The Secret Jewish History Of The Greatest General You’ve Never Heard Of
John Monash is probably the greatest general of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of. It’s understandable – we do not teach or study WWI the way we do WWII, and especially for Americans, we focus hardly at all on Australian forces and commanders, of either war. In terms of skill, aptitude, ingenuity and tactics, I can think of no one else in WWI who can even close to stack up to Monash. If you have the time and inclination, I highly recommend reading up on his military strategies, they are fascinating, and far ahead of their time.
Born in 1865 in Melbourne, Australia, to German-Jewish immigrant parents, Monash spent part of his early life in the small town of Jerilderie in New South Wales. Monash earned a Masters of Engineering from the University of Melbourne, and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws degrees in 1893 and 1895, respectively.
After his schooling, Monash became a civil engineer. He was a part of, and eventually became president of, the Victorian Institute of Engineers. Monash joined the local militia in 1884, and rose through the ranks, eventually attaining the rank of Colonel of the 13th Infantry Brigade in 1912.
When WWI broke out in 1914, Monash became a full-time officer. Initially appointed the chief censor for Australia, Monash desired a field command. He was eventually appointed the commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade. His appointment was met with some anti-Semitic responses within the Australian military, but he was supported by a few high-ranking officers, including (but not limited to) James Gordon Legge, Australia’s highest-ranking officer at the outset of the war.
Monash’s first serious battle command was during the Gallipoli campaign. Assigned to defend the line between Pope’s Hill and Courtney’s Post, the area between the two became known as “Monash Valley” during the campaign. This was because his ingenious organizational ability and independent decision-making had made a name for himself within the officers corps. In July of 1915, Monash was promoted to Brigadier General, a move that was met with more anti-Semitic backlash. He was also inducted into the Order of the Bath.
This anti-Semitic backlash was spearheaded by Charles Bean and Keith Murdoch, who conspired amongst themselves see to the dismissal of Monash. Bean was the official Australian war historian at the time. Keith Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s father, was a journalist. The two of them began a campaign to try and convince the upper echelons of Australia’s military that Monash was at best incompetent; at worst, a German spy.
Bean wrote, of Monash, “We do not want Australia represented by men mainly because of the ability, natural and inborn in Jews, to push themselves forward.” Eventually, their hate-filled lies reached the ears of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who became convinced that Monash should be relieved of command. Hughes personally traveled to Monash’s camp before the Battle of Hamel, to relieve him of duty. Upon arriving at the camp, and speaking directly with the officers, he realized that Monash was not at fault, and changed his mind. By then, the damage had already been done. The slander thrown out by Murdoch and Bean is largely credited with why Monash never attained the rank of Field Marshal during the war, despite his many accolades and accomplishments during and after it.
In August of 1918, the Battle of Amiens began. Monash’s troops were tasked with taking the enemy artillery to start out the battle, paving the way for the main forces to advance without fear of artillery fire. The battle was an important victory for the Allied Forces, and Monash was recognized for the key role he played. On August 12th, 1918, King George V Knighted General John Monash at the Chateau de Bertangles, making him a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. This was the first time a British monarch had knighted a commander on the battlefield in 200 years.
Following his promotion, Monash had 208,000 Australia/New Zealand (ANZAC) forces under his command, as well as 50,000 American troops. Monash planned the attack on the Hindenburg Line, the offensive that eventually ended the war on October 5th, 1918. Monash’s motto in battle was, “Feed your troops on victory” and his troops certainly had their fill. Following the war, he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, as well as becoming a Grand Officer of the Legion d’honneur in France. The Belgians made him a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown. He received the Distinguished Service Medal from the United States.
Following the war, Monash was appointed Director General of Repatriation and Demobilisation, and became one of the principal organizers of the annual observance of ANZAC Day. He also oversaw the planning of Melbourne’s war memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance. In 1927, he became president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand. In 1931, Sir John Monash suffered a heart attack and died. He was given a state funeral, with a Jewish service, a 17-gun salute, and an estimated 300,000 mourners in attendance. At the time of his death, the population of Australia was approximately 6.4 million, meaning that over 4% of Australia’s population, and 30% of Melbourne’s population, attended his funeral. Today, Monash’s face is on the Australian 100-dollar bill. There is also a University, a city, a medical center, a freeway, a scholarship program and a science academy in Australia that all bear his name. There is also a town in Israel, Kfar Monash, which was founded in 1946 by Jewish former Australian servicemen in his honor.
Since his death, there have been a few campaigns to have him posthumously awarded the rank of Field Marshal, Australia’s highest military rank. Currently, there is a campaign, called Saluting Monash, led by a contingent of Australian MPs who are pushing for the posthumous award ahead of the 100-year anniversary of the end of WWI. If he is promoted, it would make Monash only the second Australian-born individual to attain the rank.