Honour Monash - A great Australian


The 1918 Monash Diary


As the centenary year 2018 of the time when Monash proving to be the most advanced thinker of all senior officers on the Western Front worked for a democratic future.

Month by month as the year unfolds the current month will display, you can also click on the other month buttons below to read what happened. Click again on the same button to hide the detail for that month.

Map of the AO

Monash's third Australian Division was taken out of the line at Passchendaele just east of Ieper on 22 October 1917 when the Canadians took over.

In December 1917, Monash was ordered to take leave. He was in London relaxing with his friend Lizzy when he received the customary communication asking if he would accept an honour for his work, and that of his soldiers. Also in that month, all five Australian divisions were administratively martialled together as a single corps, the popular foreigner Lieutenant General Birdwood was given command. It would be some months yet before all the Australians would work together as a Corps with a native-born commander.

Back at Armentières where third division was in defence and resting, on 1 January 1918, Major General Monash received a telephone call of congratulation from Birdwood. The new year's honours list announced he was now Sir John, a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. His division had taken over a sector recently evacuated by the Portuguese; it was quiet. Many of his soldiers were taking leave at Poperinge, a rest centre in rear of the line. Australians had no reason to fear Poperinge, for British soldiers it was also a place of sham trial and judicial murder of those with post-traumatic stress disorder, our soldiers did owe a lot to those who were executed at Polokwane (Pietersburg - 1902) and imprisoned after Wilmansrust (1901).

Poperinge The Killing Post Poperinge

On 10 January 1918 Monash was acting commander of the Australian Corps, Birdwood was on leave in the UK. Monash chaired a conference where discussion took place on the merits of the machine gun as an offensive weapon. The machine gun was universally accepted the keystone of every defence. Firing across the front of a trench line, along a string of barbed wire, or covering other obstacles natural and artificial, a burst of fire was lethal. Defence, being static meant large quantities of ammunition could be stockpiled. The new man-portable machine-guns, Hotchkiss and Lewis were able to be carried in the attack, however, firing on the move was inaccurate and ammunition limited. Major General White, chief of staff of the Australian Corps and architect of the successful Gallipoli withdrawal argued these factors negated the machine gun's offensive capability. Monash argued that the close fire and manoeuvre tactics now used by Australian troops gave readily portable machine-guns a real role in the offence. Machine gun fire being very effective at keeping the enemy below the parapet during an assault. Monash reputedly won the verbal stoush, use of the machine-gun in attacks became Australian military doctrine.

By the end of January, Monash had 3 DIV assume an offensive posture with raids toward Messines that extended into February.

Rumours were swirling. Monash was aware of the October/November revolution in Russia, and Lenin's "Decree of Peace" the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and release of 70 German divisions to strike westward was still two months off (3 March 1918), however, Monash knew the Russians and Germans were meeting. The result would be a foregone conclusion. There was speculation that the competent Birdwood would be snatched to command a British Army; an Australian would most probably get to command the Australian Corps; but who?

John Howells 2018

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