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Bridges, Sir William Throsby (1861–1915)

from Sun (Sydney)

William Bridges, by Alice Mills, n.d.

William Bridges, by Alice Mills, n.d.

Australian War Memorial, A02867

Even those who during the late Major-General Bridges's 30 years connection with Australia's defence forces were alienated by his cold, metallic, professional personality feel to-day that his death is a bitter loss to our expeditionary forces. He was unquestionably the most capable of our senior officers.

A thorough student, equipped with strong executive faculties, he was regarded more as the military organiser than the fighting man. But that he had the martial qualities of heart as well as head he showed when occasion gave the opportunity–never better, perhaps, than when in face of death, this week, he was, as General Hamilton cabled, "quite cheery."

General Bridges belonged to the Kitchener school of men in manners as well as methods. He sacrificed sympathy for efficiency. He never obtained strong personal loyalty from his associates, but the efficiency of his work commanded their admiration and secured their best efforts. When General Bridges got to Egypt he found a "Kitchener man" of a different type–General Birdwood, the bright, communicative, sympathetic, little man, selected by Kitchener as comrade for many of his most difficult days. The two generals found common ground in their genuine admiration of each other's methods, and General Birdwood selected the Australian leader as second in command of the Australasian Army Corps. If the Turkish shell had got the Indian Army officer instead of the Australian, General Bridges would have succeeded to the control of the difficult operations at Gaba Tepe.

A Canadian by birth, William Throsby Bridges came to Sydney as a youth of 20. He was a typical Canuck–tall, slim, angular, and tough-muscled. He had university qualifications as a surveyor and engineer, and followed this profession until in 1885 he joined the New South Wales permanent forces as a lieutenant of engineers. His military advancement was astonishingly rapid. He was captain by the age of 29, major at 32, lieutenant-colonel at 41. Before Federation he had risen to be chief staff officer to Major-General Sir Edward Hutton, G.O.C. of the New South Wales forces. Within 10 years of Federation he had gone from chief instructor and firemaster at the School of Gunnery to assistant-quartermaster-general at Federal headquarters, chief of intelligence with a seat on the Military Board, chief of the general staff, and special representative on the Imperial General Staff in London, and he had organised and founded the Royal Military College at Duntroon. For this work he was sent, after Lord Kitchener's visit, on a tour of the world, during which he made a special study of military teaching methods. Various Governments gave Colonel Bridges, as he was until 1910, a free hand in all matters connected with the founding of Australia's military school. His report on American academies–especially that section dealing with the West Point School, on which Duntroon was largely modelled–was of such value that the Imperial General Staff had it printed for private circulation. When he took up the duties of first commandant of the Duntroon establishment Colonel Bridges was specially promoted to be brigadier-general, and became the only general in the Australian permanent defence forces.

If he had not eclipsed all previous work by his leadership in the first-class feat of arms at Gallipoli, General Bridges would still occupy a distinguished place in our military annals, because of the fine type of young officer he has produced at Duntroon. The Duntroon type is the admiration of other Australian scholastic establishments and of all Australian cities. It has proved itself in Egypt and the Dardanelles, where casualties amongst these Duntroon establishments have unfortunately been heavy.

When war came all defence ideas in Australia had to be changed. We had been arming ourselves, under Kitchener's and Hamilton's advice, for a different kind of war–for a purely defensive war. General Bridges, senior military officer in Australia, had just taken up new work as Inspector-general, a position to which a nominee of Lord Kitchener, Major-General Kirkpatrick, another Canadian, had been appointed at the inception of the Kitchener scheme. The Cook Government, which was then in power, showed its confidence in General Bridges by giving him the increased salary of £1500 a year, and increased powers as Inspector-general. The ex-New South Wales staff officer was to be, in practice if not in name, the general officer-commanding Australia's 60,000 citizen forces. General Bridges had not completed his first brigade inspection when he was called upon to organise and command the first expeditionary force of 20,000 men, a position subsequently enlarged to that of general officer-commanding the Australian troops on foreign service. In this task General Bridges displayed more than ever those cold, firm, mathematical qualities of head that had for many years made the saying, "Bridges has brains," a frequent comment throughout the service. In his work with the expeditionary forces he was greatly assisted by his experiences in South Africa, where he commanded a battalion in many engagements, including Paardeburg and Dreifonteln.

General Bridges died at sea, while being taken to a base hospital from Gallipoli, on 18th inst.— within one day of completing his thirtieth year of service in the Australian Army. He was 64 years old, and left a widow, to whom the news of his death was conveyed by Lady Helen Munro Ferguson. Two of his sons are at the front, one as a private with the Australians, the other as a commissioned officer in an East Indies volunteer regiment.

Colonel Legge, who succeeds Major-General Bridges, is in many ways his antithesis–a super-sensitive, communicative officer, with a dash of dare-devilry. He was a Sydney barrister before he joined General Bridges on General Hutton's staff.

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Citation details

'Bridges, Sir William Throsby (1861–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bridges-sir-william-throsby-5355/text35160, accessed 20 September 2019.

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