Tuesday, April 07, 2015

  • Tuesday, April 07, 2015
  • Elder of Ziyon
I am pleased to welcome the newest  EoZ columnist, Daphne Anson.



He was Australia’s commander-in-chief during the First World War, its most famous soldier and one of the country’s most celebrated national heroes.  Field-Marshal Montgomery, Britain’s military commander during the Second World War, described him as one of the ablest generals of the earlier conflict.  In 1931, one-third of Australia’s population of 900,000 lined the route of his funeral: “If the King had died he could not have been shown more respect,” to quote one biographer.  While his body lay in state in Parliament House, Melbourne,

“Hour after hour a steady stream shuffled in and around the bier… City businessmen.  Clerks and assistants.  The squatter and the farmer.  The wife of the rich.  The wife of the poor.  Many folk of the Jewish race.  Returned soldiers.  Police constables.  Members of the Salvation Army.  Schoolboys and schoolgirls.  Parents and little children.”

His state funeral, broadcast to the nation, was

“[T]he most impressive and largely attended Australia had known …. Never, perhaps, had Melbourne seen so many flags, at half-mast but stiff in the breeze…. The cortège [was] followed by hundreds of cars and thousands walking, determined to follow all the nine miles to [the] cemetery …. The crowd remained deep; blinds on the route were drawn ….”
As early as 1927, and more frequently during the Great Depression as the country plunged into conflict between capital and labour, there were calls by right-wing paramilitary bodies and groups of conservative businessmen for him to take control of Australia as a Mussolini-like dictator.  “There is only one man who can save Australia,” declared a letter to the Sydney Bulletin, prompting intensification of that sentiment.  (“I have no ambition to embark on High Treason” was the subject’s irritated response to one such call:  “What would you say if a similar proposal were made by the communists and socialists to seize political power?”)

Melbourne’s second university is named for him, and his image is on Australia’s $100 bill. 

He was Sir John Monash, one of only two senior military commanders of any country in the twentieth century who was not a professional soldier (the other was Canada’s commander-in-chief during the First World War, Arthur Currie, a lawyer and estate agent).

The son of German Jewish immigrants to Melbourne, where he was born in 1865, Monash was a brilliant student who academically topped his class at school and went on to become a civil engineer.  He applied civil engineering techniques to fighting, and unlike other First World War generals attempted to preserve the lives of his troops.  He came to prominence in 1915 at Gallipoli, a peninsula in Turkey which the Allies tried to take in order to conquer Constantinople.  The attempt, poorly led by British commanding officers, and under-resourced, failed.  But the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) troops performed well despite impossible odds, resulting in Gallipoli becoming a legendary event in the formation of Australia’s national identity: its centenary is this month.  Despite the defeat, what happened there became renowned in Australian history and folk memory, just as the Dunkirk evacuation (1940) did in the British.

There has always been a theory that if the First World War had lasted through 1919 Monash would have become commander-in-chief of the Allied forces.

Highly literate, with a large personal library and varied interests, Monash was nephew-by-marriage to the great historian Heinrich Graetz – a fact in which he took pride.  He was a loyal Jew, albeit not a very religious one – he joked that on Yom Kippur he fasted “from lunch to dinner”.  During the years of his fame and veneration he belonged to two of Melbourne’s three synagogues, declining to participate in the foundation in 1930 of its fourth (a Liberal one which would have probably suited his ideas and inclinations) on the grounds that he was unwilling to offend the Orthodox and that he was too old for the enterprise.  He is on record as recalling that during the First World War he told himself: “Remember you are a Jew and if you muck it up our people will be blamed for it”.

In Britain during and after the war he was lionised by Jew and non-Jew alike, just as he was in Australia.  The London Jewish Chronicle termed him “our modern Judas Maccabaeus”.  Israel Zangwill believed him to be “designed by Providence to be the first governor of Palestine”.  The British press made similar predictions.  Zionists were crestfallen when, under the influence of certain Anglo-Jewish communal figures worried that the Balfour Declaration undermined the status of Jewish citizens of western lands and that the Zionist cause implied dual loyalties, Monash aligned himself with their League of British Jews.   But in the 1920s he emerged as a supporter of Zionism, thanks in no small part to his mistress, Lizzie Bentwitch [sic], an Australian who was related to those gung-ho British Zionists Herbert Bentwich and his son (Professor Sir) Norman Bentwich, Attorney-General of Mandate Palestine.  Thus in 1927 Monash agreed to become national president of the newly formed Australian Zionist Federation.

Monash “is neither tall nor physically impressive” remarked the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald  (3 May 1924) shortly after meeting him.

“He is a Jew at first glance, and typical in face and feature.  A short, thickset man, he does not carry any of the advantages which one associates with fine soldierly bearing…. He was masterful … a man of genius … eloquent of mind and imagination …. Australian problems on the largest scale have at least one man capable of solving them …”
Observed author Colin McInnes:
‘Monash, by the simple fact of his presence and prestige, made anti-Semitism as a “respectable” attitude, impossible in Australia’.
For men who had fought in the war spoke of Monash

“with reverence… And worshipping him as they did they could never publicly deny the hero they themselves had followed: nor could they deny his people” (Quoted in Geoffrey Serle, John Monash, Melbourne, 1982, p. 491; for another excellent biography see Roland Perry, Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War, North Sydney, 2007, and see also P. A. Pedersen, Monash as Military Commander, Melbourne, 1988.)

Daphne Anson is an Australian who under her real name has authored and co-authored several books and many articles on historical topics including Jewish ones. She blogs under an alias in order to separate her professional identity from her blogging one.. 


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