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The leading British war historian, Liddell Hart, wrote in his book Through The Fog of War, published in 1938, referring to Monash:- Perhaps the strongest testimony to his capacity is the distance he went in spite of a tremendous compound handicap of prejudice, due partly to his Jewish origin, partly to the fact that he was an amateur soldier….                                                                                                                                    _________________________________________________________________________

Monash had no ambition to become a permanent soldier. He was a civilian at heart and wanted to return to that role. He did harbour thoughts of obtaining high office as a state Governor or even Governor General but his immediate future was cast when Bean visited Hughes and suggest he put him in charge of repatriation. Hughes is reluctant describing Monash as “a showy Jew” and preferred Birdwood who he described as “a man of kindness”. Bean persisted on the basis of Monash’s demonstrable organisational abilities.

Monash’s time in London is taken up with meetings with Prime MInister Billy Hughes, press interviews, speaking engagements and being hosted by the leading dignitaries and aristocrats of England. In a speech at the Dominions Luncheon Club he tells the audience that the war will be over within weeks. He receives the highest awards from France and Belgium and is also awarded a KCMG from Britain.



On 18th October, Rawlinson asks Blamey, who has remained in France, when the Australians will be ready to fight again. Blamey hedges but says they will be ready to go in two months. Blamey asks Monash to step in because this is breaking the promise of Hughes that they will have a European holiday. Monash returns to France on 27th October to plead the case but Hughes gives in on the basis that the 1st & 4th Divisions will only be used in an emergency. They re-enter the line on 5th November.


Green, yellow and red zones of northern France, affected by WWI. The blue zones were spared destruction. Red Zones remain pockmarked with deadly explosives and chemicals.

Credit: Guicherd, J. & Matriot, C.: La terre des régions dévastées – Journal d'Agriculture Pratique 34 (1921). CC BY-SA 2.5

Monash sets up his HQ at Eu and expects to be given a large slice of Germany to administer after the armistice. Peace negotiations are continuing with the Germans accepting each condition as they are put. Ludendorff disagrees with everything and is deluded in the belief that Germany can fight on and win. The government asks the Kaiser to demand Ludendorff’s resignation. Ludendorff dons a disguise and flees to Sweden.

US president Wilson presents a 14 point ultimatum to the Germans and tells them that an armistice must be secured through Marshall Foch as Allied Supreme Commander. Three days later, a German delegation arrives at Compiegne, near Paris, to begin the peace process. The Kaiser flees to Holland, the only country that will accept him. The German government collapses and Germany is declared a Republic.


Armistice Day Australian troops

On 18th November Monash is summoned to a meeting in London with Hughes who appoints him as director-general of Demobilisation and Repatriation. Monash estimates that the task will take 20 months and arranges for Vic and his daughter to come to England. Before relinquishing command of the Corps Monash pardons the 118 men who were convicted of mutiny.


Monash has 160,000 troops to be repatriated and wants to get them home as soon as possible. Hughes wants a slow process. He says that the arrival of so many men in a short time will create much unemployment. Monash prevails with support from Murdoch. He adopts a system of first to come will be first to go with due regard for family obligations and secure employment waiting. He organises the troops into groups of 1,000 per ship but his main problem is finding enough ships.


A mother greets her son, who has survived the Great War.CREDIT: PHOTO: AUSTRALIA: A HISTORY IN PHOTOGRAPHS BY MICHAEL CANNON

At the same time Monash is in constant demand for social and formal engagements with high society and Royalty. He is lauded almost to the exclusion of other fellow officers, some of whom resent the lack of attention. Snide remarks about his Jewish background appear from brother officers who one would have thought been more loyal than they turned out to be. His technical achievements are never disputed but his “Jewishness” is now used to insult him. Conversely he is held in the highest esteem by the British Jewish aristocracy. He had discarded his Jewish religious practices when he was at university 40 years before but never rejects his Jewish ancestry. There is brief talk of him being appointed as the Governor of the new Jewish state in Palestine.


French prime minister M. Georges Benjamin Clemenceau on his only visit to the Australian front, walking with Major General E. G. Sinclair-MacLagan and Lieutenant General Sir John Monash (right, foreground). At far right is Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Lavarack. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial)

On 25th April, 1919, Monash leads an ANZAC Day march in London of 5,000 troops with fixed bayonets from Buckingham Palace to Australia House.


Anzac Day March, London 1919

The War Office tries to stop the march because another is planned for all overseas troops on 5th May. Monash wins again. His wife, Vic, and daughter Bertha arrive in London with a constant round of social engagements that exhausts Vic. In May he takes Bertha on a four day tour of the French battlegrounds. On return the family are treated to a private lunch with the King and Queen, He travels to Oxford and Cambridge where he is awarded honorary degrees in law.

The repatriation process continues and 16 ships are assigned in December, 1918 with a steady flow into the New Year. Monash instigates an education programme for those still in England. 40,000 Diggers take part in the AIF Education Scheme and 13,000 of them obtain British educational qualifications to equip them for a return to civilian life. By June half the troops have left for home, the rest will follow in July & August. Hughes set Monash the task to complete it in 18 months. He did it in 8 and after 11 months all the troops are on their way home. He embarks on the first chapter of his book that will eventually be titled The Australian Victories in France in 1918.


Victorian premier, Harry Lawson, has established the State Electricity Commission to examine the merits of the vast brown coal deposits in the LaTrobe Valley as a source of providing electricity. Germany has already established such technology on brown coal deposits of their own. Monash is engaged to undertake an intelligence operation to delve into this process. Monash employs one of his former officers to infiltrate German coal mines and electricity workings. He produces a working model of a machine to make briquettes. Monash writes a report and in November the Victorian parliament approves the idea and brown coal becomes the chief energy source of the state.


