John Monash (1865-1931) was the commander of the Australian Corps towards the end of the First World War and is credited with the success of several battles including the Battle of Hamel.
Before the war, Monash was shown to have leadership potential. Whilst at university, in 1884, Monash joined the 4th Battalion, Victorian Rifles and over the next three decades was promoted until by 1915 at Gallipoli he was given control of the 4th Infantry Brigade. Outside the military, in 1888, despite not having yet finished his engineering degree, Monash was placed in charge of constructing a railway.
Monash’s commad of the Australian Corps occurred towards the end of the war, in May 1918. Within two months he was praised by political and military figures alike for the Battle of Hamel, where the objectives were gained with minimal loss of life. Monash attributed his success to “careful preparation and coordinated action” with smaller numbers of troops taking smaller amounts of ground in a carefully orchestrated offensive. As a result of his success at Hamel he was knighted in the field by George V in August and received many other awards. They included Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, for high office and important service; Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, given to senior military officers; Volunteer Decoration from the British Commonwealth along with military awards from Belgium, France and the United States of America.
At the conclusion of the war Monash was involved in the lives of the soldiers who had served under him. He spent eight months organising the repatriation of Australian soldiers as the Director General for Repatriation and Demobilisation, and returned home to an enthusiastic welcome by the general public on Boxing Day 1919. He also advocated for returned soldiers, advocated for what is now the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and also was influential in organising an annual observation of ANZAC Day.
In 1920 Monash became the manager of Victoria’s State Electricity Commission. Under his leadership it became an important body and electricity powered the whole state by 1930. His opinions were widely sought and he became a leading figure. He became Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne, founded the Rotary Club and was the founding president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand becoming a leading figure amongst Melbourne’s Jewish community.
When he died, he was given a state funeral and mourned by many. More than 300, 000 mourners (a record number at the time) came to pay their respects.
Monash was a leader throughout his life and unlike many others at the time, his character remained relatively untarnished. His careful planning which lead to fewer deaths enabled him to remain well respected as a leader in the decades which followed and he is still well known today.