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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