Australia and France have opened the Sir John Monash centre in Villers-Bretonneux.Lieutenant General Sir John Monash revolutionised warfare France, turning the tide of the Great War.
An emotional Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull lauded Australia’s greatest ever military commander as he officially opened a museum in France that is named in Monash’s honour.
The $100 million Australian-funded Sir John Monash Centre, at the Australian War Memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux in northern France, is a glossy, high-tech multimedia centre three years in the making.
The opening was held on the eve of the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, one of the Australian troops most significant victories of their four years of war on the Western Front.
The Sir John Monash Centre is the centrepiece of Australia’s Anzac Centenary 2014-18, and honours the more than 295,000 soldiers who served on the Western Front and the 46,000 who died there.
It tells the stories of ordinary Australians in a bid to raise the profile of the nation’s efforts on the Western Front in World War One.
Monash, who led the Australian forces to a succession of victories in the final months of 1918, was as an innovator and leader who looked after his troops and won critical battles, Mr Turnbull said.
“He pioneered aerial supply drops, and air reconnaissance in near-real time, and showed how to use the trench-busting power of armoured tanks.
“In short, he revolutionised warfare on the Western Front.”
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Monash’s tactics gave the allied forces a critical advantage that was rolled out on a wider scale.
“We will never forget that 100 years ago a young and brave nation on the other side the world made history by writing our history,” Mr Philippe said.
He said the Australian soldiers’ efforts in France marked the relationship between the two countries forever.
“A faraway, foreign country which they had defended, inch by inch … as if it were their own country. And it is their own country.”
In July 1918, Monash led Australian and American infantry in what was then the most sophisticated joint operation in history, involving air drops, artillery and a line of British tanks in the Battle of Hamel.
“He planned to take the village of Hamel in 90 minutes – but was famously three minutes late,” Mr Turnbull said.
“That victory put the German army on the defensive right up until Armistice Day.”
Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery later judged Monash to be “the best general on the Western Front in Europe”, Mr Turnbull said.
“Montgomery said ‘the war might have been won sooner, and certainly with fewer casualties’ if Monash had been in command of the British armies too,” Mr Turnbull said.
“This is why we are naming this centre after Sir John Monash – but it is a memorial to all the Australians who served in this terrible war – from the private soldiers like my grandfather Fred Turnbull, to our greatest general.
“We need to know the appalling suffering of the Western Front.”
Watching on was former prime minister Tony Abbott who announced the $100 million centre three years ago, to raise the profile of Australian involvement in international affairs and the Western Front.
Mr Turnbull, who deposed Mr Abbott in a party room spill, thanked his Liberal party colleague for his drive in establishing this centre.
After the opening, Mr Abbott was asked by journalists if it was moving to finally see multimedia stories of the everyday Australians who fought and died so far from home.
“It is hard not to get a bit chokey,” he said.
“Because these were ordinary people who under the pressure of terrible events, did absolutely extraordinary things.”
The centre also aims to ensure the deaths of 46,000 diggers on the Western Front are not forgotten.
It will be open to all from Anzac Day, when more than 7000 people are registered to attend the dawn service in Villers-Bretonneux.
Australian Associated Press