Family Group Sheet
Family Group Sheet
NameMajor General Sir William Throsby BRIDGES
Birth1861
Death1915
MotherMary Hill THROSBY (1837-1914)
Notes for Major General Sir William Throsby BRIDGES
Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB CMG (18 February 1861 – 18 May 1915) was a senior Australian military officer who was instrumental in establishing the Royal Military College, Duntroon and who served as the first Australian Chief of the General Staff. During World War I he commanded the 1st Australian Division at Gallipoli where he died of wounds on 18 May 1915, becoming the first Australian major general to be killed during the war. He was the first Australian—and the first graduate of Kingston—to reach the rank of major general, the first to command a division, and the first to receive a knighthood. He is one of only two Australians killed in action in World War I to be interred in Australia.

Early life

Born 18 February 1861 in Greenock, Scotland, the son of William Wilson Somerset Bridges, a Royal Navy captain, and his Australian wife, Mary Hill Throsby.[2] He was educated at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, before attending the Royal Naval School at New Cross, London, in 1871. He remained there until mid-1872 when his family moved to Canada, after his father was badly injured in an accident and forced to retire from the navy.[3] For the next three years, Bridges was a border at the Trinity College School, at Port Hope, Ontario. On 10 April 1877, at the age of 16, he entered the newly established Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, as part of the college's second intake, and was assigned the student number of 25.[4]

Although tall, Bridges was of slight build and was not noted for his involvement in sport while at the college, spending most of his spare time reading; nevertheless, he became a keen canoeist as a cadet. Although he was a good student, he became unsettled and began failing his courses when his family migrated to Australia leaving him in Kingston. In June 1879, having received his Certificate of Military Qualifications, Bridges was permitted to leave the college, becoming its first drop out after his father paid a $100 fine to withdraw him.[5][6] Travelling on the transport Zealandia, Bridges arrived in Sydney in August and joined his family who had settled in his mother's home town of Moss Vale, New South Wales. Shortly after his arrival, he began working for the Department of Roads and Bridges at Braidwood, and by 1884 he had become an inspector in the Narrabri district.

Military career

Early career and Boer War

In early 1885, in response to the fall of Khartoum and the death of General Charles Gordon during the British campaign against the Dervish revolt in Sudan, the colony of New South Wales raised a military contingent consisting of an infantry battalion, with artillery and supporing units, for service with the British. In an effort to enlist, Bridges travelled to Sydney from Narrabri, but by the time he had arrived, the force had already been raised. Nevertheless, due to concerns about Russian intentions in Afghanistan, the Australian colonies began expanding their military forces and on 19 May that year he was commissioned as a lieutenant into the New South Wales Artillery. Initially his appointment was only temporary, but he was later offered a permanent position.[9]

The following year he undertook an artillery officers' course at the School of Gunnery at Middle Head, after which he was posted there as a staff officer. In 1889 he qualified as a gunnery instructor and in October 1890, having been promoted to captain the month before, he was then sent to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and at the Royal School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness, for training.[10] Upon returning to Australia in 1893, he became Chief Instructor at the Middle Head School of Gunnery.[11] He was promoted to major in September 1895, and he held positions on several military committees and conferences.[12] In late 1899, Bridges was one of four New South Wales officers seconded to serve with British Army units during the Second Boer War. During his time in South Africa he took part in actions around Kimberley, Paardeberg and Driefontein before contracting typhoid. After being evacuated to England, he returned to Australia in September 1900.[13]

Upon his return, Bridges took command of the Brigade Division of Field Artillery as well as various staff appointments. In 1901, the Australian colonies federated, and the various colonial military forces were formed into the Australian Army.[14] Bridges undertook a quick succession of appointments: Assistant Quartermaster General of the Army HQ in Melbourne; Chief of Military Intelligence; Chief of the Australian General Staff, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in July 1902 and then colonel in October 1906. In 1909 he went to London as Australia's representative on the Imperial General Staff.[12]

In 1910 Bridges was promoted to brigadier general and, on the recommendation of Lord Kitchener, was recalled to Australia to become the first commandant of the Royal Military College at Duntroon.[15] On his way back to Australia, Bridges inspected various military colleges including Sandhurst, Woolwich, and West Point.[16] He chose the site of the old Campbell homestead and in line with Kitchener's recommendations, Bridges largely modelled Duntroon on the United States Military Academy at West Point. He remained commandant of the college until May 1914, when he was appointed Inspector General of the Army.[12][17]

World War I[edit]

