Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Commando Memorial Seat, Martin Place

Last week on Anzac Day I wrote about my family’s involvement in war. In a cursory fashion at least. The Commando Memorial Seat in Martin Place shown below strewn with decayed and wilting flowers is today’s reminder of war. As are memories of the TV special the ABC put on last night with journalist Peter Greste as the host. It was the second in a series that had started the week before and in it again Greste turned his gimlet eye to his subject, Sir John Monash, ever on the lookout for cant and bombast. He showed empathy and a keen intelligence as well, having survived a stint in an Egyptian prison (I wrote about his account of this experience on 19 January this year on this blog). He has also reported from battlefronts over a long career in journalism.

According to Greste, whose own forbears were from Germany, Monash was a complex man and the program basically said that he won WWI for the Allies. Without the involvement of the Australian troops the Germans would likely have moved on to Amiens and then to Paris. The previous year, the Russians had left the war, freeing up hundreds of thousands of German troops who relocated to the western front, tipping the balance in the ongoing struggle there in their favour. Monash prosecuted four decisive attacks on the enemy in an effort to break the German lines and push the front line back east. He was successful. The UK press celebrated the Australian victories and the king knighted Monash on the battlefield.

When the troops came home after winning the war, they were largely ignored. Greste spoke with a retired Army general who said that the spate of suicides among returned servicemen in the years after the war were like a “contagion”. Monash tried to get public support for a memorial but initially he was unsuccessful. Eventually, near the end of his life, he succeeded, and the Melbourne cenotaph was built. Being an engineer, Monash supervised the construction.

So memorialisation is important to soldiers returned from war. Today Sydney saw more ceremonies with the French president giving honours to three Australian servicemen who served with the British forces in WWI and WWII. Wreaths were laid in Hyde Park with President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian doing the honours.

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