Charles Edward Montague, the son of Francis Montague and Rosa McCabe was born on the 1st January, 1867. His father had been a Catholic priest but after falling in love with his future wife, the daughter of a successful merchant from Drogheda, he left the Church and in 1863 moved to England. Charles was educated at the City of London School and Balliol College, Oxford
While at university Montague wrote several literary reviews for the Manchester Guardian. In February, 1890, the editor,C. P. Scott, invited him to Manchester him a month's trial. Scott was impressed by Montague and soon gave him a full-time post.
Montague shared Scott's political views and together they turned the Manchester Guardian into a campaigning newspaper. The both believed that the main tenet was "to bring all political action to the same tests as personal conduct". This led the men to support Home Rule for Ireland and opposed the Boer War. Montague also wrote about the theatre and by the early 1900s was acknowledged as one of Britain's leading drama critics.
C. P. Montague eventually became assistant editor and played an important role in the development of the newspaper when C. P. Scott was a member of the House of Commons between 1895 and 1906. The bond between the two men was reinforced in 1898 by Montague marrying the editor's only daughter, Madeline Scott, at the Unitarian Chapel in Manchester.
Like C. P. Scott, Montague argued in the summer of 1914 against Britain becoming involved in a war with Germany. However, once war had been declared, Montague believed that it was important to give full support to the British government in its attempts to achieve victory. Montague wrote to Scott: "I have felt for some time, and especially since I have been writing leaders urging people to enlist, a strong wish to do the same myself. I wrote last week to the War Office to ask if there was any chance of getting over the difficulty of my few years over the limit of age, and I was told that although the War Office could not directly break the rule itself, it did not veto exceptions made by those responsible for the raising of new battalions locally."
Although forty-seven with a wife and seven children, Montague volunteered to join the British Army. Grey since his early twenties, Montague died his hair in an attempt to persuade the army to take him. On 23rd December, 1914, the Royal Fusiliers accepted him and he joined the Sportsman's Battalion.
After receiving military training at Climpson Camp in Nottingham, Montague went to France in November, 1915. The following month he wrote to Francis Dodd: "The one thing of which no description given in England any true measure is the universal, ubiquitous muckiness of the whole front. One could hardly have imagined anybody as muddy as everybody is. The rats are pretty well unimaginable too, and, wherever you are, if you have any grub about you that they like, they eat straight through your clothes or haversack to get at it as soon as you are asleep. I had some crumbs of army biscuit in a little calico bag in a greatcoat pocket, and when I awoke they had eaten a big hole through the coat from outside and pulled the bag through it, as if they thought the bag would be useful to carry away the stuff in. But they don't actually try to eat live humans."
When he arrived at the Western Front, his commanding officer questioned the wisdom of having a man in his late forties in the trenches. Montague was sent before the Medical Board and had to wait until the end of January, 1916, before being allowed to return to the trenches. However, three months later, a new ruling banned all men over forty-four from trench work.
The journalist, Philip Gibbs, later recalled: "Prematurely white-haired, he had dyed it when the war began and had enlisted in the ranks. He became a sergeant and then was dragged out of his battalion, made a captain, and appointed as censor to our little group. Extremely courteous, abominably brave - he liked being under shell fire - and a ready smile in his very blue eyes, he seemed unguarded and open. Once he told me that he had declared a kind of moratorium on Christian ethics during the war. It was impossible, he said, to reconcile war with the Christian ideal, but it was necessary to get on with its killing. One could get back to first principles afterwards, and resume one's ideals when the job had been done."
Montague was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant and transferred to Military Intelligence. For the next two years he had the task of writing propaganda for the British Army and censoring articles written by the five authorized English journalists on the Western Front (Perry Robinson, Philip Gibbs, Percival Phillips, Herbert Russell and Bleach Thomas). He also took important visitors for tours of the trenches. This included David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells.
Montague became disillusioned with the First World War. He wrote in his diary in December 1917: "To take part in war cannot, I think, be squared with Christianity. So far the Quakers are right. But I am more sure of my duty of trying to win the war than I am that Christ was right in every part of all that he said, though no one has ever said so much that was right as he did. Therefore I will try, as far as my part goes, to win the war, not pretending meanwhile that I am obeying Christ, and after the war I will try harder than I did before to obey him in all the things in which I am sure he was right. Meanwhile may God give me credit for not seeking to be deceived."
George Bernard Shaw was one of those who Montague took for a tour of the frontline trenches: "At the chateau where the Army entertained the rather mixed lot who were classified as Distinguished Visitors, I met Montague. Finding him just the sort of man I like and get on with, I was glad to learn that he was to be my leader on my excursions. The standing joke about Montague was his craze for being under fire, and his tendency to lead the distinguished visitors, who did not necessarily share this taste into warm corners. Like most standing jokes it was inaccurate, but had something in it.... Both of us felt that, being there, we were wasting our time when we were not within range of the guns. We had come to the theatre to see the play, not to enjoy the intervals between the acts like fashionable people at the opera."
After the war Montague returned to the Manchester Guardian and stayed there until he retired in 1925. He also wrote several books including the novels A Hind Let Loose and Rough Justice, and a collection of essays, Disenchantment (1922) about the First World War. He argued: "The freedom of Europe, The war to end war, The overthrow of militarism, The cause of civilization - most people believe so little now in anything or anyone that they would find it hard to understand the simplicity and intensity of faith with which these phrases were once taken among our troops, or the certitude felt by hundreds of thousands of men who are now dead that if they were killed their monument would be a new Europe not soured or soiled with the hates and greeds of the old. So we had failed - had won the fight and lost the prize; the garland of war was withered before it was gained. The lost years, the broken youth, the dead friends, the women's overshadowed lives at home, the agony and bloody sweat - all had gone to darken the stains which most of us had thought to scour out of the world that our children would live in. Many men felt, and said to each other, that they had been fooled."
Charles Edward Montague died of 28th May, 1928.