General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD

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Sir John Monash (Monasch)

Birthdate: (66)
Birthplace: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Death: October 08, 1931 (66)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Place of Burial: Brighton, Victoria, Australia
Immediate Family:

Son of Louis Monash (Monasch) and Bertha (Betti) Monash
Husband of Hanna Victoria Monash
Father of Bertha Monash (Monasch)
Brother of Mathilde Monash and Louise Rosenhain (Monash)

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About General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD

General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD (27 June 1865 – 8 October 1931) was a civil engineer who became the Australian military commander in the First World War. He commanded the 13th Infantry Brigade before the War and then, shortly after the outbreak of the war, became commander of the 4th Brigade in Egypt, with whom he took part in the Gallipoli campaign. In July 1917 he took charge of the new Australian 3rd Division in north-west France and in May 1918 he was made commander of the Australian Corps, at the time the largest individual corps on the Western Front. On 8 August 1918 the successful allied attack at the Battle of Amiens, which led to the earlier than expected end to the war, was planned by Monash and spearheaded by the Australian and Canadian Corps under Monash and Currie.

Early life

Monash was born in Dudley Street, West Melbourne, Victoria, on 27 June 1865, the son of Louis Monash and his wife Bertha, née Manasse. He was born to Jewish parents, both from Germany (the family name was originally spelt Monasch and pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable), living in Krotoschin in the Kingdom of Prussia, now Krotoszyn in the Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland. However, the family were German speakers, and some sources describe them as being of German origin. From 1914 until his death, Sir John Monash had no good reason to attract attention to his German background. His parents' original home was close to where the German general Erich Ludendorff was born. As might have been expected from a man brought up by cultivated German parents who had arrived in Australia barely two years before John's birth, Monash spoke, read and wrote splendid German.

In 1874, the family moved to the small town of Jerilderie in the Riverina region of New South Wales, where his father ran a store. Monash later claimed to have met the bushranger Ned Kelly during his raid there in 1879. Monash attended the public school and his intelligence was recognised. The family was advised to move back to Melbourne to let John reach his full potential, and they moved back in 1880 (Sam Aull). He was educated under Alexander Morrison at Scotch College, Melbourne, where he passed the matriculation examination when only 14 years of age. At 16 he was dux of the school. He graduated from the University of Melbourne: B.A. in 1887, Master of Science in civil engineering in 1893, law in 1895 and Doctor of Engineering in 1921.

On 8 April 1891, Monash married Hannah Victoria Moss (1871–1920), and their only child, Bertha, was born in 1893. He worked as a civil engineer, and played a major role in introducing reinforced concrete to Australian engineering practice. He initially worked for private contractors on bridge and railway construction, and as their advocate in contract arbitrations. Following a period with the Melbourne Harbour Trust, in 1894 he entered into partnership with J. T. N. Anderson as consultants and contractors. When the partnership was dissolved in 1905 he joined with the builder David Mitchell and industrial chemist John Gibson to form the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co, and in 1906 with them and businessmen from South Australia, to form the S. A. Reinforced Concrete Co. He took a leading part in his profession and became president of the Victorian Institute of Engineers and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

Monash joined the university company of the militia in 1884 and became a lieutenant in the North Melbourne battery militia unit in 1887. He was made captain in 1895, major in 1897 and in 1906 became a lieutenant-colonel in the intelligence corps. He was colonel commanding the 13th Infantry Brigade in 1912; on the outbreak of First World War he was appointed chief censor in Australia.

First World War

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 as the commander of 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 a failure to get his troops through poorly mapped mountainous terrain prior to the battle resulted in disaster for the last co-ordinated effort to defeat the Turkish forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This 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 21 August, which was only partially successful. His war letters are full of accounts of the gallantry of the men he commanded. When orders came in December 1915 for the evacuation, he methodically supervised the exact course to be followed by members of his own command, and was in one of the last parties to leave.

