Walkley award-winning investigative journalist and war correspondent Peter Greste goes in search of the real man behind the Australian General, who changed the way the world fights wars; Sir John Monash. What he finds about Monash, his own family, and the way we Australians remember war is challenging and confronting.
Peter opens the episode reminding us that he has spent his life travelling the world watching wars, and trying to make sense of conflict. In 2013 he found himself caught up in one of those struggles when he was imprisoned in Egypt on trumped up terrorism charges. It made me think about wars in a much more personal way than I’d ever done before. About how the experience changes us and about how we remember it.
As we enter the second century of our great national tradition of war memory, Sir John Monash’s story calls us back and offers us a new way forward.
Monash is a towering figure in Australia’s story of the Great War. The revolutionary approach to combat that he commanded was key to the allied victory. Armies still fight on his model today.
While examining the battles that made Monash famous, Peter also discovers his own family’s previously unknown role in Monash’s First Australian Imperial Force. Four Great Uncles, the Fankhausers, fought in WW1. For Peter, Monash’s war becomes personal.
The ANZAC canon celebrates Monash as a larger-than-life hero whose new and highly innovative battle plans and strategies broke the stalemate of a war bogged down in the mud and massacres of the Western Front.
Monash himself was a great writer of his own history. But how accurate are these glowing accounts of him as commander of the Australian Imperial Force? Was he as his critic’s claim, vain, impulsive, egotistical, and prone to exaggeration? And how did he - a colonial German Jew and a civilian soldier - come to lead the Australian Imperial Force at the Western Front and be the first commander in 200 years to be knighted on the battlefield?
Across two episodes Greste plays detective and military analyst, unearthing private letters, diary entries and unit histories from Monash and protagonists on each side of the conflict. These intimate accounts reveal a much richer and more detailed picture of the man himself, and this terrible conflict in which 60,000 Australians were killed. By shining a fresh light onto Monash’s triumphs and tragedies, Greste will offer up his assessment on Monash’s legacy for contemporary Australia. A complex, talented and enigmatic man, fiercely intelligent and a brilliant tactician, Monash’s engineering background put him in a unique position to see and solve problems on the battlefield. This approach saved thousands of lives on the Western Front, and also set the stage for how war is still conducted today.