Life On The Job

ARMY OFFICER - General Sir John Monash  [Engineer, Lawyer, Vice-Chancellor of Melbourne University] GCMG, KCB, VD [ 27June 1865 - 8 October 1931]

Portrait of Sir John Monash Quick Facts

•John Monash was born in Melbourne June 27, 1865 to Jewish-Prussian parents
• He was dux of Scotch College and studied arts and engineering at Melbourne University
• In 1884 he joined the university company of the 4th Battalion, Victorian Rifles
•Worked on construction of the Princes Bridge in Melbourne in 1888
•Married Hannah Moss in April 1891
•In 1908 he was appointed commander of the Victorian wing of the Australian Intelligence Corps
•Took command of the AIF's 4th Infantry Brigade, landing at Gallipoli on April 26, 1915
•Became a major general in July 1916 and took command of the 3rd Division. First major battle at Messines hailed a great success
•By May 1918 he was corps commander of the Australian Armed Forces in France
•His first battle as corps commander, at Hamel in France July 4, 1918 was considered a great success
•Knighted for his services in 1918
•Became a leading figure in Melbourne's Jewish community and advocate for returned servicemen
•Died in Melbourne on October 8, 1931 and was given a state funeral attended by 250,000
(Source: ABC News)


John Monash was born in Melbourne on 27 June 1865 into a Prussian-Jewish family. He was educated at Scotch College and Melbourne University. By 1895 he had degrees in arts, engineering and law and had qualified as a municipal surveyor, an engineer of water supply and a patent attorney. As an engineer Monash's early career was in bridge construction working for a time with the Melbourne Harbour Trust, before becoming a partner in a bridge building firm. By the turn of the century his focus had changed to building construction.

Monash's military career began in 1884 with his membership of the Melbourne University company of the 4th Battalion, Victoria Militia, and then moving to the North Melbourne Battery of the Metropolitan Brigade of the Militia Garrison Artillery. He was commissioned in 1887. By 1913 Monash had the rank of Colonel and was appointed to command the 13th Infantry Brigade. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Monash was transferred from the militia to active service. In 1915 he served as chief censor until taking command of the 4th Infantry Brigade (AIF). In this command he served at Gallipoli.

Promoted to Major-General, he commanded the 3rd Division, AIF in France in 1916. Monash succeeded General Birdwood as Australian Corps commander in 1918 and, in the same year, was knighted by King George V in recognition of his role in the Battle of Hamel Hill. With the conclusion of the war, Monash became Director-General of Repatriation and Demobilisation with responsibility for arranging the return of Australian troops from Europe.

Back in Australia Monash resumed his engineering career firstly as General Manager and later as Chairman of the State Electricity Commission (SEC) of Victoria. Under his leadership the SEC became an important body in developing Victoria's brown coal reserves as an electricity source and, by 1930, extending the power grid across the whole of the State.

John Monash died in Melbourne on 8 October 1931.
(Source: National Archives of Australia)

Albert Namatjira

Early Life

John Monash with his daughter and father
John Monash with his daughter, Bertha, and father, Louis.
Monash University)

John Monash was born in West Melbourne in 1865, the eldest of three children and only son of Louis and Bertha. His parents were Jews from Krotoshin in Prussia, an area that is in modern day Poland.

They had anglicised their name, Monasch, by dropping the ‘c’.

John’s parents spoke German and young John grew up bilingually.

John’s father was a shop-keeper. After some very lean times in Melbourne, he moved the family to Jerilderie in NSW, where he opened a store. There, young John met Ned Kelly, not during the famous siege of Jerilderie in February 1879, but the previous year, when Ned visited the Monash home to sell Louis a horse. John held Ned’s horse and Ned gave him a shilling. Later, Monash said that Ned also gave him ‘some good advice’. He never said what that advice was. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)


John attended Jerilderie Public School where he came to the attention of the schoolmaster, William Elliott, for his intelligence and his proficiency in mathematics (which Monash would later on refer to as ‘the language of the engineer’). Elliott urged Bertha Monash to further John’s education and she moved the children back to Melbourne, where John was enrolled in Scotch College. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Scotch College
The School at its former East Melbourne site
(circa 1906) prior to moving to the current site
at Hawthorn, Victoria.
(Source: Wikipedia)
Scotch College Crest

Motto: "For God, for Country, and for Learning"
(Source: Wikipedia)

John excelled at school, in particular in mathematics and languages but he also had a great interest in drama and music. He had started the piano at age five and became a pianist of concert standard, giving many public recitals during and after his university days. He was, in fact, a polymath. John matriculated from Scotch as equal dux in 1881.