When World War I broke out, Bridges was in Queensland on an inspection tour, and returned to Melbourne on 5 August 1914. Bridges met with the cabinet and was promoted to the rank of major general and charged with the creation of an expeditionary force of 20,000 men for overseas service, known as the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). As the force was raised, Bridges convinced the government to graduate the first class of Duntroon cadets early.[18] Once the force was raised, Bridges and his command sailed from Albany, Western Australia, in late October, bound for England, where they were to undertake a period of training before being committed to the fighting on the Western Front. En route, the destination was changed from England to Egypt, where they landed on 1 December.[19] In Egypt, Bridges set to work training his troops, which were organised as the 1st Australian Division. On 25 April, as part the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, Bridges' command was among the first ashore at Anzac Cove, at the start of the Gallipoli campaign.[12]

After the initial landing, the Australian and New Zealand troops established a beachhead around Anzac Cove, but during early May a period of stalemate followed as the Turkish defenders prevented them from advancing inland. Bridges suggested withdrawing the force, but he was overruled.[12] During this time, Bridges inspected the front lines on a daily basis, despite the risks. On 15 May 1915, he was shot through the femoral artery in his right leg by a Turkish sniper. Dragged to safety, he was evacuated to the hospital ship Gascon. Infection set in but amputation was deemed impossible since he had lost so much blood.[12] On 17 May 1915, Bridges was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, although the award was not formally gazetted until 22 May.[20] He was also posthumously Mentioned in Despatches,[21] having died on board the hospital ship two days earlier.[12]
Bridges was buried in Alexandria but in June his body was returned to Melbourne where he received a state funeral.[12] Bridges is the only identified Australian killed in World War I to have their body repatriated and buried on Australian soil.[22][23] His funeral service was conducted at St Paul's Cathederal, Melbourne. He was buried on 3 September 1915 at Duntroon on the slopes of Mount Pleasant.[12]


Personal life[edit]

On 10 October 1885 Bridges married Edith Lilian Francis (1862–1926), daughter of Alfred John Dawson Francis and Margaret Agnes Anne Francis (formerly Wilson, born Green) at St John's Church, Darlinghurst, New South Wales, which was the same church in which his parents had married in 1858.[24] They had seven children, three of whom died young.[25] Bridges was survived by Edith and their four living children; one of his sons, William Francis, later followed in his footsteps, serving on the Western Front, achieving the rank of major in the AIF and receiving the Distinguished Service Order.[12] He was also survived by his horse "Sandy", the only Australian Waler horse to return from World War I due to quarantine restrictions.[23] It is not clear when Bridges met Sandy but after his death Sandy was cared for by a number of Army vets until, by order of the Minister of Defence, the horse was returned to Australia where he lived at the Remount Depot at Maribyrnong, before being put down in 1923 due to ill health.[26]

Honours, awards and decorations[edit]

Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) Awarded 1915
Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG)[27] Awarded 1909
Queen's South Africa Medal[28]
1914–15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal with palm for Mentioned in Dispatches[21]

Legacy

Sir William Throsby Bridges is memorialised by a memorial tablet in the Anglican Parish of St John the Baptist, in Canberra.[29] The tablet was unveiled on 9 December 1930, on the final Duntroon graduation day before the college temporarily moved to Victoria Barracks, in Sydney, having been paid for by subscriptions from former AIF officers.[30] His epitaph reads: "Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB CMG died on 18 May 1915 from wounds received at Gallipoli peninsula whilst in command of the Australian Imperial Force. A gallant and erudite soldier, he was the first commandant of this College, where in recognition of faithful service his remains were publicly interred on Third September 1915".[31] As an ex- Kingston cadet, Bridges' name is also listed on the Memorial Arch at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario, and he is commemorated on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and on page 566 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance.[32]


From Australian Dictionary of National Biography

Sir William Throsby Bridges (1861-1915), soldier, was born on 18 February 1861, at Greenock, Scotland, son of William Wilson Somerset Bridges, naval officer and his wife Mary Hill, née Throsby, great-niece of Charles Throsby of Moss Vale, New South Wales. He was educated at Ryde, Isle of Wight, and from 1871 at the Royal Naval School, New Cross, London. When his father retired in 1873 the family migrated to Canada, settling at Shanty Bay, Ontario, and Bridges continued his schooling at Trinity College School, Port Hope. In April 1877 he entered the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, intending to train for a commission in the British Army. Next year, however, his parents were ruined by a bank failure and left Canada to settle at Moss Vale, leaving Bridges behind. He contrived to follow them by failing his studies and left the college without completing the course, thereby becoming the first Kingston cadet discharged for academic failure. He arrived in Sydney in August 1879 and that month joined the colony's civil service as assistant inspector of roads and bridges at Braidwood; he held similar appointments at Murrurundi and Narrabri until 1885.

