Monash: Australian Commander
Admired by Haig and Lloyd George, General Monash was one of the most capable commanders on the Western Front during the First World War, writes John Terraine.
The Australian army corps came into existence officially on November 1st, 1917. Nine months would elapse before the formality burgeoned fully into fact: not until the Battle of Amiens, in August 1918, did the five Australian divisions in France fight on the same battlefield under their own commander.
That commander was Lieutenant-General John Monash; four days after the opening of the battle, he was knighted in the field, amid his soldiers and the trophies they had captured. King George V “shook hands most warmly and made me a little speech, commending my work and that of the Australian troops.”
Commendation has continued ever since. Almost alone amid the military leaders of the First World War, Monash’s reputation among his own people never declined; it found its latest recognition in 1961, with the opening of Monash University, in his birth-place, Melbourne. If the man in the street in Britain knew little about him, historians and students of war have steadily appreciated his qualities.
Indeed, his fame risks getting a little out of hand. Thus Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, in The First World War (1963), described him as “the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War.” Captain Liddell Hart has written:
“He probably had the greatest capacity for command in modern war among all those who held command.” I have said: “General Monash is one British commander of the First World War who leaves one in no doubt that he would have been equally at home in the Second.”1
But the widest claim of all, the most significant, because it is probably from this that others stem, was made by Lloyd George, with all the authority of an ex-wartime Prime Minister. The manner in which Lloyd George appreciated Monash is also significant.