Jack Monash (he was now known to his friends as Jack), enrolled initially in arts. He subsequently re-directed his academic program towards a double degree in arts and engineering, as in those days (engineering had only just become a degree at Melbourne) the first three years of the engineering program were arts based, with majors in maths and physics.

Monash was not a good student, and failed his first year! It was not that he wasn’t bright (he certainly was), but there were too many distractions.

In the end, it would take him nine years to complete his engineering degree. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

"Make it your creed to equip yourself for life, not solely for your own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community"
Sir John Monash


By the time he ‘formally’ graduated, Monash was already working as an experienced engineer. During his studies he found a position on the team constructing Melbourne’s Princes Bridge.

By the end of the Princes Bridge project, his reputation and abilities were sufficiently developed to gain him the job of supervising engineer on the construction of the Outer Circle railway through Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. He was only 22 years of age.

The completion of the Outer Circle line coincided with two things: Monash’s graduation and a major economic depression. Engineers were being retrenched in numbers. Monash got a job with the Harbour Trust and hated it. In 1894 the depression deepened and he was retrenched. By now married to Hannah Victoria Moss (Vic), things looked uncertain.

But he had other strings to his bow. In 1891-2 he crammed his way through a law degree and commenced practice in engineering dispute resolution and expert witnessing. This was increasingly successful. Even though he had only just graduated, he was by now a highly experienced and competent engineer with his own consultancy, Monash and Anderson.

Then Monash had the opportunity to introduce into Victoria the new French technology of reinforced concrete. He formed an alliance with a construction contractor, Frank Gummow, and started to win contracts for bridge construction with local councils.

He diversified the business and with another contractor, David Mitchell, founded the Reinforced Concrete and Monier Pipe Construction Company.

We know this company today as Monier Concrete Products.

 If Monash’s bank balance was singing a pretty tune so was David Mitchell’s daughter, Nellie. She became known to the world as Dame Nellie Melba.

Monash’s business continued to expand and eventually made him a wealthy man. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Did You Know?

John Monash

is the man on the back of the $100 Australian note

John Monash

was a pianist of concert standard

revolutionised the generation of electricity

is considered by many to have been the greatest commander of WWI, whose innovative tactics and careful planning shortened the war and saved thousands of lives

took 9 years to complete his engineering degree

obtained a Law degree as well

in his military career, never served as an Engineer

co-developed a new artillery training gun.

King George V visited France and knighted Sir John Monash in the field - the first British commander to be knighted in the field in over 500 years.
(Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Monash University, the City of Monash, Monash Medical Centre, Monash Freeway, John Monash Science School and the South Australia town of Monash are named after him. Also named in his honour is Kfar Monash ("Monash village") in Israel, and the Canberra suburb of Monash.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Experiences & Opportunities:

He joined the university regiment as a student and, when that was disbanded, he joined the artillery. From private soldier, he became a sergeant at age 20, a lieutenant at 22 and a captain at 30. His engineering organisational skills transformed his units.

Australia’s federation meant a new military structure and Monash moved from artillery to intelligence (where he revolutionised Australian military mapping) and thence to command. He became a Lieutenant Colonel in 1908 (at age 43) and Colonel and Brigade Commander in 1913. At the outbreak of war [1914], after a frustrating but brief period as Chief Censor, he was appointed to command the 4th Brigade.

Monash commanded the second Australian troop convoy to Egypt and the training of his Brigade was considered outstanding. His Brigade was in reserve for the Gallipoli landing and he landed on April 26th 1915.
Monash and his Brigade took part in a number of the major actions of the Gallipoli campaign including the (disastrous) offensive on Hill Baby 700.

In July he was promoted Brigadier General.

In June 1916 he was promoted Major General and given command of the 3rd Division.

the Battle of Messines. Messines Ridge was a key high point in the German front. Monash attacked it on 7 June 1917 and the Australians had the upper hand in only 45 minutes.

His success as a Divisional commander continued through 1917 and into 1918. In November 1917, after significant pressure from the Australian government to unify the Australian troops under Australian command, the Australian Corps was created.

In May 1918, Monash was confirmed as the Commander of the Australia Corps.

