over; when we got home I was madly excited to find myself in such august company, not only in the daily press but also in the window of the local newspaper office. I managed to buy the picture and wanted to send it to the Field-Marshal in order to have it autographed. However, the family - which meant that father was giving orders and everybody agreed - decided that this would have to be done properly. So I wrote the draft of a letter, father edited it carefully and a friend of the family who was an excellent English teacher translated it. Finally, I had to copy the whole thing laboriously, with only a faint idea of what I was doing. Needless to say that I omitted a whole line on the first try and an important word on the second one. Only the third version was deemed acceptable, and with a sigh of relief I surrendered the letter to my mother who artfully wrapped it into a box of chocolates. The whole was then mailed to Gstaad, where Monty was spending the second half of his vacation.    

To my indescribable delight, a rather large brown envelope arrived a couple of days later; it contained two photographs and a most friendly thank-you note. The Field-Marshal remembered me indeed and even invited me to come to see him in Gstaad. The photographs were “both taken in Germany before the war ended. The larger one was taken during the Battle of the Ardennes in December, 1944, when it was very cold.” Among the hundreds of pictures Monty would eventually send me over the years, this one is still my preferred; it was framed and is now standing on the mantelpiece over the fireplace. I would think it is an unposed snapshot, taken in the woods during the fateful days of the last German offensive. In this picture, Monty is wearing a zippered jacket two sizes too large but padded by several sweaters, a thick woollen scarf and the beret pulled down deep over his forehead. He looks emaciated and tired, but the face radiates immense power, a total determination to win. This called for another letter, which was produced under conditions no less painful than the first time. Since the snowdrops were already blooming in our garden, it was decided that the Field-Marshal might like to have some.    

Package number two was mailed to Gstaad and this time the answer came by special delivery. Monty explained that he was just leaving, but would stay for a couple of days in Berne: would I care to come and see him at the British Embassy? No question about that, so father took me to our capital and dutifully dropped me at the gate. I was ushered into a small parlour and Monty joined me right away. He gave me a big hug and had me sit next to him on the sofa. Then he started to ask a great many questions - in French, which he spoke well.[1] He wanted to know all the details: my family, my school, our house, sports, everything. Did I have a boat? No, I didn’t have a boat because my parents thought I would certainly capsize with it. Then did I have a bicycle? Unfortunately I didn’t have a bicycle either, as my parents were worried I might break my neck on it. Monty thought that a boy nearly twelve years old really ought to have a bicycle. Maybe I might get one if I promised to ride it very safely? Then he wanted to know the date of my birthday and told me that his birthday was on 17 November. He also asked me to write him on the first of every month from now on and give him all the news. I was dismissed with another fatherly hug.   

Monty's favourite brother Desmond, who died at 14 of meningitis, & whom Lucien reminded him of

Back at home I had to give a highly detailed report on my interview with the Field-Marshal. My parents didn’t quite know what to think about the whole thing. Had their son possibly fallen into the clutches of some sort of a pervert? A letter came from Headquarters, British Army of the Rhine just in time to reassure them. It said: “I feel I ought to write you regarding the friendship that has grown up between Lucien and myself. I am devoted to children and Lucien reminds me of my favourite brother, the youngest of the family, who died when 12 years old. The likeness is very remarkable; and when I met Lucien in Berne I saw at once the same delightful character.”   

Everybody familiar with Monty’s biography knows that there was indeed such a brother: his name was Desmond. But whether really looked like him is still an open question. It is probably not very relevant; the main point is that Monty was extremely fond of children, but in a highly selective way. They had to be boys old enough to make sense and admire him without fail, but before the age when they start to question things and develop their own opinions. When this happened, they were gently phased out and eventually replaced; in this manner Monty accumulated about half a dozen young “protégés” in the course of the next twenty years; I had the privilege of being the first of the lot. Yet, they all remained very special to him for the rest of his life: he checked on their progress, wrote to them and kept sending samples of a seemingly endless supply of large-size photographs showing himself on inspection trips all over the world.    

