Commemorative Service for Sir John Monash

October 12, 2011 by Harold J Karpin
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A service has been held in Melbourne commemorating the 80th yahrzeit of Sir John Monash.

Monash, born of migrant parents is said to have become Australia’s greatest son

General Sir John Monash died on the 8th October 1931. He was held in such high regard that his funeral saw over 300,000 people turn out to witness the procession. It is said that fathers hoisted their young onto their shoulders and told them to remember the day they saw “the great man pass by.”

Sir John Monash

A much smaller, but a substantial number, gathered  80 years later to pay their respects at a Commemorative Tribute at the graveside of Sir John at Brighton Cemetery, Melbourne. The service was hosted by the Victorian Association Ex & Servicemen & Women Australia Inc (VAJEX) together with The Returned & Services League of Australia (Victoria Branch) Inc, The Spirit of Australia Foundation and The General Sir John Monash Foundation.

The service began with a welcome to the many high ranking military persons, politicians, members and descendants of the Monash family and other persons of note. Now I do not in any way mean to down play or demean the addresses made by MAJGEN David McLachlen AO , State President of R& SL, MAJGEN Jeffrey V Rosenfeld AM CStJ, Patron VAJEX or MAJGEN Jim Barry AM MBE RFD ED, Deputy Chair The Spirit of Australia Foundation, They were inspiring and informative in their own way. Each spoke of the history of Sir John and drew attention to his many attributes……His outstanding military prowess, which enabled him to develop new winning strategies of warfare. Field Marshal Montgomery said of him that ‘he had the greatest capacity for command in modern war of all who held command.’ This being so, to me his most interesting attribute was caring for ‘his men’. A caring, many attribute to the fact that, as unbelievable as it is, in military parlance, ‘he came up through the ranks’

However, it was the graveside address by Monash’s great grandson Mr Michael Bennett that told of a different side to Sir John. To most of us the image we hold of the General is that of a very dour and serious military man, a man absolutely devoted to the seriousness war…an image more in keeping with the British High Command at that time. However, how wrong we are!

Michael spoke of his great grand father being awake at dawn having planned the night before each minute of each coming hour with the same meticulous care as if it were his battlefield. This we would expect of the general. But would we accept that he had a library of over 7000 books from which each night he would gather the family around the fireside and read aloud to them? Would our image allow us to accept that as a youth his mother taught him the piano,on which he became so accomplished that critics spoke of him as a ‘prodigy’? Beyond that, he was a great lover of the opera. So much so that he would take his own score so that he could follow each note. Or can we imagine him out in his garden pruning his roses?

He was also a lover of the Arts, sketching, collecting of paying visits to galleries. Such was his ability, that whilst awaiting for a battle to begin, in order to distract his mind he would sketch some of ‘his men’. Of all things, can we imagine Sir John using carpentry skills, learned from who knows where, to build for his granddaughter a five-foot high dolls house, complete with electricity and bathroom fittings? Whilst on the subject of electricity Monash is said to be the man who brought electric power to the remotest parts of Victoria.

Possibly, the hardest thing to accept is that the great General wrote of war, ‘The horror, the ghastly inefficiency, the unspeakable cruelty and misery (of war) have always appalled me“.

Monash, Scholar, Engineer, Lawyer, Soldier, Role model and nation Builder

The service included the dedication of a sign  by Chaplain Rabbi Dovid Gutnick and a plaque by Ralphe Genende, the Ode spoken by MAJGEN David McLachlan The Last post by Bugler LCPL Lance Nihill and concluded with Kaddish recited by Ben Hirsh, VAJEX Aust Inc President.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has applauded the life and times of Sir John Monash.

Julia Gillard

She said: “I am delighted to have the opportunity to honour a great Australian. Australia’s Jewish community rightly treasures his memory.

General Sir John Monash is our greatest military leader and perhaps one of our greatest leaders. An engineer, lawyer and state-builder, Monash was a man of commanding intellect, vision and compassion.

Australians will never forget that it was under his command and as a result of the planning he put so much effort into that the war turned for the allies, through the great battle wins at Amiens in 1918, and later in breaking through the Hindenburg line.

His leadership and advocacy in the repatriation of some 160,000 Australian troops in the first nine months following the First World War ended was a show of determined pragmatism alongside genuine care for the welfare of his men.

Monash was a great patriot and a man with a passion for education. The AIF Education Scheme was possibly one of Monash’s greatest achievements. Troops took to the scheme with alacrity and returned home to Australia with new knowledge, and a purpose and a plan for life.

It is most fitting, then, that on the 80th anniversary of his death, we honour our greatest military leader .

And we honour at same time, a visionary in his command of the Australian Imperial Forces in Europe, a shrewd, keen engineer and a compassionate Australian who not only knew how men should be treated but ensured that was the treatment they received.

This is Australian greatness.”

 

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