Monash was hailed by many as the greatest commander of WWI.
(Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Did You Know?

"...General Sir John Monash, who was Dux of the school [Scot's College, Melbourne] in 1881. Today we commemorate the ending of the Great War of 1914-1918, 93 years ago [2011].

Monash played a huge part in both the result of the battles and the ENTIRE war itself. He had brilliant careers as an engineer and lawyer/barrister before the war. But it was as a battle commander that he distinguished himself as an outstanding achiever.

In May 1918 Monash became Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Army. Until then, diggers had been tacked onto British armies along the Western Front in Europe. There were 20 armies on our side. The Australians formed the biggest single allied army corps: 208,000 soldiers.

Monash devised a masterplan for the Battle of Amiens, an industrial town in Northern France, 120 kilometres north of Paris. The Germans were pressing hard. They expected to take Amiens, move quickly down to Paris, and force the capitulation of the Allies.

Monash’s counter-attack plan had one aim – to devastate the enemy with such force that it would end the war. He would combine 500 tanks, 800 planes, countless artillery pieces and machine guns, AND three armies of three countries: English conscripts, and hardened warriors from Australia and Canada. Only Monash, the engineer, had the experience and intellect to combine all this in one precise operation.

On 8 August 1918, he sent out 102,000 diggers in two waves. Inside 48 hours they defeated two German armies. This was the most emphatic win of the war. The German commander in chief, General Ludendorff, said: ‘The 8th of August 1918 was the blackest day of the war for the German Army ...We cannot now win the war, we can only defend ...’

Paris Amiens

The King of the British Empire, George V came up from Paris to knight Monash on the battlefield; the first time this had been done in 503 years. Then, in 1415, Henry V defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Monash did not want to stop at Amiens. He knew how crushed the Germans were. He wanted to go on marching east to finish the conflict in another few days. But he was stopped by the British High Command, who had not grasped the impact of 8 August. The High Command wanted Monash and the diggers to take it easy; let the other Allied armies take up the attack. But Monash ignored his superiors. In effect he became a rogue warlord, commanding what some historians have referred to as ‘a killing machine’.

There is good reason. In a 58-day onslaught from 8 August to 5 October 1918, the diggers took on one million enemy soldiers in 39 German divisions, and defeated every one of them. Our army liberated 116 French towns and villages: on average, two every day. That’s why if you go to Northern France today – and hundreds of you will – you will have a quietly uplifting experience. You will be treated with knowledgeable respect. The French will not say much, but you will realise there is gratitude in their manner. When you are there, remember that not ONE of those French citizens was alive when Monash’s army liberated their relatives.

Do not forget Australia
This sign is at the school in Villers-Bretonneux

One of Monash’s finest legacies was to change the way wars were fought. Before Monash, millions of soldiers on both sides were killed needlessly. He showed how you could win any battle without using men as cannon fodder. Monash protected his men like no other top general before him in history. His approach forms the basis for our current army’s tactical methods.

Just to put his attitude in perspective, Monash wrote to his wife mid-war with these sentiments:

‘I hate the business of war – the horror of it, the waste, the destruction, the inefficiency.

'My only consolation is the sense of doing my duty to my country, which has placed a grave responsibility on me. I owe something to men whose lives and honour are in my hands to do as I will. But once my duty is done and honourably discharged, I shall, with a sigh of relief, turn my back once and for all, on the possibility of ever again having to go through such an awful time.’

True to his word, the day after Armistice Day, 12 November 1918, he resigned his post; his job done. The man who did more than any other individual to end the conflict was the first general of either side to walk away" by renowned author Roland Perry
(Source: Scotch's College)

The war was over, and now commenced the task of bringing 180,000 Australians home.

Monash was appointed Director General of Repatriation.

It took 18 months and was a triumph of his organisational skills. Those waiting were given an opportunity to gain training and education. Oxford and Cambridge, farms and factories took the Aussies in. His job over, Monash returned to Australia in November 1919.  (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Later life

In early 1920 his wife Vic died – she had suffered for most of the war years with cervical cancer.

The Victorian Government made him the head of the newly formed State Electricity Commission of Victoria. There he embarked on an ambitious and technically difficult program of providing Victoria with cheap and efficient power based on the use of brown coal from the Latrobe Valley.

