BRIDGES, Sir William Throsby (1861-1915)

BRIDGES, Sir William Throsby (1861-1915)
was born at Greenock, Scotland, on 18 February 1861. His father, who was a captain in the royal navy, came of an Essex family, his mother was an Australian, the daughter of Charles Throsby of Moss Vale, New South Wales. The boy was educated in the Isle of Wight and afterwards at the royal naval school at Greenwich, and at the Canadian military college at Kingston, where he graduated. His father having left Canada to go to Australia, Bridges followed him and obtained a position in the New South Wales roads and bridges department. In 1885 he was given a commission in the permanent artillery, and was placed in charge of the Middle Head fort at Sydney where he continued to study his profession. He served as a major of artillery in the South African war, and was in several actions before being invalided to Australia, following typhoid. He became chief of intelligence in 1905, was promoted colonel in 1906, and visited Canada and Europe on military duty. He was appointed chief of the general staff at headquarters and Commonwealth representative on the Imperial general staff in London in 1909. In the following year Kitchener reported on a system of defence for Australia, and recommended that a military college should be established. A site for it was found at Duntroon, Federal Territory, Bridges was placed in charge with the rank of brigadier-general, and after he had visited the leading military colleges in Europe, the college was opened in 1911. In less than four years he made it one of the finest military colleges in the world (The Times, 24 May 1915). He was devoted to it, watching every detail and yet keeping the general lines of the organization firm and true.
When the 1914-18 war broke out Bridges, who was then inspector-general of the Commonwealth military forces, was given the command of the 1st Australian division with the rank of major-general. He got together a magnificent staff; no fewer than 11 of its members were generals before the end of the war. The transports left Australia on 1 November 1914 and arrived at Port Said almost exactly a month later. The formation of the Australian and New Zealand forces into an army corps under Major-general Birdwood began at once, with Bridges as commander of the Australian Imperial Forces, and training was carried on steadily in the desert near Cairo. In April 1915 the troops sailed for Gallipoli and at the landing on 25 April, Bridges himself went ashore early in the day and made his headquarters in a gully. There was much confusion, plans had been altered, it was difficult to get in touch with commanders, and when this was achieved there was a constant demand for reinforcements. Bridges remained cool, apportioned his reserves where they seemed most needed, and resisted the views that began to be advanced that the wisest course would be to evacuate the troops. But the weight of opinion grew so great that he asked General Birdwood to come ashore for a conference. Birdwood was as little inclined to take this course as Bridges, but the matter was referred to Sir Ian Hamilton, who decided that the troops must dig in and hold on. This was done, and in the following days Bridges paid particular attention to the question of bringing Australian artillery fire on the Turkish position. It was, however, found almost impossible to do this effectively. On 15 May, while visiting a section where much sniping was prevalent, Bridges was severely wounded in the thigh by a bullet. He was taken to a hospital ship, and died on 18 May 1915 (Off. Hist. of Aust. in the War, vol. I, p. 22). He married Edith Lilian, daughter of D. Francis, who survived him. He had no children. He was created C.M.G. in 1909 and was gazetted K.C.B. the day before his death.
Bridges was a tall, loosely-built man, a great student, with an inexorable sense of discipline and much driving force. He was fearless and expected others to be fearless too, he did not like opposition, he could not easily unbend, and he never sought publicity. A few men found that he could be a good companion and friend, but in general he was more admired than loved by both officers and men. He was a great soldier, and had he survived might possibly have proved himself the greatest Australian soldier of his time.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May 1915; The Times, 24 May 1915; C. E. W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18, vols. I and II; Journal of the Royal Military College of Australia, August 1915; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1915.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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