The Sunday Mail (Queensland)





JOHN Monash wrote him­self into history as Aus­tralia’s great­est mil­i­tary com­man­der with a se­ries of as­tound­ing vic­to­ries that has­tened the end of World War 1.

Work is now un­der way on a $100 mil­lion ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­ity in Villers-Bre­ton­neux, France bear­ing his name to hon­our the sac­ri­fice of Aus­tralians dur­ing the Great War.

De­spite his rep­u­ta­tion as a mil­i­tary ge­nius, Monash hated ev­ery minute of ev­ery bat­tle, the “hor­ror, and dis­tress” as he put it, the waste of pre­cious life. His guid­ing force was to en­sure the terror he had wit­nessed at Gal­lipoli and in France and Flan­ders would never reach Aus­tralian soil.

Monash was al­ways more of a lover, than a fighter. He loved art, clas­si­cal mu­sic, literature and learn­ing. And women. Lots of them.

From his teenage years, they loved him too, in­tox­i­cated by his dark eyes and deep in­tel­lect, be­sot­ted by his con­fi­dence and charm, en­chanted by the way he could play the pi­ano and their heart­strings.

Monash’s fa­ther, a Jewish store­keeper born in Prus­sia, in what is now western Poland, had once bran­dished an old re­volver pre­par­ing for a shootout with out­law Ned Kelly. But while Monash was given com­mand of more than 200,000 troops in the Great War he was al­ways plagued by what he called the “scenes of aw­ful slaugh­ter … and long lines of stretcher-bear­ers with their gory bur­dens”.

He dragged him­self up from hum­ble ori­gins in Mel­bourne to be­come a favourite at Buck­ing­ham Palace, an engi­neer and scholar, a ge­nius at man man­age­ment and the lo­gis­tics es­sen­tial for a new type of massed war­fare in­volv­ing in­fantry, ar­tillery, air force and tanks.

As a young man he was a bright but some­times way­ward stu­dent at Mel­bourne Univer­sity. He loved a good time.

Af­ter his mother’s early death from can­cer in 1885, Monash chased fe­male af­fec­tion as re­lent­lessly as he later pur­sued the Ger­man armies across France. He courted all four of the lovely Blashki sis­ters, whose fa­ther Phillip de­signed the Sheffield Shield for the in­ter­colo­nial cricket com­pe­ti­tion.

Soon Monash’s di­aries, now housed at the Na­tional Li­brary in Can­berra, fea­tured more than 50 names of girls he fan­cied as he recorded ev­ery in­ti­mate as­pect of his life in de­tail. He writes that Lizzie Smith fell in love with him al­most “at once” and the comely Ber­rie Ren­nick has “an ea­ger ear to amorous whis­per­ings.” Kitty Lun­day, a wait­ress at Mel­bourne’s Vic­to­ria Cof­fee Palace, calls him her “dear soldier boy”.

His first teenage love is Clara Stock­feld, a coun­try gov­erness, who signs her letters as the “Queen of Hearts” and calls him “Jack’o”. The bright red tu­nic he wears as a mem­ber of Vic­to­ria’s vol­un­teer mili­tia, a part-time de­fence force, makes him the must-have dance part­ner at so­cial gath­er­ings.

He finds Rosie Schild “out­ra­geously flirty … well scorched and a woman of the world” and is en­chanted by Evie Cor­rie, who is on Monash’s arm at three suc- ces­sive Mel­bourne Cups and en­twined with him in­side a dark stair­case at a party. He writes that he en­joyed him­self “fully” for hours, hid­den away from pry­ing eyes. He es­corts the bawdy Ri­cardo Josephine Burt to a pic­nic and the theatre and, af­ter she greets him in her night­dress at her lodg­ings in St Kilda, they spend “three hours in ar­dent love­mak­ing”.

The young Monash writes that at so­cial gath­er­ings he de­votes him­self “solely to the cul­ti­va­tion of the es­teem and ad­mi­ra­tion of the lady guests” en­deav­our­ing “to con­vince each in turn of my own great per­sonal im­por­tance.” He can be pompous, vain, ego­tis­ti­cal – and highly ef­fec­tive. When one young ad­mirer tells him his only fault is women can’t help but fall for him, his only re­sponse is “How very true!”

At the wed­ding of one of his work­mates in Bendigo, he makes his move on the two brides­maids, who, he says, ac­cept his “ca­ress­ing ad­vances as a mat­ter of course”.

