Once upon a time, when South African Airways was considered to be one of the finest in the world, I lived in South Africa, near to a brand new airport. I was very proud of that airport — not only because my dashing young genius of a husband was involved in setting up the state-of-the-art Instrument Department, but also because the airport was very appropriately to be named for a very important man, none other than Field Marshall Smuts, the venerated South African hero, and two other world-famous men were to be permanently associated with it.
The airport was dedicated by an illustrious British military commander, Bernard Law Montgomery, who was the Allied hero during World War II who beat Germany's Erwin Rommel in the battle for North Africa, and by the end of the war had been made First Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1946). I could not yet have been in secondary school when I first heard the name of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, the hero of El Alamein and North Africa, and I had to grow up a little more in order to appreciate why it was said that “Monty” had proved to be one of the most inspirational military commanders of World War Two. He was also the senior British military commander at D-Day, and retained that position within the west European sphere of the war until the war ended.
Born in 1887, he gained an early commission in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and during World War One served on the Western Front. A highly efficient young officer, he was given a succession of command posts both in Britain and in India, and by 1938, he had been promoted to the rank of major-general. In 1939, at the outbreak of World War Two, Montgomery was part of the British Expeditionary Force that had to withstand the might of the Wehrmacht’s "Blitzkrieg" and in due course he would be given the command of the Third Division (BEF), which had to be evacuated at Dunkirk.
I was not too young to be swept up in the anxiety our entire county endured at the time of El Alamein. In addition to students in my class at school who had been evacuated from Britain to South Africa, and who could too often called to the principal’s office to be told the bad news about a father or a brother, my sister, ten years older than I, had friends who were maimed, killed, or “went into the bag” (taken prisoner), and no one in South Africa would deny that Monty’s victory at El Alamein turned the tide of the war. After their defeat at El Alamein, the first the Germans had experienced, they could only retreat, and they left North Africa in May 1943.
The Statues in the Foyer – Sir Pierre van Rynevld and Sir Quentin Brand