The Papers of (Harold) Montgomery Belgion
Scope and Contents
The collection includes personal papers, pocket diaries, photographs, literary material and personal correspondence.
There is only a small amount of material relating to HMB's early life and unfortunately a great many papers and correspondence were destroyed in a German bombing raid on London during the Second World War. Virtually all HMB's letters home written as a prisoner-of-war (BLGN 3) appear to have survived and constitute an interesting record of his experiences during the Second World War (though the letters were subject to British and German censorship only one letter was been emasculated by the censors) and it appears that the Germans treated their prisoners quite well - at any rate in the two camps in which HMB was incarcerated for 3 years (see BLGN 3/6-7). The collection also includes a section (BLGN 6) relating to the war crimes trials which took place after the Second World War.
Copies of HMB's typescripts and in some cases of his proofs or prints of his articles are found in BLGN 5/1-11. Drafts of planned short stories, books and novels which were not completed are found in BLGN 11/1-7.
- 1891 - 1980
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge.
Conditions Governing Use
Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff. Copyright in material written by Belgion himself (including his literary writings) is owned by Churchill College.
Biographical / Historical
Harold Montgomery Belgion (always referred to as "Monty" by many of his friends and as "Pouge" by some of them but henceforth referred to as HMB) was born in Paris on 28 September 1892. His father John was private secretary to the Paris Managing Director of an American Life Insurance Company, for whom he worked for over 25 years, and his mother Beatrice was the daughter of a Master Mariner called Montgomery who married Lydia Lockwood in Adelaide, Australia in 1851. HMB was privately educated in France, although he rejected French nationality and remained a British subject throughout his life.
HMB entered journalism at an early age and by 1915-1916 was in Paris as editor-in-charge of the European edition of the "New York Herald". In 1916 he returned to England to volunteer for military service and became a private soldier in the Honourable Artillery Company, for whose officers and men he retained a strong affection. In July 1918 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Dorsetshire Regiment. Belgion's experiences in World War I are described in an anthology "Promise of Greatness" (Cassell, 1968).
After World War I, HMB became sub-editor of the London "Daily Mail", from which he moved in 1921 to join the editorial staff of the New York World. He thus obtained his first experience of the United States; but after working in New York for only a short time he returned to the "Daily Mail". In 1924 he became chief sub-editor of the "Westminster Gazette"; but in the following year he went back to America and joined the staff of the publishing firm of Harcourt Brace, New York, with whom he remained for several years. In 1930 he returned to Paris and edited a literary journal before returning to London to work for the "Daily Mirror" and the "Daily Sketch".
HMB's later career shows that he read widely between the wars mainly in the fields of literature and philosophy. In 1929 Faber and Faber published his first book "Our present philosophy of life" (which later appeared in French as "Notre foi contemporaine") in which he analysed and attacked the influence of Andre Gide, Bernard Shaw, Sigmund Freud and Bertrand Russell. Subsequent books included "The Human Parrot" (Oxford University Press, 1931) and "News from the French" plus a large number of articles, essays and book reviews. By the time his career was again interrupted by war, HMB had established a solid reputation as writer and literary critic.
In 1939, HMB was 46 years old and had difficulty getting accepted again for military service; but he finally joined the Royal Engineers and was trained to undertake rail transport duties. He was made a captain and went to the Middle East, joining the ill-fated expedition to Greece in March 1941. When Anglo-Greek resistance collapsed in the face of the German onslaught he was involved in the chaotic retreat from Larissa to Athens, where he was captured by the Germans. So ended his second military interlude (see BLGN 3/1-5).
While HMB was a prisoner-of-war in Germany he gave his comrades in misfortune a series of lectures on English literature which resulted ultimately in his most successful book "Reading for profit" (1945), the English edition of which sold over 100,000 (see BLGN 4/2). In 1943, while still a prisoner, HMB was awarded a Diploma in English Literature by Oxford University and in 1944 was exchanged on medical grounds, thanks largely to the Red Cross, and returned home via Sweden.
In 1945, HMB married Gladys Helen Mattock, who had founded Westwood House School near Peterborough and became its headmistress. Under her guidance the school expanded rapidly and finally became an independent public school for girls. When it was turned into a Trust, HMB served as Secretary and Bursar until his retirement in 1961.
After the Second World War, HMB's output of book, articles and reviews remained high and included an introduction to Cresset Press "Moby Dick" (1947); "Epitaph on Nuremberg" (1947 with a new and expanded version, "Victors’ Justice", 1949); "Lydgate and Dorothea in New Road No 6" (1949); "A Selection of Poe’s Poems with Introduction" (1948); "A Man After My Own Heart" (USA, 1949); "H. G. Wells" (1953) and "David Hume" (1965). He contributed to "Promise of Greatness" (1968); "The Worship of Quantity: a Study of Megalopolitics" (1969); "André Malraux in the Politics of 20th Century Novelists" (1971) as well as contributions to numerous reviews and other periodicals.
His chief activity in the immediate post-war years concerned the trial of war criminals or ex-enemy service men and diplomats, which outraged his sense of justice; since in most cases they had done nothing worse than their adversaries. Moreover he considered that by bringing them to trial before nationally constituted courts and without any proper defence a most dangerous precedent would be established. In this campaign, HMB joined hands with a mixed group of like-minded people including Lord Hankey, Lord Maugham, George Bell, Lord Cork and Orrery and others. HMB's main contribution was to publish "Epitaph on Nuremberg".
In the post-war years, HMB also did a lot of lecturing, notably for the British Council at French Universities, for the British Army and for the University Societies in Cambridge and London. He spent most of his time between 1954 and 1969 working on a book which was eventually published as "The Worship of Quantity: a Study of Megalopolitics" which received poor notices and sales and must have been a great disappointment to him.
Most of HMB's literary works are greatly influenced by his religion: he was a devoted and ardent Christian of the Anglican persuasion. His religion brought him into friendship with famous poets and writers including T S Eliot, C S Lewis, Alec Vidler. His military friends included Major-General J F C Fuller and Captain Sir Basil Liddell Hart.
HMB also campaigned, ultimately unsuccessfully, for the release of the American poet Ezra Pound from a lunatic asylum (see BLGN 7/34). He was interested in education and opposed large, impersonal schools and was also involved in the Peterborough Great Books discussion group (see BLGN 10/1-2). HMB was a gifted linguist. During his life his political sympathies moved from Left to Right and in the closing years of his life his outlook was that of the extreme right wing of the Conservative Party. He was a member of the mainly Parliamentary Monday Club (see BLGN 8/1-8). He died on 29 October 1973.
48 archive box(es) : paper
Language of Materials
Other Finding Aids
The Belgion papers were catalogued in 1985. A copy of the catalogue is available at Churchill Archives Centre, at the National Register of Archives and on the Janus website, http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers were given to Churchill College by Belgion's widow. After her death in 1984 the Archives Centre received additional material (sections XIII, XIV and parts of sections XI and IV).
This collection (fonds) level description was prepared by Natalie Adams at Churchill Archives Centre in January 2002 using information from the catalogue introduction by Stephen Roskill. The remainder of the catalogue was converted from typescript to electronic form by Caroline Herbert in 2009.
Belgion, Harold Montgomery, 1892-1973, author
- 2002-01-29 16:13:04+00:00
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository
Churchill Archives Centre
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