Monty returned to his headquarters and our correspondence started in earnest. He declared that we had now become real friends, and that I should write in French until I mastered English well enough, so that I might write more naturally and say things my own way. He must have noticed that every letter I wrote was being thoroughly edited by my father who was a terrible perfectionist in everything related to writing. This early and severe training certainly did me a lot of good and prepared me for my future career as a journalist. At the time though it was a grind; I dreaded the deadline of each new letter to the Field-Marshal and the entire house was in turmoil towards the end of the month. Yet the rewards kept coming: enormous manila envelopes filled with photographs, often autographed or at least bearing handwritten explanations on the back. And his letters, always written in a remarkably neat and firm hand, show a genuine interest in the rather trivial and straightforward life of his little friend. The style was exactly right for a boy of my age; the following excerpt is rather typical. “I had a good journey back to Berlin; I send you a photo taken in the train. I also send you some photos showing my schloss in Germany. It is a lovely house with a big park and we have swans on the lake. I have been in England since I saw you in Berne; I have to go there a good deal and I fly there in my aeroplane.” And, nearly a year ahead, plans were being made for the next Swiss vacation; he would be in Gstaad again and wanted me to stay with him for at least a week. I would have to clear this with my parents and the school authorities. Furthermore, he requested a good picture of myself: so I had to go to a professional photographer and endure a whole morning of posing. The picture was duly sent to the War Office and deemed acceptable. Thus, Monty wrote in May, 1946: “I like the photo very much, and it stands in my bedroom next to the clock; I then see you when I wake up.” He also needed a reconfirmation of the date of my birthday, he wasn’t sure whether he remembered it correctly (he did), and wanted to send me a nice present.    

Letter from Monty to "My Lucien, my very, very dear", 7 July 1946

For a month, everybody in the family tried to guess what the “nice present” would be. First a letter came, obviously written in a hurry; a few days later he wrote again, in his very touching way: “I wrote to you on 28 June, your birthday, by airmail letter. I had only got back from Athens and I wrote at once as I did not want you to think I had forgotten and for you to be disappointed. I love you too much to ever forget. I want to give you a present but do not quite know what to send you. So I am sending you this 20 francs and with it you must buy something for yourself”. As the months went by, the greetings in Monty’s letters became more and more affectionate. Taken out of context, they may sound like something one would write to a fiancée or mistress, and could easily lead to misinterpretations. Yet, this was just the reflection of a totally straightforward personality, using a highly restricted vocabulary so that everybody would understand him. When he liked somebody, or felt affection or sympathy, it was love; he used the word very liberally, both in English and French.  

Letter from Monty to his "dear little friend", 4 August 1946

By November, 1946, detailed plans were made as to my stay in Gstaad three months later. Several letters concentrated on this project; there was just a trip to Moscow to get out of the way, but nothing would interfere with the holidays in Switzerland. And he wrote: “We will go on walks together and I shall hope to improve your English; and you will help me improve my French. I have given up skiing since I broke my back when my aeroplane crashed in Germany in 1945, but you will be able to go skiing with my aides-de-camp”.  

Those two weeks in Gstaad were a high point of my early youth. Monty was fantastic with children, giving them firm guidance, insisting on strict discipline, yet spoiling them mercilessly, constantly making miracles happen. We were living in the large and beautiful chalet owned by “Donna Guinness” as Monty called her, of beer-brewing fame. It was full of antique furniture, valuable paintings and incredible quantities of knick-knacks, mostly made of coloured glass. What really impressed me though was an old chest in the living-room: it contained a powerful radio and every morning before break- fast we would listen to the news from the BBC.    

