Major General William Bridges, the first commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon and the first commander of the Australian Imperial Forces, was killed by a sniper early in the WWI Gallipoli campaign.
Bridges was born on 18 February 1861 at Greenock, Scotland. Having failed to graduate from the Royal Military College in Canada he came to Australia in 1879 and joined the civil service. In 1885 he entered the military where he had a meteoric rise through the ranks and became the first chief of the Australian General Staff in January 1909. Within a year Bridges became the Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in London but was almost immediately recalled to Australia to found Australia’s first military college. He was promoted to brigadier general and the college, Duntroon, opened in June 1911. Bridges retained this post until his appointment as Inspector General of the Australian Army in May 1914 – the army’s top post.
When the First World War began Bridges was given the task of raising an Australian contingent for service in Europe – he named it the Australian Imperial Force and was appointed its commander. Bridges’ division was the first ashore at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
Bridges was not a man to get the best out of his subordinates and he was disliked by most of his staff. Yet he did share the hardships of his men, and made a point of daily excursions on which he routinely ignored enemy fire and constantly exposed himself to danger. On 15 May 1915 a sniper’s bullet severed his femoral artery and he died three days later on board a hospital ship.
Bridges was made a Knight Companion of the Bath (KCB) by the King the day before he died, becoming the first Australian general to earn a knighthood. His body was returned to Australia, one of only two dead Australian soldiers to return home (the other being The Unknown Soldier entombed at the Australian War Memorial). Bridges was given a state funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne and buried on 3 September 1915 on the slopes of Mount Pleasant, in a grave designed by the architect of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin.
The two Aleppo pine trees close to the grave are progeny of the famous ‘Lone Pine’ from Gallipoli and were planted here in 1993 in honour of 71 Royal Military College graduates who served at Gallipoli.
Close to Bridges’ grave is a memorial to his horse, Sandy, the only horse to return to Australia from 169,000 that left for WWI. While a lot of these horses died in the War many survived and found new homes in post War Europe. Sandy’s head and neck were mounted and became part of the Australian War Memorial collection though it is not currently on display there but rather in a storage facility in the suburb or Mitchell which I visited a couple of years ago on an annual open day.
Bridges grave is located on the left hand side of General Bridges Drive as it leads to the top of Mt Pleasant. Do stop for a minute on your way up to the Mt Pleasant lookout and the Royal Australian Artillery Memorial.
(The attached picture is a Wikipedia open source picture and will be replaced by my own photos when I get a chance to find them!)
Address: General Bridges Drive off Fairbairn Av, Duntroon
Directions: Within the grounds of the Royal Military College