New Jewish war memorial unveiled in Canberra
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New Jewish war memorial unveiled in Canberra

Sir John Monash was Australia's greatest general, but he was not the only serviceman of Jewish heritage to make his mark on the battlefield.

A new national war memorial has been unveiled to remember the 341 Jewish servicemen who laid down their lives fighting for Australia, 100 years to the day since Monash was knighted on the battlefield.

First ever national Australian Jewish War Memorial at the ACT Jewish Community Centre. Jules Hoffman points to his brother's name.

First ever national Australian Jewish War Memorial at the ACT Jewish Community Centre. Jules Hoffman points to his brother's name.

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Australian governor-general Sir Peter Cosgrove and Defence Force chief General Angus Campbell were among those at the dedication of the cenotaph at the National Jewish Memorial Centre in Forrest on Sunday.

Around 9000 Australian Jewish men and women have served in Australia's defence forces since the Boer War. Around 1800 of those served in World War I.

Monash, an engineer and tactician with Prussian Jewish heritage, was the most famous of the Jewish servicemen who fought in the Great War.

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By the end of the war, Monash had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General and was knighted King George V outside Villers-Bretonneux in the south of France.

But despite this, Monash was denied the rank of field marshal in part because of his Jewish heritage.

An attempt to posthumously promote him earlier this year when the $100 million Sir John Monash Centre opened in Villers-Bretonneux was unsuccessful.

Dr Merrilyn Sernack, who is the honorary secretary for the ACT Jewish Community, said even Charles Bean - Australia's official war correspondent - overcame his prejudices to recognise the contribution Monash made to the war effort.

"He's one of our greatest Australians," she said.

But while Monash is "first and foremost", Dr Sernack said by no means was he the only exceptional Jewish military leader.

There's Lieutenant Leonard Maurice Keysor, who was awarded a Victoria Cross during the battle of Lone Pine in August 1915.

For 50 hours he smothered bombs that landed in his trench or threw them back at Turkish soldiers, in some cases catching them mid-flight before lobbing them back at the Turks.

Sergeant Issy Smith also won a Victoria Cross for carrying a wounded man 230 metres to safety under machine-gun and rifle-fire during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium.

Major General Paul Cullen distinguished himself as a battalion commander on the Kokoda Track, and later became the first president of the Citizen Military Forces Association, now known as the Army Reserve.

Then there are the heroes who did not make it back home.

Jules Hoffman's brother Adolf is one of the servicemen honoured on the cenotaph.

The 22-year-old navigator and bombardier died when his Lancaster bomber was shot down over Belgium on Anzac Day in 1944.

Mr Hoffman's other brother Earle began the push for a national Jewish war memorial in Canberra but died three years ago.

Mr Hoffman said the cenotaph was a fitting tribute to the two brothers he had lost, half a century and world apart.