William Throsby Bridges

Portrait of William Throsby Bridges

Rank

Major General

Roll title

1st Division Headquarters

Convoy ship

HMAT Orvieto

Commonwealth Headquarters Staff, c. 1904. Bridges is in the front row, second from the right

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A03872

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.’

Military and academic staff of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, in May 1914. Bridges is in the centre of the front row.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P00151.006

View of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, set up by Bridges in 1911.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P01152.010

HMAT Orvieto.

Courtesy of the Western Australian Museum MHK D1 765

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.  

Major General Bridges boarding a pinnace (small boat) from HMAT Orvieto

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial PS0160

Members of Major General Bridges’ staff on board HMAT Orvieto

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial PS0114

A group portrait of staff and officers at Mena Camp, Egypt. Charles Bean is at the far left of the back row, and Bridges is sixth from the left in the front row (beside Lieutenant Colonel Neville Howse VC, fifth from left).

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A00712A

Bridges and some of his staff in Egypt.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial C05276

Major General Bridges’ first headquarters at Anzac. Bridges can be seen on the far left, inside the dug-out.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial G00933

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

View of Monash Gully, where Bridges was shot by a sniper

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, G00976

The shelter where Bridges rested after being wounded on 15 May 1915

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A01521

The wounded Major General Bridges was transferred to HMHS Gascon.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H18949

The funeral of Major General Sir William Bridges at Alexandria in May 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A02700

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. 

References

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.

Bridges’ burial on Mount Pleasant, overlooking Duntroon, in September 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial P10797.002

rob

We will never forget.

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will

We will remember.

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mitchell

Thanking you for your service. We are grateful.

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mithell

Thank you for fighting for Australia.

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prof d

Top fella!

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Anonymous

I am very sorry you died in war but I am grateful that you went to war to make sure our country has freedom. RIP, rest in peace.

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Tristan robert

I am sorry that you died. YOU WERE BRAVE. THANK YOU.

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Anonymous

Following your story was an unforgettable experience. Next time try to be more careful!

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issi

Thank you for your sacrifice.

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marcus

Lest we forget.

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Anonymous

I have visited your grave in Canberra recently, and you rightly hold pride of place at Duntroon.

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Lachy

Thank you for your sacrifice in the war for your country.

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Anonymous

Awesome!

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Anonymous

You led your men well. Nobody could do better. Keep this in times of doubt and think I am appreciated.

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Lennee

An enormous sacrifice. x

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SEAN :ANDERSON

I HOPE YOU LIVED.

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Anonymous

Sad you died but a good deed you did. Brave digger. RIP

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lilia

Thank you for your bravery. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

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Anonymous

Thank you to all the brave men that fought and died for this country. Thank you. We will remember them. Lest we forget.

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vicki

What truly brave men you were!

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zac

My thoughts are with you.

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Anonymous

I reckon he was a brave soldier and brave to go to war.

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Anonymous

Thank you for saving me. LEST WE FORGET.

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billy

I wish you stayed alive.

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Anonymous

NEVER FORGOTTEN.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice. You were a brave and honorable man. May your soul rest in peace.

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Anonymous

A job well done. RIP.

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Cade Bennett NT

Thank for the freedom you have given us from your sacrifice and may your spirit live on. Lest we forget.

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Mitchell

I wish all soldiers survived.

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Anonymous

Dear Sir, I wish all solderers survived in all wars.

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FERNE

WE SALUTE YOU. RIP.

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Jett

You're a very brave man to do what you did.

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Anonymous

For your sacrifice for country and man. LEST WE FORGET.

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Melva

Very pleased to read you and your horse Sandy returned to home soil.

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lucas

You little Anzac.

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Anonymous

You're the best man in the world.

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Anonymous

You were an awesome man.

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Anonymous

You are awesome!

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Anonymous

Thank you and all the others that did so much for us all at great sacrifice. God bless.

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Lucia

We thank you for making a lovely place to live in. Thank you for providing an amazing place to remember our fallen soldiers.

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Anonymous

We thank you.

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Anonymous

Bravery, courage and from all us whom enjoy our freedom today, respect!

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Anonymous

I thank you for everything you have done for our country.

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Kathy McDonell

Service in WW2 in Egypt and New Guinea. Thank you for your service.

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Kathy McDonell

Stretcher bearer, in Somme, for your bravery, especially removing shrapnel from Dr in trench, saving his life.

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gus

Hi Major General, you were brave for me.

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Anonymous

Thank you for the life I have due to your sacrifice.

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Anonymous

A BRAVE SOLDIER WHO FOUGHT GALLANTLY FOR OUR COUNTRY.

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rose

A brave man and horse Sandy.

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Anonymous

What all the troops went through in 1914-18 and afterwards should never have to be experienced again.

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