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Sir John Monash

MONASH, SIR JOHN (1865–1931), Australian engineer and soldier who commanded the Australian forces in the Allied armies during World War I. Monash was born in Melbourne into an immigrant family who had been printers of Hebrew books in Krotoszyn. He was related to Heinrich *Graetz. At the university, he displayed exceptional versatility. Besides a doctorate in engineering, he graduated in arts and law, and also studied medicine. After 1900 he specialized in reinforced concrete construction, introducing this engineering technique into Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia. Between 1913 and 1915 he was president of the Victorian Institute of Engineers. Perhaps uniquely for a senior commander in World War I, Monash was never a professional soldier; his background in civil engineering might well have assisted him in avoiding much of the pointless slaughter, the result of poorly conceived attacks, notorious among the British and French armies in the 1914–18 War. He volunteered for the Victoria militia in 1884 and was commissioned three years later. In 1900 he won a gold medal for military articles in the Commonwealth Journal, and on the outbreak of World War I, he had already risen to the rank of colonel in the militia. In April 1915 Monash commanded the Fourth Infantry Brigade at Gallipoli. Although the campaign was unsuccessful, the Australian and New Zealand troops under his command distinguished themselves, and "Monash Valley" there was so named in commemoration of his service. He was sent to France in the following year and in April 1917 participated with the Canadian forces in the capture of Vimy Ridge. In May 1918, as lieutenant general, he was appointed to lead the entire Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) on the western front, and his troops played a decisive part in breaking the German lines on the Amiens front in the summer of 1918. The Allied offensive brought about the end of World War I and gained Monash a reputation as the most resourceful leader in the British army. The British prime minister, Lloyd George, described him as the only soldier of World War I with the necessary qualities of leadership. Besides numerous military decorations, he received honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London. After the Armistice, he led his ANZACS through the streets of London and received a tumultuous welcome. He returned to Australia and resumed his engineering practice. He replanned the electricity supply in Victoria, basing it on the exploitation of huge brown coal deposits at the open cast mine fields of Yallourn, in Victoria. He was made vice chancellor of Melbourne University. In 1930, shortly before his death, he was made a full general, the first Jew to attain that rank in any army. He wrote of his campaigns in Australian Victories in France in 1918 (1920). Monash remained a practicing Jew all his life. He took an active part in Jewish affairs in Australia and was president of the Zionist Federation in 1928. A village in Israel, Kefar Monash, bears his name. In the 1950s the second university established in the State of Victoria was named Monash University in his honor.

Sir John Monash held an arguably unique position among Diaspora Jews of his time, being regarded as an authentic and universally popular national hero. When he died, one-third of Melbourne's population lined the route of the funeral procession, the sense of loss being, as one observer put it, "as if the king had died." John Monash: A Biography by Geoffrey Serle (1982) is the authoritative account of his life.


I.A. Isaacs, Australia's Greatest Military Genius (1937); E. Rubin, 140 Jewish Marshals, Generals and Admirals (1952), 41–57; J. Ben Hirsch, Jewish General Officers, 1 (1967), 5–7; P.H. Emden, Jews of Britain (1943), 453–7, index; F.M. Cutlack (ed.), War Letters of General Monash (19342); The Australian (Oct. 17, 1931); Gordon, in: Australian Jewish Historical Society, 6, no. 2 (1966), 69–80. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: ADB; B. Callinan, Sir John Monash (1981); P.A. Pedersen, Monash as Military Commander (1985).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.