Monty and Lucien

The ADCs, Noel Chavasse and Pat Hobart, one of Monty’s relatives, were great sport; they were young men just over twenty and their skiing was not much better than mine, only a bit faster. Pat had to return to England after a while, as his father was gravely ill. He was replaced by Johnny Henderson. We saw a lot of each other on the slopes and had our little conspiracies to circumvent the strict order of the day which Monty had made up for the entire two weeks. For example we avoided some of the steeper slopes the Field-Marshal had judged to be particularly good for training our skills; he had an uncanny eye for evaluating any kind of terrain, even from great distances. Or instead of walking to the lift station, which was supposed to warm us up, we took one of those horse-drawn sleighs which served as taxis. After a morning of hard skiing we joined Monty at the chalet for lunch. The cook prepared gourmet meals as a matter of routine; not even artfully handwritten menu-cards were missing. Noel and Johnny soon found out that a second dessert could be concocted out of the fruit and coffee courses: mashed bananas with cream and sugar. Monty the ascetic frowned on it and declared it was bad for our health, but the three of us gorged ourselves on this calorie-bomb until we hardly could get up from our chairs. Then one of the ADCs would call the War Office in London and tell their starving colleagues about the terrible time we had digesting those loads of mashed bananas and cream. The standing joke of both ADCs was to turn to me when the Field-Marshal was not looking and whisper, “Lucien, I’ve eaten too much” and very realistically simulate being sick.

In the afternoon Monty would take a walk; this meant that we first rode the chair-lift to the top of the Wasserngrat where the best slopes of the Gstaad area are located. He would then walk downhill once while I skied the mountain three times, always making a short stop next to him so I could report on how things were going. After my third run Monty had reached the bottom of the hill and we walked home together. He would always wear three or four sweaters to start out, one on top of the other, taking them off as needed. He said that he had learned to do this in the desert, where there are enormous temperature differences between day and night. Tea with light cakes, butter and marmalade was served at five o’clock, and then everybody started to work. The ADCs had their desks where they shuffled papers and made phone-calls. Monty and I retired to a small study where we answered the mail that had accumulated during the day. There were heaps of fan-mail, requests for autographs and many packages. I had to open these and show the contents to the Field-Marshal who decided whether he would write a thank-you note himself or delegate this task to me. We received just about anything one could imagine: brandy, wine and cigars were on top of the list, even though everybody should have known that Monty neither smoked nor drank. Yet, he was quite happy to get such things: he needed them for his guests back home. Then there was often eau-de-cologne, perfumed soaps, boxes of stationery, chocolates and candy, baskets of fruit, even toys. Many manufacturers would send samples of their products, all kinds of funny gadgets like vegetable-peelers or knife-sharpeners. And then there were the amateur woodcarvers, brass-turners and ironsmiths who wanted Monty to have “masterpieces” from their workshops. The ladies on their side had been busy knitting sweaters, gloves and ski-socks for him. I had to write a lot of letters both in French and German to thank the senders. Many of them certainly were disappointed: instead of the hoped-for autograph of the British Field-Marshal, they got the scribblings of a teenage boy! Monty made it a habit to give me a present every day, usually taken from the packages that had arrived; once I even got a ball-pen. They were all the rage then and cost a fortune; mine leaked terribly but I loved it, even though much of the ink eventually ended up on my hands, face and clothes.

    

Monty took a lot of pictures with his beautiful Rolleiflex — some piece of war-booty from Germany, which I was sometimes allowed to use, so he could pose for me in front of the mountains. He liked to wear the white sheepskin coat he had received as a present from the Swiss Army, and bragged that he now was a Swiss Field-Marshal. The second Swiss Field-Marshal in history was me: Monty decided that I should don his army tunic complete with ten inches of ribbons, and the famous beret, which wasn’t even oversize. Those pictures certainly are the funniest ones in my album. After this, any military career could only be anticlimatic; this is probably why I retained the rank of private during my entire period of active army duty!    

Lucien in Monty's uniform

Dinner always was a formal coat and tie affair and I was too young for that. After the secretarial work was over, I had to take my bath: Monty towelled me off personally so I wouldn’t catch a cold. Then I had to put on my pyjamas and robe: I would get a room-service dinner in the Field-Marshal’s bedroom, then retired to my own room. Monty always had dinner just with his ADCs; there never were any guests, and true to his legend he went to bed shortly after nine. Sometimes I was still awake and noticed that he would open my door very quietly and check on me with a small flashlight. I always pretended that I was sound asleep. In the meantime Noel and Johnny sneaked out of the house, destination unknown, and invariably came home very late. Monty of course knew about this, as nothing ever escaped his attention; with mock-seriousness he demanded reports on his assistants’ nightly activities. Even though my English was still very poor at that time, I did grasp words like bar, drinks and ladies; those “confessions” obviously reinforced the very high opinion the Field-Marshal had about his own, absolutely flawless virtue.

