Scribe, $45 pb, 732 pp
In September 1929 John Monash, ex-commander of the Australian Corps in France, sat down to reply to his former subordinate, Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, a National Party senator and militia major-general. Elliott had asked why he had been passed over for a division in 1918. What ‘secret offence’ had he committed that General Birdwood, the English chief of Australian forces, had denied him advancement? Monash was disturbed that Elliott’s sense of injury should be so raw a decade after the guns had fallen silent. In a tactful, compassionate reply, he set aside the idea of a secret offence and gently reminded Elliott that others, too, had had complaints, and had left them behind. The affection of their men mattered more than honours: ‘This same affection and confidence you have enjoyed in rich measure, and no one can question that it was well deserved. After all, you commanded a celebrated Brigade during the period of its greatest successes … Then why worry as to the verdict of posterity upon so brilliant and soldierly a career?’
Any comfort Elliott took from this was fleeting. Grievance continued to gnaw at him. It ‘has actually coloured all my post-war life,’ he confided. He quizzed old comrades and re-fought his campaigns in journals and lecture halls, all the while helping men who had fought under him, a growing burden as the Depression deepened. Economic turmoil and Scullin’s election seemed to imperil everything Elliott believed in. No friend could convince him that he did not face financial ruin. Admitted to a Melbourne private hospital for a nervous disorder, he suicided in March 1931. It was a terrible end for so renowned a soldier.