Who's Who - Sir William Bridges

Sir William Throsby Bridges (1861-1915) served with Australian forces during World War One, and was the first Australian to reach General rank.  He was also the first Australian General to be killed during the war, at Gallipoli on 18 May 1915.

Born on 18 February 1861 at Greenock in Scotland the son of a Royal Navy captain, Bridges was educated at Ryde, the Royal Navy School in London and at Trinity College in Ontario.

Although he entered Kingston's Royal Military College in 1877 he dropped out two years later to rejoin his family who had settled in Moss Vale, New South Wales.  He took up employment there with the Department of Roads and Bridges.

His military career was far from over however; six years later, in 1886, he received a commission into the New South Wales Permanent Artillery whereupon he was stationed at Middle Head.  He was subsequently sent for training to Britain at Woolwich (the Royal Military Academy) and at Shoeburyness (the Royal School of Gunnery).

Having served during the South African War of 1899-1902 with Sir John French (later Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914-15) he was evacuated to England in May 1900 suffering from typhoid, returning to Australia in September that same year.

Rapid progress followed.  In relatively short order he served as Assistant Quartermaster-General and Chief of Military Intelligence before being appointed Chief of the General Staff on 1 January 1909, where he concerned himself with Imperial Cooperation as a firm believer in the Imperial ideal.

April 1909 brought Bridges to England once more.  Leaving his post as CGS he became the first Australian representative on Britain's Imperial General Staff.

His return to Australia the following year brought Bridges an appointment as the first Commandant of the Royal Military College sited at Duntroon, holding the rank of Brigadier-General: the first Australian to reach General rank.

Three months before the First World War began, in May 1914, Bridges was appointed to the Army's top post, that of Inspector General.  Arriving in Melbourne the day after war was declared, on 5 August, he was given responsibility for the creation of an Australian Imperial Force comprised of 20,000 men.

Organised as a single infantry division (1st Division) and a light horse brigade, Bridges was appointed its commander, simultaneously receiving a promotion to Major-General.

His command, after a delay of a month, finally sailed from Albany, Western Australia on 26 October 1914, destined for England.  In the event the AIF sailed instead to Egypt and from there on to Gallipoli, disembarking at Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915.

The Turks launched an immediate attempt to force the Australians back into the sea, providing a baptism of fire for the newly arrived force.  Bridges was obliged on 6 May to move his headquarters further back after the Turks succeeded in shelling it.

Regarded as something of a cold man and generally disliked by his own staff, he was nevertheless much admired for his fearless courage, daily touring the front lines while under heavy fire.

It was while touring the lines on 15 May 1915 that Bridges was shot through the femoral artery by a Turkish sniper.  Dragged to safety he was evacuated to the hospital ship Gascon three days later.  Infection set in and a leg amputation appeared called for; however he had lost so much blood that this was deemed impossible.

Made aware of Bridge's imminent death, King George V knighted him on 17 May, the first Australian General to receive a knighthood.  He died the following day.  Bridges was afforded a state funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne and buried on 3 September.

Buried at RMC Duntroon in Canberra, members of the Corps of Staff Cadets attend a service in his honour each year early on the morning of 25 April.

French tanks were used for the first time in battle on 17 April 1917, when the 'Char Schneider' (as they were known) was used during the Second Battle of the Aisne.

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