   

The high point of this vacation was the ski-jumping contest for the Montgomery Cup. The best Swiss jumpers competed, there were hundreds of spectators and the newsreel service filmed it all. We watched from the jury-stand with the mayor, other local notables and the very fat director of the local tourism board. Monty kept kidding him about his enormous weight and there was a lively debate about the conversion of kilogrammes into English stones. In the evening I was allowed to attend the banquet where Monty handed the cup to the winner and made a short speech; he thought ski- jumping was a marvellous test of manliness, as it required both daring and skill, just the qualities good soldiers ought to have. My two weeks were now over: it had been an absolutely glorious time and the tears just streamed down my cheeks when I took leave of the Field-Marshal.   

Lucien

Back home it was the old routines of school and letter-writing: Monty had asked that I should now write bi-monthly; this wasn’t as bad as it may sound for by then I had acquired some sort of routine in that task. And his answers were marvellous. Right after Gstaad he wrote, “I miss you here very much. I have given you all my love and you are my very dear little friend. We must both look forward to next February, when we will meet again. The time will soon pass. Au revoir”. He now called me “mon garçon” and asked me to call him “Papa”; this is the way he signed his letters too, with or even without quotation marks. My father didn’t particularly like this, but I found it completely natural to have two daddies. The letters now came at an accelerated rate, almost always accompanied by some small present: photographs, stamps, minor trophies from the war and post-war period. And the big present, which had already been discussed in Gstaad now materialized, a bicycle. I bought exactly the model and make I liked best, and Monty sent the money to pay for it in a plain envelope. He travelled a great deal that year and it was most fascinating for me to hear from such far-away places as Palestine, India, Singapore, Australia and Africa. He actually told me very little about the landscapes; there might be a casual remark about the weather, but his main interest lay in the reception he would get in the cities he visited. Travelling great distances was still almost an adventure in that pre-jet age and he enjoyed it as a kind of sport. A typical letter would say: “Australia is a huge country. On 12 July I flew in my aeroplane from Perth to Sydney: over 2000 miles; we did a non-stop run in 81/2 hours with a tail wind of 30 miles an hour”.   

The picture Lucien "particularly liked" of Monty on Rommel's white Arab stallion

And already plans were made for the next Gstaad vacation, but I was prepared early for a possible disappointment: travel restrictions had been imposed due to the bad state of the British economy and no money could be taken out of the country. In January, 1948, it became definite: “You must be brave mon Lucien”, he wrote: “It is a shattering blow. But we can write each other. And I shall hope for better days in 1949, when I can visit your sunny land again and we can be together once more”. Monty spent his vacation in the Channel Islands that year, where he would go for long walks on the beaches. He now decided that it was time for me to start writing in English; I was being privately tutored in that language and with an occasional phone-call to the teacher on some of the finer points of grammar, things worked out reasonably well. As a reward, I kept receiving huge envelopes full of photographs, and also impressive lists of his medals and freedoms; he remarked that he was a Freeman of thirty-three cities, none of them being in Switzerland! Aside from the press photographs, I would get professionally done pictures which were eventually framed; they decorated my room for many years. One I particularly liked shows him on horseback; he had written on the bottom: “Rommel’s white Arab stallion captured by me in Germany[2] and given by me to the King”. On my part, I had to send him snapshots so he could check on how I was getting along. Once he commented, “I always study carefully the photos you send me and I compare them with the previous ones. You will soon be grown up and I shall hardly recognize the dear little Swiss boy that I first met in February, 1946.”    

Preparations soon started for the Field-Marshal’s next Swiss vacation. The foreign travel restrictions had been lifted and Monty found out that he could stay at the Murren Palace Hotel as a guest of the owner, Lady Mabel Lunn, who happened to be his cousin. He would spend a week in Gstaad too for the Montgomery Cup jumping competition. This is where I would join him. In the meantime I was put in charge of the correspondence with the tourism authorities and had to settle a number of minor issues.    

