John Monash

From Academic Kids

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Sir John Monash

General Sir John Monash (27 June 1865 - 8 October 1931), Australian military commander of the First World War, was born in Melbourne, Victoria, to parents of Prussian-Jewish origin (the family name was originally spelled Monasch). Most of his youth was spent in Jerilderie, New South Wales but he was educated at Scotch College in Melbourne and graduated from the University of Melbourne: in engineering in 1893 and in law in 1895. He worked as a civil engineer, and joined a militia unit, becoming a colonel in 1913.

When war broke out in 1914 Monash became a full-time Army officer. Despite the anti-German hysteria of the time, there seems to have been no adverse comment on his German origins. When the Australian Imperial Force was formed, he was sent with the 4th Infantry Brigade to Egypt. In 1915 his brigade, as part of the New Zealand and Australian Division under Major General Godley, participated in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign against the Ottoman Army. The brigade initially defended the line between Pope's Hill and Courtney's Post and the valley behind this line became known as "Monash Valley". There he made a name for himself with his independent decision-making and his organisational ability. He was promoted to brigadier general in July. During the August offensive, Monash's objective was the capture of Hill 971, the highest point on the Sari Bair range, but his attempt was a catastrophic failure and marked the lowest point of his military career. He commanded the final significant assault of the Gallipoli fighting in the attack on Hill 60 on August 21 which was only partially successful.

By June 1916 Monash was in France, with the rank of major general and in charge of the new Australian 3rd Division. He was involved in many actions, including Messines, Broodseinde and the First Battle of Passchendaele, with some successes but the usual heavy casualties. The British High Command was impressed by Monash's abilities and enthusiasm in a war that was going very badly. In May 1918 he was promoted to lieutenant general and made commander of the Australian Corps, at the time the largest corps on the Western Front.

Monash, not being a professionally trained officer, was free of the antiquated doctrines of many First World War officers. He believed in the co-ordinated use of infantry, aircraft, artillery and tanks. He wrote:

The true role of infantry is not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum possible array of mechanical resources, in the form of guns, machine-guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes; to advance with as little impediment as possible; to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward.

At the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918 Monash applied this doctrine, and led his troops to win a much-needed victory for the Allies. On 12 August he was knighted on the field by King George V. The Australians then advanced through France, being used as shock troops in a series of victories against the Germans at Chignes, Mont St Quentin, Peronne and Hargicourt.

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Statue of Sir John Monash in King's Domain, Melbourne.

By the end of the war Monash had acquired an outstanding reputation for intellect, personal magnetism, management and ingenuity. He also won the respect and loyalty of his troops: his motto was "Feed your troops on victory." Field-Marshall Bernard Montgomery later wrote: "I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe." (Curiously, Montgomery would later have under his command the two outstanding colonial generals of the Second World War, Freyberg and Morshead, and yet staunchly resist their promotion.)

After the war, Monash worked in prominent civilian positions, the most notable being head of the Victorian State Electricity Commission. He was called upon by the Victorian Government of Harry Lawson in 1923 to organise 'special constables' to restore order during the 1923 Victorian Police strike. He was one of the principal organisers of the annual observance of ANZAC Day, and oversaw the planning for Melbourne's monumental war memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance. Monash was honoured with numerous awards and decorations from universities and foreign governments. He died in 1931 in Melbourne, where the City of Monash and Monash University are named after him. His face is on the Australian $100 bill.

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