Monash works as a ju­nior engi­neer on the Princes Bridge across the Yarra and in 1888, aged just 23, is given com­mand of build­ing Mel­bourne’s Outer Cir­cle rail­way line.

Soon af­ter start­ing there he falls head over heels for a pretty Bal­larat girl named An­nie Gabriel.

Be­fore long he loves An­nie “fully and deeply”, and ev­ery chance he gets he is kiss­ing her pas­sion­ately, telling her of the won­der­ful life they can share to­gether. An­nie ex­cites Monash more than any other woman has ever done.

She is sex­u­ally ex­pe­ri­enced, pe­tite with light brown hair and her pierc­ing eyes bore straight through his outer shell to his heart, ex­pos­ing all the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and help­less­ness be­neath his public im­age of an am­bi­tious engi­neer and ar­tillery of­fi­cer.

Monash has never ex­pe­ri­enced such joy, although An­nie’s hus­band, Fred Gabriel, work­ing as Monash’s clerk, is much less en­thu­si­as­tic about the re­la­tion­ship. Monash comes off sec­ond best in three punch-ups with Fred, in­clud­ing a wild fight on a tram and a melee at South Yarra rail­way sta­tion when Monash plans to run away with An­nie.

Thwarted one last time by Fred, Monash con­soles him­self with his “new god­dess” the tall and buxom Vic Moss, the fash­ion­able, highly strung daugh­ter of a Jewish money­len­der.

They make beau­ti­ful mu­sic to­gether, in pri­vate and in public play­ing pi­ano duets of Haydn sym­phonies. Monash writes that the touch of her fin­gers ca­ress­ing him makes his “blood go a lit­tle faster”, and that soon his spark of love will “blaze into a flame that would as­ton­ish her”.

Yet they are rarely happy to­gether. There is a pow­er­ful phys­i­cal at­trac­tion but Monash is an am­bi­tious in­tel­lec­tual hun­gry for knowl­edge; Vic a so­cial but­ter­fly.

They are arm in arm watch­ing Car­bine win the 1890 Mel­bourne Cup and Monash re­luc­tantly ad­mits that he trots af­ter his glam­orous lover “like a lit­tle dog by her side all day”. A rabbi mar­ries them the next year but af­ter a hon­ey­moon in Syd­ney and the Blue Moun­tains, war breaks out again. Monash tells Vic she will have to recog­nise his au­thor­ity or leave the mar­i­tal home.

She says good­bye. He then begs her not to go. She stays but soon they are back at each other’s throats.

A daugh­ter, Bert (Bertha), is born in 1893 but still, for the next 18 months, there are slang­ing matches and sep­a­ra­tions am­pli­fied by money trou­bles dur­ing a great de­pres­sion. In Septem­ber 1894 the mar­i­tal minefield erupts and Vic and Monash sep­a­rate again.

Vic sets sail for Lon­don, and five days later Monash rushes home to find his fa­ther dy­ing. Monash is “op­pressed with grief” and guilt that his mar­i­tal strife has has­tened his fa­ther’s death. Monash smokes heav­ily and drinks too much. When he closes his eyes to sleep Vic will some­times ap­pear in his dreams, and they will flirt and joke and duel again just like when they first met. But alas, the dreams are fleet­ing, and ev­ery morn­ing Monash wakes up alone and broke.

Af­ter al­most a year, hus­band and wife rec­on­cile but the mar­riage is of­ten what Monash calls “irk­some and al­most in­tol­er­a­ble”.

For the next two decades Monash drives a ma­jor en­gi­neer­ing firm in Mel­bourne, de­sign­ing bridges and build­ings in Vic­to­ria and South Aus­tralia, while at the same time ris­ing through the ranks of the mili­tia. A grad­ual change comes over his do­mes­tic af­fairs and af­ter years of tur­bu­lence he and Vic fi­nally reach “smooth wa­ters”.

At the out­break of World War 1, Monash en­lists as a colonel and af­ter 30 years of mock bat­tles in train­ing his first taste of real war­fare is the slaugh­ter on Gal­lipoli when Monash is near­ing 50.

He is stand­ing near Gen­eral Wil­liam Bridges when a Turk­ish sniper kills the Aus­tralian com­man­der.

Monash sur­vives eight months on Gal­lipoli and at the out­break of fight­ing on the Somme in France in 1916, leads a raid on Ger­man forces. De­spite the protests of war cor­re­spon­dent Charles Bean that Aus­tralia should not have a Jew in charge, Monash be-


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