We gathered in Tripoli in the Miramare Cinema. The auditorium was crowded and on the stage was a notice ‘No Smoking’. When Montgomery stepped on the stage the auditorium was in darkness and the stage was brilliantly lit from the sides and from above. In this setting he stood dapper and neat and alone. He stood away from the small reading-table and spoke without notes, lightly fingering the belt of his battle-dress. By some trick of illumination there were shadows cast on his face so that the eyes were in deep pools of darkness and the bony prominences were emphasised. It gave his face the appearance of a skull, and at times it seemed, from my seat at the back of the hall, that we were being addressed by a skeleton in uniform.
Montgomery’s attitude, his personality, were as deliberately arranged as the setting. His cockiness, his unbounded self confidence have long ago become a byword. All this is part of his success as a general. When he first stepped on the stage he told us to cough and blow our noses and then be silent. We would later on be permitted to cough at intervals. The pride he showed in the Eighth Army – ‘my army, my soldiers’ – just escaped self-flattery.
His aggressiveness in the field was carried into his talk. It allowed of no modesty, mock or real. He was enthusiastic about what had been accomplished but only in so far as it was a stepping-stone to what he now intended to do. That, he said, was the wiping out of Panzer Army Rommel. “Rommel has the jitters,” he said. “I hope Rommel is still in Tunisia. As long as he remains in command I’ve nothing to worry about. My only worry is that someone else may be given the job. But I’ll tell you this. Before long Tunis will see a first-class Dunkirk.”
In that way he told us what we were to do next. “The Eighth Army is going to Tunis.”
And Erwin Rommel on himself:
In a few days I shall be giving up command of the army to an Italian, for the sole reason that “ my present state of health does not permit me to carry on.” Of course it’s really for quite other reasons, principally that of prestige. I have done all I can to maintain the theatre of war, in spite of the indescribable difficulties in all fields. I am deeply sorry for my men. They were very dear to me.
Physically, I am not too well. Severe headaches and overstrained nerves, on top of the circulation trouble, allow me no rest. Professor Horster is giving me sleeping draughts and helping as far as he can. Perhaps I’ll have a few weeks to recover, though with the situation as it is in the East, what one would like is to be in the front line.