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U3A Writing: A Visit From The General

Douglas Smithson recalls the day General Bernard Montgomery came to inspect the troops.

The date was June 1940. My company, 246 Field Company RE was stationed in a large mansion in the centre of a small village about ten miles north of Worthing in southeast England called Findon. It was a Friday morning about nine o’clock. The company had not long been reformed after returning to England from the evacuation at Dunkirk

We were somewhat excited, as a company parade had been called for. We were told that we had all to be clean, smart, and ready to be inspected by the new General in charge of the forces in the southeast of England. We had just been informed that this general was one that we all knew, being our Divisional Commander in France, Name, Bernard Montgomery.

Promptly, at a few minutes to 11-00hrs. His car drew up at the gate to the small parade ground in front of the mansion. We were ready and stood to attention whilst he walked to a space in front of us, accompanied by other officers.

He addressed and informed us that we had to be ready to repel any attack on our country by the Germans as they had been gathering barges and forces in the area of France around Calais ready to invade us at any time.

When he had finished speaking we were ordered to take our caps off. He then walked slowly along all the ranks of the company. He then departed and we were dismissed.
That evening about eight of us were ordered to get our hair cut. We were under the impression that Montgomery had given this order. For many years afterwards I was able to obtain a free drink when I related this story in any of the pubs I visited.
There was a sequel. After the war was over many books were written about the conflict. I bought Montgomery's Wartime Memoirs. In it he described taking over command of the Southeast Forces and how he visited all the units there. The main reason for his inspection was in order to "See the light of battle in our eyes," not to order haircuts.


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