The Volunteer Soldier

Sources for all text: John Monash: A Biography by Geoffrey Serle (Melbourne University Press, 1982) and Monash by Vernon R. Northwood with assistance from Dr. Gershon Bennett (State Electricity Commission of Victoria, 1950)

John Monash enrolled for Arts at the University of Melbourne in 1882. In 1884 at 19 years of age, he was one of the first to join the new University Company, D Company, 4th Battalion, Victorian Rifles, formed in response to the Victorian government's vigorous defence policy. Monash "threw himself into the class work" and was promoted to corporal in October 1884, and to color sergeant in September 1885.

The University Company was disbanded in July 1886, and Monash along with other former members transferred to the North Melbourne Battery of the Metropolitan Brigade of the Garrison Artillery whose fixed guns defended Victoria's ports.

Above: University Company, Victorian Rifles, from back left: Color Sgt. John Monash, Sgt. Farlow, Cpl. McWilliams, Cpl. T. Hodjson, Sgt. Major Sullivan; front left: Cpl. Pringle, Cpl. McCay, Sgt. Chase. 1885

Monash was promoted to captain in October 1895 and in September 1896 was given command of the North Melbourne Battery. Following federation, colonial militias were united to form the Australian Military Forces. The artillery was reconstructed and from July 1903, Monash's battery became No.3 Victorian Company, Australian Garrison Artillery.

Above: Ministry of Defence, Record of promotion to Lieutenant in Victorian Military Forces, 1889

Above: Brigade [Garrison Artillery] officers, 1895 (Monash front row, fifth from left)

In December 1907 John Monash was offered command of the Victorian Section of the newly created Australian Intelligence Corps, and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in March 1908. The Corps' main duties were to collect information about topography and military forces and to prepare strategic and tactical maps and plans. After creation of the Australian section of the Imperial General Staff in 1909, the role of the Intelligence Corps blurred and in 1912 it was decentralised and placed under the control of the General Staff. One view held at the time was that the Corps had been really successful only in the Victorian district. Monash remained in charge of the Victorian section until mid-1913. He was by this time an all-round soldier with particular knowledge of staff work, transport, supply, engineering and intelligence.

Above: Victorian Military School of Instruction
Special Certificate for highest rank of proficiency
in examination for rank of Major, 1896
Above: Intelligence Staff, Sydney 1909, (Monash seated second from left)
Monash's next appointment (from 1 July 1913) was to command the 13th Infantry Brigade. The militia command when he took over was 'a composite Brigade of all arms', but by the end of the year it contained five infantry battalions, as well as two batteries, a survey company, an Army Service Corps unit and an ambulance.

In August 1914 Monash briefly took on the job of chief Censor, before being appointed in September to command the 4th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F. The brigade sailed for Egypt on 22 December 1914. The 4th Brigade, the 1st Light Horse Brigade, the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and Mounted Rifles, and the 1st Australian Division, made up the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli under Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood.

Dinner Menu for Christmas Day, 1914 on the Blue Funnel Line ship SS Ulysses, then functioning as a troop ship en route to Egypt. The menu is signed by Monash and fellow officers.

While at Gallipoli Monash was promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and later supervised the evacuation of his Brigade from the Peninsula. After a period in Egypt and on defence in the canal zone, the Brigade moved to France in June 1916.

In July 1916 he was promoted to Major-General and travelled to England to organise and train the recently arrived 3rd Division on Salisbury Plain. By 1917 the Division was stationed in France holding the Armentieres sector. The Division took a leading part in the battle of Messines and continued to occupy vital parts of the Allied front line.

Above: Appointment to Colonel in the land forces from 5 August 1914, by George V

Above: Major-General Monash with King George V, during an inspection of his command - the Third Australian Division - on Salisbury Plain, 1916

In March 1918 Monash was given the task of holding the Germans between the Ancre and the Somme, and in June 1918 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General and given command of all five divisions of the Australian Army Corps [the first native born Australian Corps Commander]. At various times he also commanded a British Division, two Canadian and two American Divisions.

After successful action at Hamel in July 1918 and shortly after the beginning of the Australian offensive of August 1918, General Monash received a knighthood from King George V at Bertangles, near Amiens, reputedly the first time a British sovereign had conferred a knighthood on the field of battle since King George II created knights at the battle of Dettingen in 1743.

Above: Major-General John Monash at his headquarters in Glisy, France, 25 May 1918.
Above: Aerial view of the ceremony at Bertangles 12 August 1918, at which John Monash received the KCB.

On the signing of the Armistice, General Sir John Monash undertook the task of repatriation and demobilisation of the Australian forces in Europe. He arrived back in Australia on Boxing Day 1919. He had been mentioned in dispatches eight times and his military awards included:

  • Knight Grand Cross (Military Division) of the Order of St. Michael and St. George
  • Knight Commander (Military Division) of the Order of the Bath
  • Grand Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, French Republic
  • Grand Officier de l'Ordre de la Couronne, Belgium
  • French Croix de Guerre
  • Belgian Croix de Guerre
  • American Distinguished Service Medal

Above: Citation a L' Ordre de L' Armee, 10 April 1919

Above: United States of America certificate of award of Distinguished Service Medal, 23 October 1926

Monash was later to write:

"From the far off days of 1914, when the first call came, until the last shot was fired, every day was filled with loathing, horror and distress. I deplored all the time the loss of precious life, and the waste of human effort. Nothing could have been more repugnant to me than the realisation of the dreadful inefficiency of, and the misspent energy of, war."

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