Historical associations with the Great War can be found in many unexpected places. On a hill near the NSW city of Queanbeyan, and not far from Canberra Airport, is a memorial dedicated to the memory of several distinguished Australians killed when an aeroplane carrying three Federal Ministers bound for a cabinet meeting – Sir Henry Gullet, James Fairburn and Geoffrey Street – crashed on approach to Canberra on 13 August 1940. It was a time of new national crisis, and the disaster was a body-blow to the war effort. Australia could ill afford to lose such experienced and capable men.
It is not immediately apparent that this site has any particular relevance to or association with the Great War. However, it has a direct connection to one of the twin pillars of the founding of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).
One of those killed in the crash was General Sir Cyril Brudenell Bingham White.
In life, according to Charles Bean, who wrote the official history of Australia’s part in the Great War, White was one of two formidable Australians who were ‘each [an] outstanding servant of [their] country and ‘inseparably allied in their greatest achievement, the creation of the AIF’ – the other being Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges. White had a very long and illustrious career and saw distinguished service in the Great War. After the war White continued to serve his country. He was recalled to duty as Chief of the General Staff and, at 63, was promoted to the rank of General. The cause of the crash is unclear.
Bean called White ‘the greatest man I have known’.
Across the valley, virtually on the next hill to the west, is the tomb of Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges. Bridges was the only Australian soldier whose body was returned to Australia for burial until return of the Unknown Soldier in 1993. Bridges’ grave and the Air Disaster Memorial are both accessible from the Queanbeyan road just past the Canberra Airport, and might form part of any visit to places of significance linked to the ‘creators of the AIF’.
Visitors to the Air Disaster Memorial follow a well maintained walking path for 3.2 km, mostly a moderate uphill climb, to reach the memorial site. The round trip takes about 1.5 hours.
CEW Bean, Two Men I Knew: William Bridges and Brudenell White, Founders of the AIF, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1957
CD Coulthard-Clark, A Heritage of Spirit: A Biography of Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB, CMG, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1979
Australian Dictionary of Biography references:
Cyril Brudenell White: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-sir-cyril-brudenell-1032
James Valentine Fairbairn: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fairbairn-james-valentine-jim-364
Henry Somer Gullett: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gullett-sir-henry-somer-harry-448
Geoffrey Austin Street: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/street-geoffrey-austin-946