Monty had then just finished rebuilding and refurbishing Isington Mill in Hampshire, his new country house. Besides, his new duties as deputy chief commander of the NATO forces entitled him to a residence on the Continent, the Château de Courances, in the French département Seine-et-Oise. So plans were also made much beyond Gstaad: I would have to come to see both of his new homes in England and France. Father declared immediately that this was out of the question, but he got upset too soon.    

Ebullient as ever, Monty had organized his schedule in our country down to the last minute and wrote, “I want the very best weather and plenty of snow while I am in Switzerland. Please arrange it!! We will have a lovely time at Gstaad and of course you will now stay up and have dinner with us at night”.       

Letter to Lucien ending "I shall give you a big big hug when we meet. Good-bye my dear little Lucien. I love you always. Yr. very devoted big friend Montgomery of Alamein"

Things weren’t anything like as opulent as they had been two years earlier. The chalet attached to the Park Hotel was much smaller than the Guinness residence and hotel staff serviced it. Besides, Monty had only one ADC this time, a very tall fellow named Andrew Burnaby-Atkins. Yet, we had plenty of fun and skied all day long. There was little fan-mail this time: the war had already become a distant memory and people rapidly forgot about it as well as the generals who had fought it, at least in Switzerland. Outwardly, Monty hadn’t changed; he still was the loving father-figure and we went on long walks together. He was greatly interested in my progress at school and how the bicycle was running. It was only a short week, but Monty arranged that I could join him on a visit to the Omega watch-factory just before he left the country. He had been there before, but decided that he hadn’t really seen things well enough. The real reason dawned on me later: he had received only a cardboard model of a watch the first time, and his aim was on a self-winding gold Omega. The directors of the company finally got the message and Monty was duly presented with what he had wanted; he was very proud of this new trophy. 

The correspondence I received during the following year was still very affectionate, but mostly consisted of directions as to where my letters should be mailed: Monty was constantly on the move between England, France and the other NATO countries. At one time he planned to come to see us at our house, but some political tensions prevented this trip. He was in transit through Switzerland for a few hours in September, 1949, and I joined him for a picnic somewhere in the Jura mountains. Afterwards he wrote: “You are definitely growing up and are no longer a little boy: 16 next year. I often wish you were 12 again!”. 

Newspaper article headlined "Marshal Montgomery spends his holidays with his best friend"

The next Swiss vacation was once more to be split between Murren and Gstaad, and I was to join him at the latter place. The opulence was down another notch, as we stayed in the Park Hotel this time, in a very pleasant suite admittedly. There was no ADC and Monty seemed to be working harder than ever; he would do a lot of writing on the balcony and only occasionally took an afternoon off for a walk. I was now only three years away from the university and rather conceited about being able to read Livy and Ovid in the original Latin. I am also afraid that I started arguments on any subject that came up, whether I knew something about it or not. Monty didn’t seem to like this at all and would rapidly cut me off, which I resented. So there was an element of tension between us, even though I tried hard to behave decently. When the week was over and time came to say goodbye, Monty told me that we now should have a gap; I didn’t understand the word and had to check it in the dictionary back home. In the next letter he explained further: “The relationship cannot be same as when you were a little boy .... Now we need a gap during which you will become a young man. You can visit me again when you are 18.” Furthermore, three letters a year were deemed enough: Easter, midsummer and his birthday. Monty now signed with his full name again, and for several years his letters were much on the same pattern: he was constantly travelling and enjoined me to work very hard at school. He kept an affectionate and lively interest in what I was doing, especially when military duty started for me and I began to travel abroad in my early college years. One of his typical statements reads: “You can only reach worthwhile objectives in life by hard work and devotion to duty: which I am sure you realize”.

