COL John Dougall Addresses the Foundation Monash Service

It is an honour to represent the Army here today at this General Sir John Monash Commemorative Service, held in memory of Australia’s finest military commander. A leader whose attributes and style are as relevant today as they were during his distinguished service on Gallipoli, at Flanders, and on the Western Front during World War One.

General Sir John Monash was born in Melbourne in 1865 and educated at Scotch College and then the University of Melbourne graduating with three Bachelor Degrees in engineering, law and arts. It was at University that he first became interested in military matters, initially applying unsuccessfully for a commission in the engineers but subsequently joining the Metropolitan Brigade of the Garrison Artillery which was engaged in port defense. At this early stage he was already engaged in combining his academic knowledge with his military career, bringing his engineering and mathematical skills into the science of gunnery.

Monash enjoyed military life, and in particular the control of men in a hierarchical structure. This appealed to him in that a commission carried, at the time, much more status than the professions of engineering and teaching. His early military life, however, progressed slowly. Interestingly in these early stages, it was noted by many, that he had an excellent rapport with the lower ranks and soldiers. This obviously served him well in the future where his positive influence over soldiers was a key component of his successful leadership style. Another key component was his early exposure to a broad based number of appointments in artillery, infantry, intelligence and engineers.

By 1914, he had in civilian life established himself as a pillar of Melbourne society, lecturing and examining in engineering at university, had involvement in a number of community activities including the boy scouts, and held a number of prominent appointments such as chairman of the graduates association and President of the University Club and Victorian Institute of Engineers.

At this time his military career was also beginning to blossom, with his appointment as Commander 13th Infantry Brigade. His conduct  of exercise maneuvers in this appointment won the approval of the visiting General Sir Ian Hamilton. He had won the first army gold medal essay competition and had wide acclaim for his pamphlet ‘100 hints for company commanders’ which became a basic training document.

With the outbreak of war, Monash was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and appointed as Commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade. His Brigade trained in Egypt and landed at Gallipoli on the morning of the 26th April 1915 having been held in reserve on the 25th. For the landing his Brigade was given the centre left sector including responsibility for Pope’s Hill and Quinn’s Post. The  Brigade was involved in a number of significant actions including the night offensive on Baby 700 on the 2nd of May, and the defensive battle following the Turk offensive on the 19th of May. Through these actions the subsequent ensuing battles over the next few months, the Brigade suffered heavy casualties before it was pulled back to Egypt in early December.

Monash was promoted to Major General in July 1916, and placed in command of the 3rd Australian Division. The Division was  involved in months of serious fighting and trench warfare in France from November 1916 until they progressed to full scale operations from June 1917 onward. After his brilliant blocking of the massive German offensive from 21 March 1918, Monash was promoted in May to Lieutenant General and appointed as Commander of the Australian Army Corps. It was during this period that he planned and directed a series of determined and effective actions commencing in July 1918 including the masterful and meticulously planned ‘Battle of Amiens’ in which two German armies were defeated( and a further two reserve armies were put out of commission temporarily) inside 48 hours from 8 August. A 100-day, Monash commanded blitzkrieg defeated 39 German Divisions and culminated with the penetration of the Hindenburg Line by 5th October 1918.

British leaders of the time, such as Prime Minister Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden (a later British PM), and (later) Field Marshal Montgomery, maintained that Monash was the outstanding General on the Western Front because of his ‘creative originality.’

His successes in the war could be attributed to his pre war study of all the major ‘new’ weaponry that emerged at that time, including the tank and the aeroplane, artillery, machine guns, and decoy targets. He was a great believer in employing modern communications including the radio and in achieving situational awareness through the use of aerial reconnaissance.

This exceptional knowledge and thirst for an understanding of new technology allowed him, in the pressure of the war years, to absorb all the important developments and to apply them in combination on the battlefield. As a result, this gave the Australian Corps,  that he commanded, a significant advantage over the other Allied Corps, and of course, the enemy.

Monash approached battles as he approached engineering projects in his civilian employment---by coordinating all the key elements in great detail. He also understood the broader ramifications of

running a huge organisation; he was a corporate thinker. He encouraged a working environment in which innovation was allowed. Monash promoted professional debate and gave commanders freedom of action. He constantly and effectively used staff conferences to coordinate all the arms and services. Under his leadership, for the first time, all fighting elements and supporting services had a fair comprehension of each other’s operational methods and goals. He institutionalized what we now routinely call joint and combined arms warfare.

However, once the enemy was engaged he insisted there was but one plan and set of orders, and they had to be adhered to. Before Monash took command of the Australian Corps in May 1918, he knew well the problems of confusion on the battlefield, having experienced the fighting on Gallipoli, in Flanders and on the Western Front. His emphasis on detailed and coordinated planning was intended to reduce this level of confusion and uncertainty, to ensure success.

Upon returning from the War, Monash’s energy enabled him to continue with his prominent community involvement and contribution to a number of organizations. His key appointments included: Royal Commissioner to investigate the police strike of 1923; membership of the Commonwealth Defence Council and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute; service as a Rhodes Scholarship selector, as president of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science and the honorary Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. Notably, he also contributed to the establishment of the Anzac Day ceremonies and the choice of design for the Shrine of Remembrance.

Looking now, again at his military career, Monash wrote after he returned from the war: ‘The true role of the infantry was not to expend itself on heroic physical effort, but on the contrary, to advance under the maximum possible protection of the maximum array of mechanical resources---including guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes. The infantry was to be relieved as far as possible of the obligation to fight their way forward.’ This methodology is still apparent and clear in today’s combined arms approach supported by an array of technological assets. 

The modern Australian Army continues to be guided by this very principle. Defence, science and technology organisations work in close co-operation with troops deployed on operations, to develop and produce new solutions to the ever-changing threat environment.

Today’s Australian Army, adhering to the Monash principles, is acknowledged as one of the very best trained and skilled fighting forces in the world.

Monash was not only a man for his time, but also a man for the future; a man judged by history as an inspirational leader. His philosophies and ideas are clearly evident today in the embodied character, ethos and values of our modern Army. Monash was a  free thinker, a meticulous planner, an innovator, and a man who inspired confidence. He took to his military career, which spanned more than thirty years, with passion and with the same academic zeal that was evident in his commercial life. He faced challenges in his military career, not the least of which was the disregard shown by full-time military officers, for the non-regular officers such as Monash. However, he didn’t let this deter him and he demonstrated the value of a broad academic and professional background, and education. His achievements are many, too many in fact for me to speak of now but they spanned a very broad portion of life, military, business, community and academic. This is still clearly reflected in our everyday lives with his legacy influencing many organizations and events. Take for instance the many infrastructure projects that have been named in his honour, including Monash University, and not to mention this event which is conducted in his honour. General Sir John Monash born 27th June 1865 and died 8th October 1931. His legacy is enduring and he is truly, for all times, a great Australian.

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