In World War I, the Western Front shredded commanders’ reputations as readily as it did the bodies of their troops. Come Nov. 11, 1918, very few could look history in the face without flinching. One general stood head and shoulders above the others, yet he is seldom mentioned outside his own country: Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash of Melbourne, Australia.
In April, the Royal Australian Mint released two coins saluting this remarkable man: a 25.00 mm, 9.00 gram aluminum-bronze $1 and a 40.00 mm, one-ounce .9999 fine silver proof $5. Mintages are 20,000 and 2,500, respectively.
The accompanying RAM dealer poster makes clear there was more to Monash than a simple soldier: SCHOLAR • ENGINEER • SOLDIER • NATION BUILDER. Even more remarkable is that at the outbreak of the war, he was but a part-time soldier. His full-time occupation in Melbourne was that of civil engineer.
At university in 1884, he had joined the militia and rose steadily through the ranks. By 1912, he was a colonel commanding the 13th Infantry Brigade.
Following the formation of the Australian Imperial Force in 1914, Monash was given command of the 4th Infantry Brigade consisting of four battalions. Not everyone in the AIF was happy about this. Monash’s parents were both Prussian and Jewish. But numerous high-ranking officers spoke out on his behalf, and his appointment stood.
He participated in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign where his independent decision-making and organizational ability drew him to the attention of the British High Command. It saw him promoted to brigadier general. Notwithstanding spiteful rumors that he was a German spy, he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in November 1915.
By June 1916, Monash and his command were at the Western Front. Here he was promoted to major general and given command of the Australian 3rd Division.
Come May 1918, his outstanding performance in senior command had been fully recognized by the British High Command. He was promoted to lieutenant general and made commander of the Australian Corps.
The successful Allied attack at the Battle of Amiens on Aug. 8, 1918, which expedited the end of the war, was planned by Monash and spearheaded by British forces including the Australian and Canadian Corps under the command of Monash and Arthur Currie. That month, he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on the battlefield by King George V, the first time a British monarch had honored any commander in such a way in 200 years.
At war’s end, Monash was widely considered one of the most competent Allied generals in the entire war. In 1972, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery went further. He wrote, “I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe.”
For his wartime services, he was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in 1919. The French made him a Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur and threw in a Croix de Guerre for good measure; the Belgians appointed him a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown and awarded him their Croix de Guerre; and the United States, which had long admired the cut of his jib, chimed in with a Distinguished Service Medal.
When he died on Oct. 8, 1931, aged 66, he was given a state funeral attended by some 250,000 mourners.
The RAM formally launched the new commemorative coins at a ceremony held at Monash University on April 4. The ceremony was conducted by the RAM CEO Ross MacDiarmid, assisted by Michael Sukkar, Member of Parliament and Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, and Professor Margaret Gardner, vice chancellor of Monash University.
This article was originally printed in World Coin News. >> Subscribe today.
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