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Sir John Monash: the man behind the name

General John Monash
AWM A02691


Posted on 5 July 2017

By the end of the First World War, Sir John Monash had earned a reputation as one of the most innovative commanders of his time.

I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery

Born in Melbourne in 1865, Monash excelled as a student. Monash was dux of Scotch College in Melbourne in 1881. He then continued on his studies as a student of law, arts and engineering at the University of Melbourne. In 1887, he joined Melbourne University’s Metropolitan Brigade of the Garrison Artillery, marking the beginning of his military career.

His was a career so celebrated and exceptional, that Australia’s most significant contribution to the Australian Remembrance Trail on the Western Front—the Sir John Monash Centre, is named after him.

Monash’s achievements in the First World War speak for themselves. He commanded the 4th Brigade through the Gallipoli campaign, and it was here that he first experienced the tragic impact of poor planning and command decisions – something that remained with him throughout his military career.

After moving to the Western Front in 1916, Monash was promoted to Major General, and given command of the 3rd Division.

As commander, Monash led his troops through battles such Messines, and the Third Battle of Ypres.

Then, on 1 June 1918 Monash was truly recognised for his leadership capabilities when he was promoted Lieutenant General, and given command of the Australian Corps.

He was the first Australian appointed to the position on the Western Front, as British officers had always commanded Australian troops at this level until this promotion.

The promotion came at a time when his countrymen had been campaigning for change, and Monash promptly set to work on developing the tactics that had been evolving on the Western Front since the Somme battles of 1916.

He worked to find a way to overcome what he called “merciless machine-gun fire” and other defensive obstacles, as he championed the integrated use of different types of weaponry in battle.

It was at the battle of Hamel in July 1918 where Monash earned his enduring reputation as an innovator; leading his troops to success in what has since been labelled ‘a textbook victory’.

It was his meticulous planning and his command in both offensive and defensive battles that saw Monash knighted in 1918.

The main thing is always to have a plan; if it is not the best plan, it is at least better than no plan at all.

Sir John Monash

Over the remaining months of the war Monash continued to inspire success in his troops, using the careful planning and strategies he had become renowned for. He played a key role in planning the British offensive of 8 August 1918 and was lauded for his leadership during the final battles of the war.

After the war, Monash returned to work as an engineer, eventually rising to become the head of the Victorian State Electricity Commission.

Monash was loved and admired by many, and was honoured with numerous awards and decorations. After his death on 8 October 1931, more than 250,000 mourners attended his state funeral in Melbourne.


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