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

Anonymous

Wonderful exhibition. My soldier's body brought home after the war. William BRIDGES. ALBANY ANZAC MEMORIAL.

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Anonymous

Thank you for letting me know all about Major General William Bridges.

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Sasha

At least you tried.

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Anonymous

Nice to hear your story.

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Wendy

No amount of thanks can repay you for what you have all done for us. GOD BLESS.

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Anonymous

How many gave their lives for us and the countries we call home? So much history to tell their stories and maybe one day we will learn from their sacrifices.

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Anonymous

Excellent presentation and fantastic journey to remember all the strong men and women that went to war including my great uncle and mother.

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Anonymous

THANKS FOR ALL THAT YOU ACHIEVED IN YOUR SHORT LIFE.

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kye

God bless you.

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Anonymous

Thank you for serving our country and risking your life to help Australia. RIP William Bridges. xx

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GABBY

THANKS FOR EVERYTHING.

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Jake

Thank you for Australia. Lest we forget.

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Phil

VERY BRAVE MEN. Makes one proud to be Australian.

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Lesley

Thank You. LEST WE FORGET.

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Anonymous

I am writing to say thank you for fighting for us.

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Anonymous

Your story has made my time at the ANZAC centre one to remember. Your work is appreciated. I'm sorry you got shot on my birthday - R.I.P.

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Anonymous

Rest in peace.

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Anonymous

You are an inspirational leader. Rest in peace.

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Shenton

Hello Bridges. Nice to meet you. You did your country proud.

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Anonymous

Lest we never forget.

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Anonymous

You were such a trooper. Lest we forget.

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Anonymous

Thank you very much for helping to defend our great country. We owe you and others like you our way of life.

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Anonymous

May your story never be forgotten.

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Declan

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.

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Anonymous

You are a true hero.

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Anonymous

My family has many connections that touch the paths you took. Thank you for your efforts.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your sacrifice. LEST WE FORGET!

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kaye

Lest we forget.

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Anonymous

Congratulations on becoming the knight.

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Anonymous

Thank you for fighting for Australia.

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Anonymous

May God have mercy on you.

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sapper AJ de Mo...

We stand here in a free country due to the bravery of yourself and others . For this we thank you all.

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hayley

You were a great soldier and man.

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Anonymous

Dear Bridges, Thank you for everything you did to protect and defend our country. Your service is greatly appreciated.

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Anonymous

Thank you for sacrificing your life to make our lives better.

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Anonymous

Major General Bridges, thank you for being a great general.

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thomas di

You are a true hero to Australia forever.

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Anonymous

Absolute champion.

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Anonymous

A committed life and gallant effort. Well done. THANK YOU.

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Sophie

We are very grateful for your sacrifices in the war. We Will Remember You.

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seven

Well done - you did a great job.

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Anonymous

I have learnt a lot about you.

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Anonymous

Dear BRIDGES, I do hope you are well in Egypt and you are still ready for action. Yours Truly, HERBERT.

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Anonymous

You are forever remembered for your service.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your service and for my freedom. I love your carefree personality.

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Anonymous

Thank you for your sacrifice.

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Anonymous

Thank you for our freedom. RIP.

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Anonymous

COURAGE AND LOYALTY TO AUSTRALIA. MY PRAYERS ARE WITH YOU.

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Dave

Top digger!

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scarlet

It must have been hard work out there with your horse. You were a brave man.

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