In September Monash is approached to stand for a seat in the senate at the looming federal election for the Nationalist Party. He declines because he is reluctant to serve in any government under Hughes. Monash and his family depart from England on 15th November, one year after the armistice and almost five years since he led the 4th Brigade in the convoy to Egypt. In 26th December they arrive at Port Melbourne to a tumultuous welcome.


Ever since leaving England Vic has been in poor health. She is unable to participate in the rounds of adulation arranged for Monash’s homecoming. His daughter, Bertha, accompanies him to many of the receptions. On 27th February Vic passes away, diagnosed with cancer, at age 50.

Monash is deliberately ignored, snubbed, at the most senior levels of government, particularly by Hughes. Birdwood wallows in the reflected glory of Monash’s achievements by virtue of his titular role as commander of the Australian Army.

Birdwood is endowed with many awards and honours while Monash receives none. He receives an honorary doctorate of law from Melbourne University but is not recognised for anything from the Australian government. Efforts by the Returned Soldiers National Party and some federal politicians seek to correct the slight directed to Monash but to no avail. The latent anti- Jewish sentiment below the surface always prevails.

On the popular front however he is in high demand. He accepts appointment to a large number of charitable and community support organisations.

He opens the Ballarat Avenue of Honour, lays the foundation stone of ANZAC House in Collins Street, becomes president of a group to adopt Villers-Bretonneux and of the Australian Children’s Society is formed to help unmarried British girls who have babies fathered by Australian service men.


French children tending graves at Adelaide Cemetery of Australians killed in battle on the Western Front (AWM E05925).

On the business front he gets appointment as a director of dozens of important companies. Monash sells his pipe company to Hume Pipe Company (Aust) Ltd for 10,000 pounds and becomes a director of it.

On 28th June, 1920 Monash is appointed general manager of the State Electricity Commission and becomes Chairman of the Commissioners. In November he receives approval to start building the town of Yallourn to operate the brown coal power station. He convinces the government that the SEC should have a monopoly on electricity generation in Victoria and supports the proposed Kiewa hydro-electric scheme. His next project is for a briquette making plant that has to be imported from Germany. Briquettes were for many years a prime, if not the prime source of fuel for domestic fireplaces in Melbourne and for industrial furnace fuel. It was overtaken by the discovery of natural gas in Bass Strait 40 years later.

In his “spare” time he is the prime motivator in the development of the Shrine of Remembrance. On 2nd July, 1923 he becomes a vice-chancellor of Melbourne University. He examines John Bradfield, the man who will build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, for his doctorate of engineering from Sydney University.

On 15th June, 1924.a switch is pulled at Yallourn and the great power generators swing into action sending electricity down the transmission lines to Melbourne and beyond. In November briquettes come into production and are available for retail sale cheaper and more efficient than firewood. The SEC takes until 1927 to turn a profit but it has also become the backbone of Victoria industry.


ANZAC Day is established as a national event on the 10th anniversary in 1925. The RSL arranges the march through Pompey Elliott as chief organiser. He eventually persuades Monash to lead the parade of about 6,000 men. He takes charge of the ANZAC Day Commemorative Council and a Victorian Act is passed making ANZAC Day a sacred public holiday with the same status as Good Friday.

The creation of the Shrine of Remembrance has stalled since 1923 due to competing proposals. On ANZAC Day, 1927 the future King George VI who has come to open the new Parliament House in Canberra, takes the salute. A parade of 30,000 men led by Monash with 500,000 spectators en route marches to the Exhibition Building where Monash gives a stirling address in support of his proposal. The crowd roars, the government accedes and the foundation stone is laid on Armistice Day 1927. In 1929 he takes part in the unveiling of the Cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney with similar effect.


"Impressive scenes in Martin-Place yesterday when the completed Cenotaph was unveiled." February 21, 1929.

His last official duty on behalf of the government is to attend as an Australian representative at the opening of New Delhi in India in 1931. It is a lengthy and exhausting tour and on his return his workload reduces by force of rising medical conditions and exhaustion. He attends his last ANZAC Day parade but has to travel on horseback. He cancels a series of existing engagements, refuses others and starts to put his affairs in order. He suffers heart attacks on two days and on 8th October, 1931 at his home in Toorak, departs this life.

There is national grief and disbelief. Tributes pour in from around the world from the King down. Drake-Brockman, chief judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court says that Monash was the greatest Australian who ever lived. His State funeral held on 11th October was attended by crowds estimated by the police to be over 300,000, by others over 500,000. His body was laid to rest in Brighton Cemetery.


The tributes that came on Monash’s death exhausted the English language of superlatives but it could be said that the greatest tribute of all came from the German General Heinz Guderian the executor of the German Blitzkreig in 1940 in his book Achtung-Panzer where he disclosed that he copied Monash’s battle plan for the Battle of Amiens as his blue print for, what was then, the most successful campaign of WW2.

John Monash has left countless legacies that surround us today. The $100 note, the Monash University, Monash Freeway, Monash House, City of Monash. Monash Medical Centre are some of the monuments that bear his name. Those that do not, but honour him as an unsung hero, defy any ability to list them all.


The tribute to his status as a Civilian Soldier lies in the policy at the outbreak of WW2, that senior command appointments were NOT to be made from the ranks of the permanent army.

 Lest we forget !


 Further Reading:

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