About a dozen letters Monty wrote me between 1955 and 1960 were lost in a fire that broke out in the house where I lived while working for a degree in chemical engineering at the technical university in Zurich. Eight months ahead of time he invited me for lunch in Murren in February, 1956; this was the last time I would see him. He was nearly seventy then, but still the old steel-wire bundle, bouncing with energy. I had to give him a detailed report on the doctoral thesis I had started, but otherwise Monty kept talking, mostly about himself. I proudly told him about my Volkswagen, but he wasn’t interested: he thought that Britain was making the best cars in the world and that sooner or later I would graduate to the Rolls-Royce, which was his favorite. The walk we took through the village was a real military inspection: the clothes people had hung out to dry, the snow-heaps along the road, the piles of firewood in front of the houses were meticulously checked for rectilinear alignment. Empty cigarette-packs and dog-excrement were catapulted out of the way with an expert stroke of his cane. And then he proved to me that his hearing, eyesight and general physical fitness were much superior to mine. I was dismissed with another lecture on the importance of hard work.

Monty's Rolls Royce

After graduating from college I went to live in the United States for many years; the correspondence with the Field- Marshal then continued on a yearly basis. I would write to him for his birthday, the answer invariably came just a few days later, generally dated November 17. In those late letters, Monty became philosophical. When I began to think of returning to Switzerland, but was undecided, he wrote: “One’s own country always calls. I have seen most countries in the world but am always glad to get back to England — which I reckon is the best, in spite of its climate!” In 1965 he wrote: “I keep very well. But one doesn’t get any younger. In two years I will be 80”. And in 1968: “My doctors will no longer allow me to go to Switzerland because of the heights, so I have become a sea-level person.” A year later he commented: “I am getting old - 82 - and am beginning to feel my age. I now live a very quiet life, and my travelling days are over. But I am very happy and my friends come and see me.”    

The last letter I received from Monty is dated 20 November, 1970, and is worth being quoted fully, as it was a kind of farewell-message. It says: “Dear Lucien: I was glad to hear from you and to learn the news. It always gives me great pleasure when boys I have known climb to great heights and succeed in life. This you have done and I congratulate you. You deserve success since you have worked hard. I hope you will climb ever higher. Good luck to you. Yrs. Sincerely Montgomery of Alamein”.  

Then it was silence; I kept writing faithfully, always in November, but there were no more answers. I learned much later that Monty had suffered a heart attack in 1970, from which he never really recovered, even though he lived for another six years. In fact, the writing had become a bit shaky in his last letter, even though it was still the unmistakable and beautifully legible hand.

 

More on Monty by Lucien Trueb

[…] in 1981, I received a letter from a Swiss gentleman, offering to show me more than a hundred love-letters from the Field Marshal to himself, from the age of twelve. […] I interviewed Dr. Trueb, who had lived for many years in America and had later become a senior science journalist in Zürich. He assured me that nothing ‘untoward’ had ever taken place.
     - Nigel Hamilton in his preface to his biography The Full Monty. Volume 1: Montgomery of Alamein 1887-1942 (London, 2001) pp. xv-xvi

One boy was Lucien Treub, Montgomery's "little Swiss friend", who met him at 12, and told Hamilton how the general would bathe him personally and rub him down so he would not catch cold. "I've interviewed him several times and he was quite clear he didn't feel there was any molesting going on, but it's a tricky area," Prof Hamilton said.
     - The same Nigel Hamilton interviewed by The Guardian (London), 26 February 2001.

 

Richard Luckett

The portrait of Monty by Frank Salisbury, 1945, which Luckett "immediately admired ... for ... the excellence of the likeness, ... the first time that any observation of mine had given Montgomery perceptible pleasure"

Another chapter in Monty at Close Quarters is Sons of the Clergy, a contribution by Richard Luckett (born 1945), (1945-), later an English professor at Cambridge and a Fellow of Magdalene College there, who describes an unusual friendship with Monty, which began when he was nine and the Field Marshal visited his preparatory school, Northaw, in West Tytherley, Hampshire, and signified his interest. Visits to Monty’s home, correspondence and presents ensued for the next five years. “Looking back I suppose that the Field-Marshal was lonely, but this does not make it the less remarkable that he was prepared to spend whole days keeping a boy entertained and amused.” [p. 148]

The historian Ronald Hyam cites Luckett’s account, “albeit expurgated”, as a source for Monty’s sexual  attraction to boys.[3] He offers no hints as to what he supposes is expurgated, but beyond what is implied by the notable passage just quoted, there is nothing in this wistful and entertaining account quite worth presenting as evidence of Greek love. The warmth and love apparent in Trueb’s account is missing, the boy was always made as tense as happy by the great man’s attention, apparently preventing any strong rapport, and when he met and spoke to Monty twice as a young man, the Field Marshal did not even recognise him.

