King George V knights an Australian Commander on the battlefield during World War I, the first in 200 years.

Photo: Australian War Memorial

John Monash was born in West Melbourne on 27 June 1865, born to Jewish parents who emigrated from Prussia (now Poland).

His family moved to Jerilderie in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Monash attended the local public school where his teacher recognised his potential.

Monash attended Scotch College at Melbourne before graduating with a Master of Engineering in 1893 at the University of Melbourne. He continued with more degrees, including a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law in 1895 and a Doctor of Engineering in 1921.

He had joined the Australian Army Reserves in 1884 where he was promoted to lieutenant in 1887, a captain in 1895, major in 1897 and a lieutenant-colonel in 1906.

When World War I broke out, he was given command of the 4th Infantry Brigade of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Egypt.

However, he experienced the disastrous effects of bad organisation and planning and poor command decisions, before the AIF was reorganised in early 1916.

A square of carpet had been arranged in the centre of the piazza and on it stood a small table, a footstool, and a drawn sword. The King then had me name called and I stepped up before him and, at his best, knelt and received the accolade of knighthood and, when he had bidden me rise, he presented me with the Insignia of a Knight Commander of Bath.

Monash moved to France where he was promoted to major general in mid-July and took command of the newly-arrived 3rd Division.

He was involved in many confrontations on the Western Front from 1916, with some successes in France.

Monash saw action at the Battles of Messines, the third battle of Ypres and Polygon Wood.

However, Monash was appointed corps commander of the Australian Forces in May 1918, and led some significant attacks during the final stages of the war, including his skilful planning and attention to detail during the Battle of Hamel which resulted in a triumphant success.

King George V knighted Monash on 12 August 1918 at the Corps Headquarters in the Chateau de Bertangles, during an inspection of the battlefield.

General Monash was invested as a Knight Commander of the Bath four days after the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918.

Monash described the event, ‘A square of carpet had been arranged in the centre of the piazza and on it stood a small table, a footstool, and a drawn sword. The King then had me name called and I stepped up before him and, at his best, knelt and received the accolade of knighthood and, when he had bidden me rise, he presented me with the Insignia of a Knight Commander of Bath’.

Sir John Monash is the last general to be knighted on a battlefield.

He continued leading the Australian Corps with distinction until the end of the war.

Recognition of Monash’s contribution of the war effort continued to grow when he was in London in 1919, overseeing the return of AIF troops back to Australia.

He was created Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George. He was awarded other honours including the Legion d’Honneur (Grand Officer) in France,  the Croix de Guerre and the Order of La Couronne (Grand Officer) in Belgium, the Distinguished Service Medal in the United States.

Monash received a rather enthusiastic welcome when he arrived home in Melbourne on Boxing Day (26 December) 1919.

Following the war, Monash returned to his business and became the manager of Victoria’s State Electricity Commission in 1920.

He was also an advocate for returned soldiers and a founding member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne.

Sir John Monash died in Melbourne on 8 October 1931 and was given a state funeral, with an estimated 250,000 mourners came to pay their respects.

He was buried in Brighton General Cemetary following a Jewish service and a 17-gun salute.

His tombstone bears the words ‘John Monash’, following instructions before his death.

Monash University was named in his honour.

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