Norman Kirby – an innocent abroad with Monty
I can still see Norman, in the Imperial War Museum in London. There is a picture of Field-Marshal Montgomery and his staff at the time when the Allied victory was declared at the end of the Second World War. Norman is standing at the extreme left of the picture, a staff-sergeant in the Intelligence Corps.
It was Norman who had taken the surrender documents behind the German lines to be handed to Admiral Doenitz, who had taken over when Hitler had shot himself a week before. For three years Norman had served as Monty’s security officer, never more than fifty yards away from him at any time. The Germans could not believe that it was a non-commissioned officer who brought such important documents and the SS arrested him and for a while he thought he was going to be shot as a spy.
Norman survived and wrote a book about his adventures called A Thousand Miles with Monty. It provides fascinating close-ups of life during and after the war. The last time I saw Norman I was visiting him with another friend and he told us something very revealing about two men who would go on to lead their countries.
Montgomery’s standing orders about visitors and security were very clear. No one was to be allowed into his presence without first showing their identity, except the king, George the Sixth. On one occasion the Allied Supreme Commander in Europe, the American General Eisenhower, arrived. As soon as he saw Norman, on duty, checking passes, he pulled out his pass and handed it to Norman with a smile and some kind words.
The next VIP visitor was the French general, Charles de Gaulle, who had led the Free French forces. He brushed past Norman, someone too important to be troubled by the likes of Norman. A moment later Norman turned to see Montgomery directing his French visitor back to the door with the words, “My security officer has been instructed to inspect every visitor’s ID.”
Norman had taught French and German at Wembley County High School and I wonder whether that had something to do with his being given this role and with it an opportunity to witness and later record important moments in our country’s history and in Germany’s restoration in the peace that followed. Read his book: A Thousand Miles with Monty.
What made the SS suspicious of Norman?
Why was it important that the French general was made to turn back to Norman to show his identity?