The designer of this home-made first day cover has provided an unique cover, but what a pity he could not spell and that he did not realise that the yellow colour would fade badly. It has a single copy of the 5d John Monash in uniform stamp and is postmarked with the familiar Philatelic Bureau Melbourne First Day of Issue 23 June 1965, the centenary of his year of birth. It is inscribed along the left border ‘Soldier Engineer Educator’ and there is an electrical tower on his right (a reminder of his role in the electrification of Victoria), and the years of his life are recorded at the base of the stamp (Figure 1).
John Monash was a consummate Australian hero and this is borne out by the fact that his life in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) is accorded eight pages. Monash was born in Dudley Street, West Melbourne on 27 June 1865, the first of three children of Louis Monash (formerly Monasch of Jewish Prussian origin) and his wife Bertha, née Manasse. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne and at 16 was dux of the school. He graduated from the University of Melbourne: B.A. 1887; master of civil engineering in 1893; in law 1895, and doctor of engineering in 1921. What follows is largely a sanitized version of the early years of his life which was somewhat like a tempestuous soap opera, as described in the first 2 pages of the ADB account. He finally did marry a Jewish girl, Hannah Victoria Moss in 1891 and they had one daughter, Bertha.
He worked as a civil engineer, introduced reinforced concrete to Australian engineering practice, was engineer for a bridge over the Yarra river and took a leading part in his profession becoming a president of the Victorian Institute of Engineers, and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London. His involvement in army service spanned 36 years from 1884 (when he joined the university militia unit) until 1920 (in his role of in-charge of repatriation of troops after WW I). When war broke out in 1914, Monash became a full-time army officer despite his German background, and he was sent to Egypt as commander of the 4th Infantry Brigade. His service can be summarised as follows: Gallipoli campaign; Battle of Messines; Battle of Broodseinde; First Battle of Passchendaele; Battle of Hamel; Battle of Amiens; Battle of the Hindenburg Line.
Even Monash’s army service could not be classed as smooth, and at one stage the then Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, arrived at the front before the Battle of Hamel prepared to replace Monash, but after consulting the senior officers, and seeing the superb power of planning and execution displayed by Monash, Hughes changed his mind. The official Australian War Historian, Charles Bean was not a fan of Monash’s early military career, but he noted that Monash was more effective the higher he rose in the army, when he had a greater capacity of utilising his skill for meticulous planning and organising, and to innovate in the area of technology and tactics. On 12 August 1918 Monash was knighted KCB on the battlefield by King George V. A picture of Monash during the War is seen in Figure 2.
Monash returned to Australia on 26 December 1919 to a tumultuous welcome and he filled many important positions in his post-army career, including: head of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria; Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne until his death; president of the Rotary Club; one of the principal organisers of the annual ANZAC day; chairman of the constructing body of the Shrine of Remembrance; and, president of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. In the 1920’s Monash was broadly accepted, not just in Victoria, as the greatest living Australian.
“His commanding intellect was sensed as well as his basic honesty and decency. He was one tallpoppy who was never cut down. His knowledge ranged extraordinarily widely, but was neither very profound nor original. He achieved greatness essentially as an administrator, by cultivating to a super-pitch of excellence the ordinary qualities such as memory, concentration, stability and common sense, allied with temperamental capacity to work harmoniously with colleagues. He had the gift of being able instantaneously to turn from one task to the next. He was a great teacher, supremely articulate, ‘the greatest advocate I ever listened to’ said Sir Robert Menzies”, quoted from the ADB.
He died at his home Iona on 8 October 1931 and there was a State Funeral with crowds of at least 250,00 and was buried with Jewish rites at the Brighton Cemetery, Melbourne survived by his daughter, Bertha. Another picture of Monash in civilian life is seen in Figure 3.