Archives of Unsung D-Day Hero for Sale at Bonhams

Letters, papers and photographs belonging to General Sir Miles Dempsey, one of the unsung heroes of Operation Overlord in June 1944 and of the subsequent campaign to liberate Europe, are to be sold at Bonhams Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs sale in London on June 18.  Bonhams, the third largest international fine art auction house, holds book sales in London, Oxford, New York and California. 

Sir Miles, who was the first soldier to be knighted on the field of battle since Agincourt, commanded the British Second Army at the Normandy landings and the push across Belgium and into Germany which followed. He was specifically selected for this role by Field Marshall Montgomery in recognition of the important part he had played in the invasion of Sicily earlier in 1944. His job on D Day and in the weeks that followed was to draw the Germans fire at every opportunity and to capture the town of Caen enabling the Americans to establish a bridgehead to the west and advance into Northern France.  The letters of praise from the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, General Eisenhower and from Montgomery as the Commander of the Allied ground forces during Operation Overlord show how successful he was at this task and how much his superiors appreciated the contribution he made then and later to the successful outcome of the war. By the end of 1944 the Second Army had swelled to half a million men making Dempsey the Commander of the largest British Army in history.

A letter from Montgomery on 13 July 1944 (est £2,000-3,000) enclosed a telegram from Eisenhower which read, “'From Eisenhower to General Montgomery (.) Please convey to General Dempsey my great admiration for the accomplishments of Second Army (.) In becoming masters of Caen and in their constant drive against the German they are contributing markedly to the final victory'

Eisenhower was no less fulsome in his praise when he wrote to Dempsey on 13 July 1945 as he prepared to step down as Supreme Allied Commander. In the letter (estimated at £3,000-4,000) he told Dempsey,.” My gratitude to you is a small token for the magnificent service which you have rendered, and my simple expression of thanks sounds totally inadequate. ”  

He was to repeat the sentiment 20 years later on the anniversary of victory writing on that occasion, “"To you, one of my closest associates in OVERLORD, I am impelled to send, once more, a special word of thanks. Your professional skill and selfless dedication to the cause in which we all served will be noted by the historians of those dramatic months, but no historian could possibly be aware of the depth of my obligation to you.” (Estimate £1,000-1,500)

The sale also includes photographs of the attempted surrender of the German High Command on at Dempsey’s HQ in Lüneburg on 3 May 1945. Dempsey quite properly turned them away explaining that the surrender could only be made to Montgomery, which it was the following day. (Estimate £2,000-3,000).

Simon Roberts said, “For many years the contribution of Major General Dempsey to the Allied victory in Europe was perhaps not properly understood partly because he never wrote a memoir and preferred to avoid the limelight. It is only relatively recently that military historians have come to share the appreciation of Dempsey’s colleagues on the field of battle - an appreciation which the letters in this collection of fascinating documents makes very clear.“

Following the German surrender, Dempsey was appointed Commander-in-Chief Allied Land Forces South East Asia to coordinate the reoccupation of Singapore and Malaya and his operational diary from this period is an important source of information (est £1,00-1,500).  In 1951 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces and Chairman of the Commander in Chief Committee putting him in overall charge of the defence of the UK in time of War.

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