Monash also became the Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University; an honorary, part time job to which he gave, as with all of his tasks, a full time effort. His creed was ‘I always have room for one more task’. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)

Sir John Monash
Monash dressed in his academic gear as VC of Melbourne University
(Source: Scotch's College)

In 1929 The Institution of Engineers Australia awarded him the Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal.

By 1930 he was a frail and ill man with heart problems. The end came quickly; on 3 October 1931 he had a massive heart attack. He died at his home in Toorak, Iona, on 8 October. He was 66 years of age. It is estimated that over 250,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession. (Source: Engineers Australia by Rolfe Hartley)


Australian Dictionary of Biography: Sir John Monash (1865 - 1931)

Australian War Memorial: 1918: Australians in France - General Sir John Monash

Australian War Memorial: General John Monash

Sir John Monash - Wikipedia


Monash: The Forgotten Anzac

Sensible Films: Monash: the Forgotten ANZAC
Lessons in Leadership by Rolfe Hartley, Engineers Australia

Lessons in Leadership
National Archives of Australia: General Sir John Monash

Military mastermind's secret battles

ABC: Lieutenant General Sir John Monash - Australia's master tactician

John Monash

John Monash
Sir John Monash: Release of thousands of documents online provides glimpse into mind of pioneering World War I general

25062014 ABC News



Letter Home: On the Eve of Gallipoli

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking



1. John Monash was part of the landing at Gallipoli. This was a devastating time for the soldiers there. The only communication they had at that time was letters.

2. Read his letter to his wife dated the 24th April 1915 - the eve of Gallipoli:  Reading

Letter AWM Transport A31
April 24/15

Dearest Wife,

We have received our sailing orders, and inside of a few hours shall be in the thick of the greatest combined naval and military operation in history, with Australia in the pride of place. That we shall succeed I do not entertain any doubt, but that I shall come through unscathed and alive is not so certain. As this may be the last opportunity I have of talking to you, I want to say briefly that, in the event of my going out, you are to believe that I do do with only one regret, which is, the grief that this will bring to you and Bert.[Bertha - his daughter] and Mat [his brother]. For myself, I am prepared to take my chance. While, on the one hand, to win through safely would mean honour and achievement, on the other hand, to fall would mean an honourable end. At best I have only a few years of vigour left, and then would come decay and the chill of old age, & perhaps lingering illness. So with the full and active life I have had, I need not regard the prospect of a sudden end with dismay. I am greatly comforted to know that you will be well provided for, and will be surrounded by many friends, who, for my sake, will help you to win through all difficulties that may beset you in the future. I am sure you know how deeply I have always loved you, and how in all things I have tried to act in your best interests. I know also that you have loved me dearly, and will honour my memory.

Your hushand, John Monash

3. Using the information and stories from this event, and the conditions of that time, write a letter from the perspective of a soldier or nurse on the eve of Gallipoli to someone you love as if you were at Gallipoli at the time.

4. In this letter, talk about the things you have learnt, what you have seen, tasted, smelled and experienced but remember that this could be the last letter you write to someone you love. They will treasure this letter for the rest of their lives - just as this letter from John Monash to Hannah has been kept.


Becoming Historians

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary TeacherTeacher

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

NumeracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Numeracy

1. TeacherTeacher: Go to the Australian War Memorial website and print photos from the website and laminate with blurb on the back.

Photos of John Monash 2. Students: You will be given a photo and asked to expand on the blurb, writing the backstory and including relevant facts and information about John Monash where appropriate.

This story will involve a combination of fact and your perspective from the advantage of hindsight .

It is important to include the date, as they can be placed on a timeline and read as a biography of John Monash.

3. Read through each story in order by date. What similarities and inconsistencies do you notice?

4. Discuss the importance of bias and personal perspectives in writing and reading texts.

5. What other perspectives and bias could this story have been written from?

6. Create a "Glossary of Terms" from blurb about John Monash

7. Hold a debate: Is conflict necessary?


Creating Secondary Sources

MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability


1. Look at the following film [Black and White, silent] from the Archives of the Australian War Memorial. Length: 44 minutes. Video

WWI film

2. Analyse the film and write down what you believe to be the most important points especially in reference to John Monash.

3. Using the following websites, obtain the most relevant quotes from Sir John Monash and find appropriate music for the scenes you have selected.

a. Australian Inspiration

b. Google Quotes - images of John Monash and his quotes

c. Free Music Archive


4. Using Prezi, compile the film, your selected notes, quotes and music to make a new presentation about John Monash and his role in WWI.



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