William Throsby Bridges was born on 18 February 1861 at Greenock, Scotland. He was schooled on the Isle of Wight and from age ten at the Royal Naval School in London. The Bridges family moved to Canada in 1872, where William continued his schooling and attended the Royal Military College at Kingston.
A bank failure soon afterwards caused ruin for his parents, who moved to live in Moss Vale, New South Wales, leaving their son in Canada. Having failed the course at Kingston, Bridges followed his parents to Australia in 1879. He joined the civil service as an assistant inspector of roads and bridges. In May 1885 he became a lieutenant in the temporary forces and his commission was confirmed with a permanent position in the artillery in August the same year. On 10 October Bridges married Edith Lilian Francis. The couple eventually had seven children, three of whom died in infancy.
In 1886 Bridges attended a course at the School of Gunnery at Middle Head and served on the staff of the school for the next four years. Qualified as an instructor of gunnery, Bridges gained promotion to captain in 1890. Later that year, Bridges travelled to England to undertake further gunnery training, which he passed with distinction. Returning to Australia in early 1893, he took up the roles of chief instructor of the School of Gunnery and the artillery firemaster of the colony.
At the outbreak of the Boer War, Bridges undertook special service in the British Army. He served with the cavalry division at Colesberg, and was involved in the relief of Kimberley and the battles of Paardeberg and Driefontein. He was sent to England in May 1900 suffering enteric fever (typhoid), and returned to Sydney in September.
In 1902 Bridges became assistant quarter-master general to Major General Hutton’s headquarters. This role gave him responsibility for military intelligence, organisation of forces and the development of defence plans. By 1905 he had become the chief of intelligence on the military board of administration.
He was appointed the first chief of the Australian general staff in 1909, but was only in the position for five months, being selected to attend the Imperial Conference in London. He became the Australian representative for the Imperial General Staff and was appointed CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) in July 1909.
Early 1910 saw Bridges’ return to Australia to set up an Australian military college. He reluctantly accepted the position and the Royal Military College, Duntroon, opened on 27 June 1911. He remained its commandant until early 1914, when he became Inspector-General of the Army.
When war arrived, Bridges was chosen to develop and command the contingent Australia would send off to assist Britain’s war effort. It was Bridges who gave the new force its name: Australian Imperial Force.
The British Army Council agreed with his suggestion that Australia should supply a ‘compact force’, and not be split up between other British units. As official historian Charles Bean wrote approvingly, ‘The stand thus taken by the far-sighted sardonic soldier-statesman was the first and greatest step towards settling the character … of a national Australian army.’
Bridges embarked at Melbourne on 21 October 1914, on board HMAT Orvieto, the flagship of the First Convoy. After a five-day passage, Orvieto arrived in King George Sound, Albany, on 26 October 1914.
Once in Albany, Bridges made inspections of the troops on board their ships. Charles Bean, the Australian official war correspondent, noted that the sight of Bridges climbing the rope ladders onto ships became commonplace.
While on board Orvieto, he met with ex-Duntroon officers, as well as Major General Godley, the commander of the New Zealand forces.
After the destruction of the Emden, some of its prisoners, including the captain, were brought on board Orvieto. Bridges extended no civilities to them beyond what was expected, generally choosing to ignore them. He did, however, note that Captain von Müller was a ‘very pleasant man’.
Once the First Convoy had arrived in Egypt, Bridges began a training program for his division. Some disciplinary problems in the troops were considered to be due to his tough training, and the failure to provide facilities for the men.
Bridges led the 1st Division at the landing on Gallipoli. After the first day, with things going badly, he proposed taking the men off the peninsula, but was overruled because it was not feasible to do so. He conducted regular inspections of the firing lines and showed little concern for his own safety. This trait made him unpopular among his men as his carefree attitude often drew enemy fire.
On 15 May 1915, he sent notice to two of his officers that he would visit their headquarters to inspect the defences. When he arrived about half an hour later he was warned that snipers in the area were very active. With ‘uncharacteristic caution’, he ran across any dangerous gaps, resting behind sandbag barricades. As he made the dash across a particularly dangerous section, a sniper’s bullet hit him in the right thigh.
He was rescued by Captain Clyde Thompson and a stretcher-bearer, who evacuated him to the hospital ship Gascon.
Bridges died from the wound inflicted by the Turkish sniper’s bullet on 18 May 1915 on board the hospital ship Gascon. The bullet had severed his femoral artery and vein, and gangrene set in. Just before his death, he was appointed KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath) and Mentioned in Despatches.
Bridges was buried at Alexandria in Chatby Cemetery two days after his death.
In June his body was exhumed and returned to Australia. A memorial was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, and a funeral procession passed through the city. Bridges was buried at Duntroon on 3 September 1915. He was the only Australian soldier whose body was brought home during or after the war.
Lee, Col. J.E., D.S.O., M.C. 1952, Duntroon: The Royal Military College of Australia 1911-1946 Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Coulthard-Clark, C.D. 1979, A Heritage of Spirit: A Biography of Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges K.C.B., C.M.G. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
Australian Government Publication Service, 1978, Duntroon: Royal Military College Duntroon, Australian Government Publication Service, Canberra.
Bean, C.E.W. 1957, Two Men I Knew: William Bridges and Brudenell White, Founders of the A.I.F. Angus & Robertson Ltd., Sydney.
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1957), Wednesday 18 November 1914, Page 9, 10.
Clark, Chris, 'Bridges, Sir William Throsby (1861–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bridges-sir-william-throsby-5355/text9055, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 6 February 2014.
National Archives of Australia, Mapping Our Anzacs, Service Record of Major-General William Throsby Bridges: http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/default.aspx
Olsen, Wes, 2006, Gallipoli: The Western Australian Story, (University of Western Australia Press, WA.