GOVERNOR-General Sir Peter Cosgrove’s military background came to the fore as he viewed the Jewish Museum of Australia (JMA) exhibition, True Jews and Patriots: Australian Jews and World War I in Melbourne on Sunday.
Sir Peter and Lady Lynne Cosgrove were hosted at the private viewing of the World War I exhibition – and of the JMA – by the museum’s director Rebecca Forgasz, its president Barry Fradkin and Judy Landau, president of the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex & Servicemen & Women, which has partnered with the JMA on staging the exhibition.
The Governor-General had many questions for his hosts, and asked whether Jewish Diggers had the opportunity to worship. The first couple was told about the role of Jewish chaplains and was shown a Sephardi-style sefer Torah given to Australian Jewish Army Chaplain Reverend David Freedman by the leader of Egypt’s Jewish community, Moshe Cattaui Pasha.
General Cosgrove showed particular interest in the role of the Zion Mule Corps, as an antecedent of the military groups that helped defend modern Israel at its foundation some decades later.
The Governor-General was fascinated by the exhibit on Sir John Monash, who was made a lieutenant-general and became commander of the Australian Corps during World War I and remains an iconic Jewish Australian historical figure.
As Australia’s former top military commander, who was chief of the defence force from 2002 to 2005 and before that was Australia’s chief of army from 2000 to 2002, and is a retired general, Cosgrove revealed he has been a keen student of the life and times of Monash.
The Governor-General related a little known anecdote about Monash – that he went on a rigorous diet to shed weight during the war so he could achieve the physical fitness he needed, in order to be at his best physically and mentally, to make the critical battlefield decisions that helped the Allies to victory.
Cosgrove told The AJN he had “a layman’s idea of participation of Australian Jews in the struggle in World War I” but found the JMA exhibition “a real eye opener, when you see just how many there were”. [Some 2000 Jews enlisted for battle].
“I wonder if there were any Jewish nurses amongst the Australian nurses who went over to the battlefields? That’s an interesting point,” he said.
And he described Monash as “the most famous Australian general ever”.