Tunisia: British Eighth Army, 28 April 1943. Leaflet. This compelling Second World War artifact is an original message from General Bernard Law Montgomery to his Eighth Army troops on 28 April 1943 during the final Allied effort to expel Axis forces from North Africa. This printed message is not only a remarkable survivor, but is signed by Montgomery “B. L. Montgomery” just below his printed name. While the signature is undated, it seems almost certainly to have been signed in situ; Montgomery was created Viscount Montgomery of Alamein in January 1946 and thereafter routinely signed “Montgomery of Alamein”.
The leaflet measures 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm) printed in black on a single side of thin, acidic stock. Condition shows wear expected for an original piece of North African theatre ephemera. A single vertical crease and two horizontal creases testify that the leaflet was folded, notionally to fit in a soldier’s pocket. The folds and edges show wear and fractional chipping, there is overall soiling, particularly to the blank verso, and a central rectangle of the printed and signed recto is differentially toned, indicating that it was once framed and thereby exposed to sun. Nonetheless, like the solder to whom it once belonged and the General who authored and signed it, this copy survived.
Montgomery’s “EIGHTH ARMY Personal Message from the Commander” specifies that it is “To be read out to all troops” and consists of eight numbered points. The first three points encapsulate recent Eighth Army objectives and accomplishments. Points 4-7 are a spur to action with a specific repeated exhortation to “KEEP UP THE PRESSURE!”. The final point 8 is “Good luck to each one of you. You can rest assured that I am watching over the battle carefully and together we will finish the job.” Montgomery’s signature is faded but still clear below his printed name at the lower right and the leaflet is printed “28.4.43 | Tunisia.” at the lower left. Operation Vulcan, which began on 22 April 1943, was among the final Allied initiatives to overcome the last Axis North Africa defenses. By 13 May 1943, British Middle East Commander-in-Chief Harold Alexander sent Churchill the message “…the Tunisian campaign is over… We are masters of the North African shores.” (Churchill, THoF, p.780)
Nearly two and a half millennia after Thucydides discussed the unpredictable role of chance in war, Bernard Law Montgomery (1886-1976) and the Eighth Army found one another in North Africa. In July 1942, British troops checked Rommel’s forces in the First Battle of El Alamein, but Allied momentum stalled. Churchill flew to Cairo on 1 August to assess command, replacing Middle East Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck with General Alexander and appointing General Gott to command the Eighth Army. When Gott was killed on 7 August flying back to Cairo, Churchill acceded to General Montgomery in Gott’s stead. Montgomery seized command two days earlier than authorized by his C-in-C and began an “historic transformation of a beaten body of men into the legendary Eighth Army that fought its way from Alamein to Tunisia between August 1942 and May 1943.” North Africa and the Eighth Army proved the perfect milieu for Montgomery’s “messianic vitality and vanity”. Montgomery’s political ineptitude and diplomatic limitations earned him significant postwar hostility and criticism, but did not prevent his becoming widely regarded as “the outstanding British field commander of the twentieth century”. As this “Personal Message” testifies, “Above all, Montgomery understood soldiers’ hearts and minds, thousands of miles from home, in a ‘citizen army’… The men of the Eighth Army wanted to know what they were required to do… Montgomery gave them an immediate answer.” (ODNB) Montgomery later said the intent of his Personal Messages was “to define the common objective and thereby foster unity of purpose...I like to think that these messages did much to foster the spirit and the will-to-win…” (El Alamein to the River Sangro). Item #005853