Paul Cleary

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

John Monash’s con­tri­bu­tion to win­ning World War I is in­deed great but, as is of­ten the case with leg­ends, there is a risk of over­state­ment to the point where other ac­tors, in this case the Dig­gers, are di­min­ished. Only last month Fairfax me­dia pub­lished a se­ries of er­ro­neous claims about the Bat­tle of Villers-Bre­ton­neux in April 1918, in­clud­ing Monash’s al­leged com­mand of the troops (he played no part), and had to run a 319-word cor­rec­tion and apol­ogy.

Mal­colm Turn­bull re­peated some of these er­rors in a speech on An­zac Day at Viller­sBre­ton­neux when he said Monash led “the Aus­tralian forces [and] won a mo­men­tous vic­tory”.

Monash’s name has been ap­pro­pri­ated by a ca­bal of right-wing MPs to pro­mote coal-fired power gen­er­a­tion. This pos­si­bly re­lates to his post­war role as head of Vic­to­ria’s elec­tric­ity author­ity, even though Monash was one to em­brace new tech­nol­ogy and meth­ods to solve in­tractable prob­lems, as shown in his plan­ning for the Bat­tle of Le Hamel on July 4, 1918.

In this con­text, the ar­rival of this book is in­deed timely and, not­with­stand­ing Pe­ter FitzSi­mons’s ocker style, the depth of re­search that un­der­pins it is im­pres­sive. It is a wel­come and read­able ad­di­tion to what’s known about Monash and Le Hamel.

In the scheme of things, Le Hamel was a rel­a­tively small bat­tle. It in­volved 7000 Aus­tralians and 1000 newly ar­rived Amer­i­cans who at­tacked on a 6km front. But at the time Al­lied forces were still reel­ing from the spring of­fen­sive launched by the Ger­mans, who had pushed within 50km of Paris. They had not launched an at­tack for eight months, and the threat of Paris falling into Ger­man hands raised a se­ri­ous risk of French ca­pit­u­la­tion.

FitzSi­mons high­lights how the US com­man­der John Per­sh­ing was slow to put his mil­lion Monash’s Master­piece: The Bat­tle of Le Hamel and the 93 Min­utes that Changed the World By Pe­ter FitzSi­mons Ha­chette, 414pp, $35

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.