 

Nigel Hamilton

This official future biographer of Monty, born on 16 February 1944, was himself close to him as a boy, his father being a friend after serving under him as a battalion commander.

1. In his biography The Full Monty. Volume 1: Montgomery of Alamein 1887-1942 (London, 2001) p. xvi

Like Dr. Trueb, I also had been twelve when I first met the Field Marshal; I also had stayed with him in his home, and over the years had got to know him as well as, or perhaps better than, anyone of my generation. I also had received over a hundred affectionate, loving letters from him, which I had kept and, indeed, treasured.

 

Isington Mill, Hampshire, Monty's home from 1947, where he entertained his English boy loves

2.  Interview in The Guardian, 26 February 2001

Prof Hamilton, who was befriended by the field marshal at age 11 and knew him well for the last 20 years of his life, has no doubt of the nature of Monty's feelings.

"These were quasi love affairs. He became really passionately involved with these young men - and then, more and more, boys, who he would call 'my sons'. They were nothing of the kind, of course, but in his own personality he would frame them in this way.

“I myself have more than 100 very loving letters from him. My relationship with him wasn't sexual, in the sense that it wasn't acted upon, but I had been through enough years at British boarding schools to know what kind of enormous affection and feeling he had for me.”

 

Some Concluding Observations on Monty’s Sexuality

1.  Education and Leadership by Tom Howarth, 1985

E. B. Howarth (1914-88), the editor of Monty at Close Quarters, knew Monty well, first from serving as a liaison officer with him in 1945, then as a master at Winchester College, where Monty’s son was his pupil, and as High Master of St. Paul’s School, where Monty was a Governor. He therefore contributed his own chapter to the book, in which he said:

There were, I think, three particular reasons which accounted for his passion for schools and everything about them. First and foremost, he liked boys.* Perhaps in this post-Freudian era it should be said loud and clear that there is nothing wrong in that – it would not, after all, assist the advance of civilization if everybody disliked them, irritating as they usually are.

*On this aspect of his character I find myself in entire agreement with Nigel Hamilton’s careful analysis in Monty, the Making of a General, pp. 22-23. [p. 62]

 

2.  Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience by Ronald Hyam, 1990

‘Homosexual’ [...] is equally anachronistic when applied to medieval monks or seventeenth-century Caribbean pirates – in fact, to any society before that of twentieth-century Europe and America. Even within these parameters, the term ‘homosexual’ remains a false and vulgar label when applied to individuals such as Kitchener or Montgomery. They are both easily acquitted of any actual physical contact with other males. But in Montgomery’s case there is a confusion: he was not in the least attracted by men, but he was emotionally involved with small boys.[4] [p. 8]

Sex was something he largely repudiated, even during ten years of marriage, and despite (or more likely because of) his deep-rooted tenderness towards boys. […] Having so deeply repressed his sexual instincts, Montgomery’s residual requirements were to be allowed to entertain young friends to tea and a bath, to provide camping facilities for Boy Scouts, and to give occasional treats, for example to the choristers of Westminster Abbey. (On one occasion, he put the entire juvenile cast of the musical Oliver! on parade.) He met his wife by first becoming friendly with her two sons. He had a succession of young friends as a widower after the war, beginning with Lucien Trueb, whom he met in Switzerland in 1945 [sic] when the boy was eleven. He was genuinely in love with Lucien, but there were half a dozen more who followed in strict succession, all of whom were set aside on reaching puberty. Montgomery, like all who cannot integrate their fantasies, was doomed to repeat them in an endless vicious circle of need and frustration. […]

Seeing the naked body of a boy seems to have been the limit of 'sexual aim' for him, as it had also been for General Gordon. But this a-sexual limitation was not sublimation; it is closer to what Freud called scopophilia[5]. It is also likely that Gordon and Montgomery were constrained by the legal and moral codes of their day. But, if so, that is not sublimation either; it is enforced repression. [pp. 14-15]

 

3.  Monty and the legalisation of sex between men

Monty in ceremonial dress, Garter Day, Windsor Castle, 1967

Monty’s vehement opposition to the legalisation of sex between consenting men in England, enacted in 1967, might be thought irrelevant to his sexual attraction to boys, but is worth addressing partly because of the beliefs he expressed about homosexual acts in general and partly because of the insinuations some have insisted on making from it.