Great as the disappointment had been over the failure at Gallipoli, there was some comfort in the fact that the evacuation had been so successful. Forty-five thousand men, with mules, guns, stores, provisions and transport valued at several million pounds, had been withdrawn with scarcely a casualty, and without exciting the slightest suspicion in the enemy. Hours afterwards the Turks opened a furious bombardment on the empty trenches.

On 25 Apr 1916, the first anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, Monash and his men solemnly observed Anzac Day in camp at the Suez Canal. Monash distributed red ribbons to soldiers present at the first landing and blue ribbons to those who came later. The day was a special holiday completed with swimming and sports among the soldiers.

After this rest period in Egypt, by June 1917 Monash was in north-west France. In July, with the rank of major general, he was in charge of the new Australian 3rd Division. He trained the division in England with the minutest attention to detail, and led stage by stage to the nearest approach that could be improvised to the conditions of actual warfare. He was involved in many actions, including Messines, Broodseinde, and the First Battle of Passchendaele, with some successes, but with the usual heavy casualties. The British High Command was impressed by Monash's abilities and enthusiasm. In May 1918 he was promoted to lieutenant general and made commander of the Australian Corps, at the time the largest individual corps on the Western Front.

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash later described the recapture of the town of Villers-Bretonneux on 25 April 1918 after the Germans had overrun the 8th British Division under General William Heneker as the turning-point of the war. Sir Thomas William Glasgow's 13th Brigade, and Harold Elliott's 15th Brigade, recaptured Villers-Bretonneux.

Commander of the Australian Corps

Monash, despite not being a professionally trained officer, was a noted advocate of the co-ordinated use of infantry, aircraft, artillery and tanks. He wrote:

... the true role of infantry was not to expend itself upon heroic physical effort, not to wither away under merciless machine-gun fire, not to impale itself on hostile bayonets, nor to tear itself to pieces in hostile entanglements—(I am thinking of Pozières and Stormy Trench and Bullecourt, and other bloody fields)—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; to march, resolutely, regardless of the din and tumult of battle, to the appointed goal; and there to hold and defend the territory gained; and to gather in the form of prisoners, guns and stores, the fruits of victory.

Charles Bean, the official Australian war historian, noted that Monash was more effective the higher he rose within the Army, where he had greater capacity to use his skill for meticulous planning and organisation, and to innovate in the area of technology and tactics. Bean had been no great admirer of Monash in his early career, in part due to a general prejudice against Monash's Prussian-Jewish background, but more particularly because Monash did not fit Bean's concept of the quintessential Australian character that Bean was in the process of mythologising in his monumental work Australia in the War of 1914–1918. (Both Bean and Monash, however, having seen the very worst excesses of British military doctrines and the waste of life on the Western Front, were determined that the role of the commander was to look after, and protect as far as possible, the troops under their command.) Bean, who wrote in his diary of Monash "We do not want Australia represented by men mainly because of their ability, natural and inborn in Jews, to push themselves", conspired with Keith Murdoch to undermine Monash, and have him removed from the command of the Australian Corps. They misled Prime Minister Billy Hughes into believing that senior officers were opposed to Monash. Hughes arrived at the front before the Battle of Hamel prepared to replace Monash, but after consulting with senior officers, and after seeing the superb power of planning and execution displayed by Monash, he changed his mind.

At the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918, Monash, with the support of the British 4th Army commander Sir Henry Rawlinson commanded the 4th Australian Division, supported by the British 5th Tank Brigade, along with a detachment of US troops, to win a small but operationally significant victory for the Allies. On 8 August 1918, the Battle of Amiens was launched. Allied troops under the command of Douglas Haig, predominantly Rawlinson's British 4th Army (consisting of the Australian Corps under Monash and the Canadian Corps under Arthur Currie, and the British III Corps) attacked the Germans. The allied attack was spearheaded by the Australian Corps, who had been given the capture of enemy artillery as a key objective in the first phase by Monash in order to minimize the potential harm to the attacking forces. The battle was a strong, significant victory for the Allies, the first decisive win for the British Army of the war, causing the Germans to recognise that for them the War was lost. The defeated German leader, General Ludendorff, described it in the following words: "August 8th was the black day of the German Army in the history of the war". These operations were just a start of a broad Allied offensive across the Western Front. On 12 August 1918 Monash was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the battlefield by King George V, the first time a British monarch had honoured a commander in such a way in 200 years. The Australians then achieved a series of victories against the Germans at Chignes, Mont St Quentin, Peronne and Hargicourt. Monash had 208,000 men under his command, including 50,000 inexperienced Americans. Monash planned the attack on the German defences in the Battle of the Hindenburg Line between 16 September and 5 October 1918. The Allies eventually breached the Hindenburg Line by 5 October, and the war was essentially over. On 5 October, Prinz Max von Baden, on behalf of the German Government, asked for an immediate armistice on land, water and in the air.

