I have previously asked, “Is there a scale against which greatness can be measured?” The answer is, “Perhaps not, as it is such a subjective opinion.” However, against any scale, be it greatness, brilliance or the fact that he was outstanding in just about all of his endeavours, General Sir John Monash is to be one of Australia’s most highly regarded identities. But that is to underrate him - he was hailed as a Citizen of the World.
John Monash (Monasch) born in Melbourne, Australia on 27 June 1865, the son of German Polish Jewish migrants, can be researched in any military history encyclopaedia or in fact by just ‘Googling’ his name on the internet. His history and list of achievements are long and far too many to detail in this brief summary. However, might I say that reading his history is well worth the effort and I can assure you that his deeds will amaze you. I have found that the deeds are better labelled on more than one man and in more than one lifetime.
Monash had many careers, and it could be said that he was outstanding in all that he chose. He was a scholar; he passed the matriculation examination when only 14 years of age, at 16 he was dux of Scotch College, Melbourne. He went on and graduated from the University of Melbourne, BA in 1887, and Master of Science in Civil Engineering in 1893, Law in 1895 and Doctor of Engineering in 1921. He practiced law and became a highly regarded engineer. It is to his credit that a number of Melbourne’s major bridges bear his name.
After joining the Melbourne University Company in 1906 it would appear that his choice of a military career was to become his main and most important aim. He was a noted academic, returning to his alma mater, Melbourne University, as Vice Chancellor. He was also known in both public and private practice as an outstanding administrator, the most notable being head of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria (SECV).
Fate and talent was to decree that his rise up the commissioned ranks was to be stellar. He, with his brilliant ability for planning and his adjutant General Blamey’s brilliance in strategy, changed the course of warfare. It is said that the mere fact that as he was a commander of so many decisive battles that thousands of troops under his command were saved from being used as ‘gun fodder’. Together they realised the benefit of providing their troops with armoured coverage, rather than the strategy of in line and waves of troop advancement against enemy fire. In fact, this strategy alone played a large part in setting standards for modern warfare.
It is a little known fact that General Monash was to become the only Australian to command American Forces. Yet another amazing fact is in August 1918, he 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. 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. He was further honoured with being created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) and also received orders and decorations from Belgium, France and the USA. Even though he was promoted to General and awarded many honours some historians suggest that the British establishment didn't consider colonials worthy of the one higher rank of Field Marshal.
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. It is hard to accept that at this same cemetery, 60,000 people mourned at General Monash’s graveside in Melbourne’s Brighton General Cemetery .
The City of Monash, Monash Medical Centre, Monash Freeway, Monash University and the John Monash Science School all bear witness to the high regard in which he is remembered and of the greatness of the man. It is a tragedy that the funeral parade would pass another of his achievements, at that stage an uncompleted Shrine of Remembrance of which he was instrumental in construction.
And so we reach the end of the great man’s life. What was his secret?
Despite his achievements, honours and titles, in his will he instructed that his tombstone simply bear the words ‘John Monash’. Why?
May his dear soul rest in peace
LEST WE FORGET
Opinions expressed are those of SQD LDR Harold J Karpin (Ret'd)
As a footnote it is interesting to simply compare Monash’s characteristics with that of our Patron, Major General Jeffrey V Rosenfeld AM CStJ.
Both Jewish and:
Were outstanding scholars who were educated in Science at University of Melbourne; Monash in Engineering and Rosenfeld in Medicine.
Also chose to serve in the Army and with both rising to outstanding Army ranks. Monash to General, the highest rank (in war time the highest rank is Field Marshal), and Rosenfeld recently promoted to Major General, the third highest Army rank (and the highest rank possible for a reservist). Earlier this year he was awarded the AM - Member of the Order of Australia.
It could be said that both saved untold numbers of lives, Monash by his foresight in military strategies and Rosenfeld as an outstanding and inventive neurosurgeon.
The interesting point I wish to make by this comparison is that Major General Jeffrey Rosenfeld AM CStJ is related to General Sir John Monash GCMG KCB VD!
It would appear that genes run deep and like honours are well deserved!