Greatness is not measured in what we do, nor indeed in how we do it, to inspire soldiers on the battlefield and command great respect is all about knowing why we do the things we do. John Monash believed he had to challenge what didn’t work and find a better way of doing it and save the lives of so many of his soldiers.
There is a truism in the TV series Blackadder Goes Forth starring comedian Rowan Atkinson. Set in the First World War, General Melchett orders the troops to “Go over the top, advance directly into the German positions straight past their machine guns and artillery and take them completely by surprise.” When asked isn’t that exactly the same plan as the last seventeen times when everyone got killed, the General responds, “Well done, that’s precisely the sort of thinking we need, they’ll never expect us to do it again!”
Unfortunately the killing fields of the Somme, Verdun and the entire Western Front were far too real to the men who fought in those trenches. The perception of the way the “Top Brass” was thinking ranges from incompetence through to imbecile in the minds of many people looking back at the appalling casualties sustained in this conflict. To be fair, prior to WWI there had never before been a war fought in the history of mankind between nations with the capabilities that developed industrial economies bring to the battlefield. The advent of both the machine gun and modern artillery necessitated a complete revolutionizing of the tactics and conduct of warfare.
It was into the madness of the Western Front that Monash rose to command the Australian Corp at the Battle of Amiens in 1918. A citizen soldier before the war, he fought as a Brigade Commander at Gallipoli, commanded the Australian 3rd Division in 1917 on the Western Front and whether it was his background as a civil engineer or simply a measure of the man, he certainly brought a different way of thinking about war that set him aside from his peers.
Australian success on the Battlefield was in no small way due to the dogged fighting capability of the Aussie Digger and the incredible planning and co-ordination implemented by Monash to harness the power and security of a creeping barrage, at times support from tanks and aircraft, and the system of fire and movement, of mutual support and flanking attacks on the ground, conducted by his troops.
On Anzac Day this year, we pause to thank all who have served, think of those serving today in war zones and to remember the fallen.
“Lest We Forget”