That year Bridges volunteered for service with the Sudan Contingent but was too late. In May he was made a lieutenant in the temporary forces raised to protect the colony in the contingent's absence, and a vacancy in the permanent artillery allowed the confirmation of his commission in August. He married Edith Lilian Francis at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, on 10 October. In 1886 he attended the first course conducted at the School of Gunnery, Middle Head, and for the next four years served on its staff, gradually acquiring a reputation as a serious student of the military art. He became a founding member of the United Service Institution of New South Wales in 1889. That year he qualified as an instructor of gunnery and on his promotion to captain in September 1890 left for England to attend several gunnery courses which he passed with distinction. He returned in February 1893 to take up dual posts as chief instructor of the School of Gunnery and the colony's artillery firemaster, holding both until March 1902. He was promoted major in September 1895. Bridges came to the notice of Major General (Sir) Edward Hutton, in command of the colony's forces, who selected him to act as secretary to three major military conferences and committees in 1893-96. These appointments ensured that, though only a comparatively junior officer, he had a sound background knowledge of defence issues.

With the outbreak of the South African War Bridges was selected for special service with the British Army and from December 1899 was attached to the cavalry division at Colesberg. He took part in the relief of Kimberley and the battles at Paardeberg and Driefontein before being evacuated to England in May 1900 with enteric fever. While convalescing in London he gave evidence before a royal commission on the care and treatment of casualties in the South African campaign. He returned to Sydney in September and resumed duty at the School of Gunnery. In March 1901 he acted as secretary to a conference of State commandants convened by Sir John Forrest to draw up a defence bill for the amalgamated colonial defence forces now under Commonwealth control. He was involved in a second conference in June to comment on proposed amendments to the draft bill and was later appointed to a committee of inquiry to gather data for the formulation of a defence policy. In August he was called to give evidence to a Commonwealth committee considering service pay and allowances.

With the appointment of Major General Hutton to command the Australian forces, Bridges's career was again advanced. In March 1902 he became assistant quarter-master general on Hutton's headquarters, one of the prime staff appointments, which gave him responsibility for military intelligence, the formulation of defence schemes and organization of the forces. In May Hutton sent him to collect information on the defences of Noumea, New Caledonia, on behalf of the War Office, a task he successfully performed. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in July. Next month Bridges was a member of a committee convened by the minister for defence to consider alternatives to the system of command of the military forces, and on 12 January 1905 he became chief of intelligence on the first military board of administration, which followed Hutton's return to England. He also became entitled to a seat on the five-man Council of Defence intended to settle policy and co-ordinate the naval and military boards. From the first meeting of the council in March 1905 Bridges came into sharp conflict with the director of the naval forces, Captain (Sir) William Creswell, over the proposal to form an Australian navy. Bridges opposed the concept, mainly because he believed a local navy would duplicate a task which could be done more effectively by the Royal Navy, but also because Creswell's scheme could seemingly only be funded by disbanding the major part of the military forces. His differences with Creswell extended into an acrimonious conflict over the question of control of procedures to establish the identity of all vessels entering Australian ports in war-time, a dispute which Bridges lost in June 1908.

On the military board he became a relentless advocate of efficiency within the forces. From early 1905 he urged it to pay at least as much attention to ensuring that Australia had properly trained officers as to acquiring war matériel. In 1906 Bridges was prominent in the establishment of a department of military science at the University of Sydney to qualify graduates for commissions in the militia forces—although he held that the 'proposed Courses of Instruction would not form a substitute for a Military College'—and he remained associated with the department until 1909. While working on the defence schemes Bridges realized the necessity of learning from the experience of other countries in mobilizing military forces, and induced the minister for defence to send him to the 1906 Swiss manoeuvres. His impending departure in January was seized upon by Prime Minister Deakin as an opportunity to refer the question of Australian defence to the Committee of Imperial Defence in London. Deakin directed Bridges to assist the committee but expressly restricted him to furnishing information and not opinions. Although Deakin recognized Bridges as 'the ablest of our Imperial officers' he also viewed him as being 'imperfectly in sympathy' with certain nationalist aims.