In debates in the House of Lords during the committee stage of the proposed parliamentary bill in 1965, some of the Lords suggested amending the proposed age of consent of 21 upwards to 25, whilst others suggested lowering it to 18.  Monty suggested raising it to eighty. During one debate, he said, “I regard the act of homosexuality in any form, as the most abominable bestiality that any human being can take part in and which reduces him almost to the status of an animal.”[6]

Nigel Hamilton asserts that “No statement could have more vividly portrayed the anxiety Monty felt [about his “homosexuality”], even at age seventy-eight,[7] which is in tune with the fashion, especially in gay propaganda, to claim that any opposition to homosexual practices is an indication of the speaker being “in denial” of his own inclinations.[8] It is surely hard to justify such an aspersion. If, as appears from all the evidence, and is agreed by the historians mentioned, Monty was sexually attracted to boys, but (whether or not he acknowledged that attraction to himself) was held back from overtly acting on it by a belief that all homosexual acts were wrong, then, however much one may disagree with his opinion, one should surely acknowledge that he acted with great integrity in so denying himself it and was not being hypocritical in opposing other men being allowed to indulge in such acts.[9]

 

[1] There is a cross-reference here to p. 104, where A.N. Breitmeyer, Monty’s new ADC in 1948, said Monty wasn’t in a position to test how good his French was in an interview. This, however, seems a harsh view to judge from other anecdotes in the book which suggests a grasp of French easily sufficient for friendly chat with an intelligent boy of eleven.

[2] Erwin Rommel was the famed German Field-Marshal, the defeat of whose Afrika Korps in North Africa was Monty’s greatest triumph. The stallion had been left behind in Germany, where the British captured it in May 1945.

[3] Ronald Hyam, Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience (Manchester University Press, 1990) p. 24.

[4] Nigel Hamilton The Full Monty. Volume 1: Montgomery of Alamein 1887-1942 (London, 2001) p. 170, flatly contradicts Hyam, claiming Monty was attracted to young men too, but he offers not the tiniest shred of evidence to support his contention, which is also at odds with the stories of how Monty’s friendships with Lucien Trueb and Richard Luckett lost their special quality as these boys reached fifteen or sixteen.

[5] By scopophilia, Freud meant the pleasure of looking.

[6] House of Lords Debates, 5th Series, 266, cc. 645-8 (24 May 1965), and 267, c. 342 (21 June 1965).

[7] Nigel Hamilton The Full Monty. Volume 1: Montgomery of Alamein 1887-1942 (London, 2001) p. 169.

[8] This is found useful to the cause in a case like Monty’s, as it serves the double purpose of undermining the credibility of the opponent (by insinuating self-serving insincerity) at the same time as recruiting a national hero in the ranks of those who were “really” gay.

[9] Monty’s outlook on this was far from unusual, particularly perhaps among upper-class British men attracted to boys and brought up in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when social disgust with  homosexuality was at its greatest. As described by Professor Hyam in the quoted passage, General Gordon was a good, older example. For a younger example, consider the explorer Wilfred Thesiger (1910-2003), who appears to have been more exclusively drawn to boys than Monty, but likewise abstained from sex with them and was contemptuous of modern gays. The type, of which all three examples given were courageous, independent-minded men, deserves greater study (without bringing political baggage).
     One might more generally challenge the logic which implies that a man not "in denial" about his attraction to boys, even if he had not thought it wrong to act sexually on such an attraction (as Monty did), would necessarily be bound to support a legal change that was likely to single out for opprobrium and punishment his own inclinations. Opposition to the legalisation of sex between consenting men was by no means limited to opponents of homosexual acts.  Consider, for example, the opposition of the playwright Joe Orton, who was openly promiscuous with men and (by preference) boys.

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