Many – perhaps most – people who come to Canberra visit the Australian War Memorial, but there are other significant sites in the capital associated with the Great War. One of these is the grave of the first commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Until the burial of Australia’s Unknown Soldier in Canberra in 1993, Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges was the only soldier to die on military service overseas whose body was returned to Australia.
Born in Scotland, Bridges’ military training started in Canada, before he migrated to Australia in 1879. He settled in Braidwood as an inspector of roads and bridges. After gunnery training in Sydney he commenced an unbroken career as a soldier. On the declaration of war in 1914, Bridges was given the task of raising an Australian force for service overseas – the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). On 15 May 1915, in command of the First Australian Division and less than three weeks after the Gallipoli landings, he was wounded in the femoral artery while walking through Monash Gully. He died of gangrene while being transported to Egypt. Among his final words were: ‘Anyway, I have commanded an Australian division for nine months’.
First buried at Alexandria in Egypt, Bridges’ body was returned to Australia for a state funeral held at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, followed by a procession through the city that included his horse, Sandy, brought home for the occasion. The General’s body was then taken to Canberra by train, lay briefly at St John’s Anglican Church in Reid, and was then buried on Mt Pleasant, overlooking the Royal Military College, which he had established in 1910. Eventually a granite memorial designed by Walter Burley Griffin, architect of the national capital, was placed over the grave. Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian of the war, wrote that Bridges and Lieutenant General Cyril Brudenell White would be ‘inseparably allied in their greatest achievement, the creation of the AIF’. A visitor to the grave on Mt Pleasant can look eastward to another hill where White, who survived the Great War, would die in a plane crash twenty-five years later.
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:
William Throsby Bridges: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bridges-sir-william-throsby-5355
Cyril Brudenell White: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/white-sir-cyril-brudenell-1032
Film & Sound
Early film footage of Bridges’ funeral procession in Melbourne, including Sandy, his horse, repatriated especially for the procession: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/F00134/