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". Monash was regarded with great respect by the British – a British captain on the staff of William Heneker's 8th Division described Monash as "a great bullock of a man ... though his manners were pleasant and his behaviour far from rough, I have seen few men who gave me such a sensation of force ... a fit leader for the wild men he commanded". Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery later wrote: "I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe".

For his services during the war, and in addition to his creation as a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, Monash was appointed as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George on 1 January 1919. He also received numerous foreign honours – the French appointed him a Grand Officer of the Légion d'honneur and awarded him the Croix de Guerre, the Belgians appointed him a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Grand-Officier Ordre de la Couronne) and awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the United States awarded him the Distinguished Service Medal.


Monash's impact on Australian military thinking was significant in three areas. Firstly he was the first Australian overall commander of Australian forces and took, as subsequent Australian commanders did, a relatively independent line with his British superiors. Secondly, he promoted the concept of the commander's duty to ensure the safety and well-being of his troops to a pre-eminent position applying a philosophy of 'collective individualism'. And finally, he, along with the brilliant staff officer Thomas Blamey, forcefully demonstrated the benefit of thorough planning and integration of all arms of the forces available, and of all of the components supporting the front line forces, including logistical, medical and recreational services. Troops later recounted that one of the most extraordinary things about the Battle of Hamel was not the use of armoured tanks, nor simply the tremendous success of the operation, but the fact that in the midst of battle Monash had arranged delivery of hot meals up to the front line.

After the war

Soon after the conclusion of hostilities Monash was appointed director-general of Repatriation and Demobilisation, heading a newly created department to carry out the repatriation of the Australian troops. He returned to Australia on 26 December 1919 to a tumultuous welcome.

Later, Monash worked in prominent civilian positions, the most notable being head of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV) from October 1920. He was also vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne from 1923 until his death eight years later.

Monash was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne, Australia's first Rotary Club, and served as its second president (1922–23). In 1927, he became president of the newly-founded Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand.

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. Monash was devastated in early 1929, when his eldest grandchild, John (who was 6 at the time), died from a rare influenza virus.

Sir John Monash died in Melbourne on 8 October 1931 and was given a state funeral. An estimated 250,000 mourners, the nation's largest funeral crowd to that time, came to pay their respects. Monash University, the City of Monash, Monash Medical Centre (the location of his bust, which originally resided in former SECV town Yallourn), Monash Freeway and John Monash Science School are named after him. His face is on Australia's highest value currency note ($100). Also named in his honour is Kfar Monash ("Monash village") in Israel. The Canberra suburb of Monash is also named after him. Monash's success in part reflected the tolerance of Australian society, but to a larger degree his success – in the harshest experience the young nation had suffered – shaped that tolerance and demonstrated to Australians that the Australian character was diverse, multi-ethnic and a blend of the traditions of the 'bush' and the 'city'.

In a final sign of humility, despite his achievements, honours and titles, he instructed that his tombstone simply bear the words "John Monash". He is buried in Melbourne's Brighton General Cemetery.

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General Sir John Monash, GCMG, KCB, VD's Timeline

June 27, 1865
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
January 1893
Age 27
Melbourne, Australia
October 8, 1931
Age 66
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Brighton, Victoria, Australia