Monash sculpture unveiled in Canberra

From left, Rabbi Ralph Genende, Michael Bennett, Monash’s great-grandson, and Air Commodore Mark Willis in front of the sculpture. Photo: David Whittaker

A SCULPTURE commemorating the pivotal role of General Sir John Monash in World War I has been unveiled at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) in Canberra to mark the centenary of the landmark Battle of Hamel.

At the French town of Le Hamel on the Western front on July 4, 1918, Monash meticulously used comprehensive new strategies to reverse the German offensive and set the Allies on the path to winning the war.

However, the artwork, sculpted by Charles Robb, with inscriptions by poet Sarah Holland-Batt, depicting Monash in a civilian suit but wearing his medals, captures him at the height of his national stature in the 1920s, when the revered commander pioneered Victoria’s electricity grid and laid the groundwork for the Shrine of Remembrance, Dr Brendan Nelson, AWM director, said at the July 4 unveiling.

It is only the third sculpture of heroic Australians at the AWM, joining depictions of John Simpson, a World War I stretcher bearer, and Lieutenant Colonel Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, a surgeon imprisoned by the Japanese in Burma during World War II.

Quoting Albert Einstein, who he noted was born 14 years after Monash and outlived him into the era of the Holocaust, Nelson said the German physicist had attributed to the Jewish people “the desire for knowledge for its own sake, a love of justice which borders on fanaticism and a striving for personal independence”.

“In his observations of the Jewish faith and of the Jewish people … Einstein said much about what informed the character of the man whose statue is before you,” Nelson told the gathering of military, civilian and community figures, including descendants of Monash.

Nelson noted Monash “was proud of his Jewish faith and ancestry” and had been president of the Zionist Federation of Australia.

“As [author] Colin MacInnes said, John Monash made anti-Semitism something that was unthinkable in Australia by the late 1920s.”

Rabbi Ralph Genende, senior rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, who attended the unveiling, said afterwards, “What struck me on this crisp Canberra morning was not the fact that he was a superb military tactician and planner … but the depiction of Monash as a man. He is not wearing his army uniform, but a suit, albeit with military medals, and in his hand a book. This very deliberate decision by the sculpture committee and artists highlights just what a polymath Sir John was.”