Bridges was promoted colonel in October 1906 and on returning to Australia next January came into conflict with the new minister for defence (Sir) Thomas Ewing, who insisted on the immediate implementation of a scheme for the protection of vital areas of Australia. Bridges argued that such a scheme was worthless unless a general staff was established to plan the work involved. Further differences developed in October when his report on the Swiss military system was used by the government as evidence that Australia needed compulsory military training, a proposal which Bridges privately deplored. In December he was successful in founding an intelligence corps and this body became the forerunner of a general staff.

Bridges had long had a hobby of canoeing, which he pursued frequently in these years on the Yarra River. In January 1908 he fulfilled a long-standing ambition by navigating the rapids of the Snowy River from near Dalgety, New South Wales, to near Buchan, Victoria—an astonishing voyage of nearly 200 miles (322 km), accomplished with three friends in two canoes.

Bridges's attempts to improve the efficiency of the forces also brought him into conflict with the inspector general, Major General (Sir) John Hoad. Long-standing antipathy between the two was compounded by Bridges's appointment as first chief of the Australian general staff in January 1909, during Hoad's absence in London. Bridges remained in the post less than five months, however, having been selected to attend the Imperial Conference that year. On his departure he was promised that he would be reappointed C.G.S. on his return, and the minister for defence agreed to put this in writing. After the conference he became Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in London and was appointed C.M.G. in July. Queries were soon raised as to why he was at the War Office and whether his duties were those of observer or exchange officer. Bridges insisted that his proper function was to act as official representative, but his efforts to have his view accepted were cut short in January 1910 when he was recalled to found Australia's military college. At first he attempted to decline the post of college commandant but, on Defence Minister (Sir) Joseph Cook's insistence, accepted and arrived back in Australia in May, having visited military schools in England, America and Canada. On taking up his new appointment he was promoted brigadier general.

Following a recommendation to the government by Lord Kitchener, Bridges began establishing the college along the lines of the United States Military Academy, West Point. His personal impact was evident, however, in nearly every aspect of the college, from its location at Duntroon in the Federal Capital Territory to its organization and routine. It opened on 27 June 1911, and Bridges remained commandant until May 1914, by which time its reputation was firmly established. He left the college to assume the Australian Army's senior appointment as inspector general.

After the declaration of war Bridges was instructed by the government to raise an Australian contingent for service in Europe. His determination that the troops would fight as an entity instead of being fragmented among British formations did much to satisfy nationalist sentiment and set a precedent retained throughout the war. Despite his suggestion that command of the Australian Imperial Force (a name he chose himself) be entrusted to Hutton, Bridges was appointed commander, with the rank of major general, in August.

On arrival in Egypt in December, Bridges began a heavy programme of training for his division. Disciplinary problems with high-spirited troops were, in part, a reaction to the detailed training on which Bridges insisted, though the thoroughness of the training was essential preparation for the untried Australians. In the Gallipoli landing in April 1915 his division was first ashore on Anzac Cove. At the end of the first day Bridges and Major General Godley, commanding the New Zealanders, were convinced that disaster would follow next day and proposed taking the force off the beach. The suggestion was overruled and the Allied forces began consolidating the position.

In the following weeks Bridges became well known to his troops for the first time, through his daily inspections of the firing line; during these he showed great disregard for his personal safety. On the morning of 15 May he was shot by a sniper in Monash Valley and both artery and femoral vein in his right thigh were severed. He was evacuated to the hospital ship Gascon but his condition was such that doctors decided against operating to remove his leg. The wound became gangrenous and he died en route to hospital in Egypt on 18 May. He had been appointed K.C.B. the previous day. His remains were interred at Alexandria but in June it was decided to return the body to Australia for burial. After a memorial service in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 2 September, and a funeral procession through the city, his body was transferred to Canberra and reburied overlooking the Royal Military College. He was survived by two sons and two daughters; Lady Bridges died in 1926. His portrait, painted in 1919 by Florence Rodway, is in the New South Wales Art Gallery; copies hang in the Australian War Memorial collection and in the Royal Military College, Duntroon. His second son William Francis Noel (1890-1942) served with the A.I.F. at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, reaching the rank of major. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918.

Bridges's career was essentially that of an able staff officer who had had few opportunities to command troops before being placed at the head of a division. A shy and sensitive man, he attempted to mask himself behind an aloof, diffident and sometimes rude manner. He was not therefore a popular commander, though his personal courage was respected. Well-read in his profession, motivated by high ideals and possessed of uncompromising standards, he made many enemies, yet all he undertook was stamped with efficiency and success. His death early in the war caused his career and achievements to slip from public view, but he can rightfully be regarded as Australia's first notable general.
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