General Bridges Grave is the final resting place of Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges, the first Commandant of Australia's first Military College. Bridges established Australia's Royal Military College at Duntroon in 1910, and served in Gallipoli during World War 1. The grave was designed by Walter Burley Griffin in 1916, and was completed in 1920. It is the only permanent structure designed by Griffin in Canberra, and one of only two tombs in Australia of World War I soldiers who were exhumed overseas and repatriated to Australia.
Why is this place important?
General Bridges' Grave is important as a memorial and final resting place of Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges, the first Commandant of Australia's first Military College. Bridges established Australia's Royal Military College at Duntroon in 1910, a site he selected and planned. As Major General, Bridges was commander of the Australian Imperial Force, which landed at Gallipoli in April 1915. On the morning of 15 May 1915, Bridges was mortally wounded. He died en route to Egypt aboard the hospital ship Gascon, on 18 May 1915.
The Memorial Grave was designed by the architect, Walter Burley Griffin, in consultation with Bridges' widow, Lady Edith Bridges, in 1916. Completed in 1920, it is the only example of a permanent structure designed by Griffin in Canberra. It is also one of only two tombs in Australia of World War I soldiers who were exhumed overseas and repatriated to Australia. The repatriation of General Bridges was highly unusual at the time, and preluded a shift in attitudes in commemoration and repatriation of war dead. The Memorial Grave is also important for its symbolic, cultural and social associations as part of the landscape setting of Duntroon and the history of Australia's defence forces. Aesthetically, the Grave is a simple and dignified memorial, enhanced by the use of rosemary and pencil pines that are symbolically associated with remembrance.
Looking at General Bridges' Grave
General Bridges' Grave is of a simple tiered design. The unassuming and modest nature of the site reflects its purpose as a place of remembrance and appreciation. The formal, symmetrical layout of the site is also reflective of the ceremonial nature and formality of the military college it overlooks.
The Grave consists of rusticated blocks that support a highly polished granite gravestone. The gravestone is cut in the form of a low truncated pyramid. A bronze sword is mounted on a narrow dressed bed that sits on the main gravestone.
Gold writing is engraved along the length of both sides of the gravestone:
Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges KCB CMG died on 18th May 1915 from wounds received at Gallipoli Peninsula whilst in command of the Australian Imperial Forces.
A gallant and erudite soldier, he was the first commandant of this college, where in recognition of faithful service his remains were publicly interred on third September 1915.
The grave is bordered by raised kerbed wall of a single course of ashlar laid four-square. The surface is covered by loose variegated gravel. Four pencil pine trees (Cyressus sempervirens) planted in each corner, that symbolise remembrance
General Bridges' Grave is set within an elevated clearing on the eastern hillside of Mount Pleasant. The Grave was located to provide significant views of RMC Duntroon from the slopes of Mount Pleasant, a symbolic location for the college's first commandant to oversee the site.
The surrounding area is thick with established native vegetation, with the exception of the slope to the southwest of the Grave where two commemorative Aleppo Pines (propagated from the famous Gallipoli 'Lone Pine') were planted in 1993. There is a plaque noting that the pines were planted to acknowledge the service of 71 graduates from RMC Duntroon who served at Gallipoli. 19 of the graduates were killed during the campaign.
At the entry to the east of the site, a grove of commemorative eucalypts were planted and are marked with a sign:
The Bridges ANZAC Grove. The Grove Commemorates the 75th anniversary of the landing by the Australian imperial force on the Gallipoli Peninsula 25 April 1915 and the 1990 remembrance pilgrimage. Weeping gums provided by Greening Australia as part of the one billion trees program.
General Bridges' Grave is located at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Grave is accessed via slip-road exit to the south of General Bridges Drive and the wide bitumen driveway/carpark leads directly to the eastern perimeter of the fenced Grave site.
General Bridges' Grave RMC Duntroon Heritage Management Plan (2012). Prepared by Godden Mackay Logan for the National Capital Authority.
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Major General Bridges Early Military Life
Sir William Throsby Bridges was born 18 February 1861 in Greenock, Scotland, to William Wilson Somerset Bridges (a Royal Navy captain) and Mary Hill Throsby. His family later migrated to Canada where Bridges joined the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario, from 1877ñ9. Although he was a good student, he became unsettled and began failing his courses after his family migrated to Australia. Commandant Hewett of the Royal Military College of Canada asked his father to pay a $100 fine to withdraw his son. This ex-cadet was the first recorded dropout at the College.
In 1879, he joined his family who had settled in his mother's home town of Moss Vale, NSW, and subsequently took a position in Sydney in the civil service. The Throsby Family of the renowned Throsby Park in Moss Vale were well known figures in the early settlement of the areas between Sydney and the Limestone Plains. By 1885 Bridges returned to the military, and after volunteering too late for a position with the Sudan Contingent he was appointed a Lieutenant in the temporary forces raised to protect the colony in their absence. Shortly after, he took a permanent commission in the artillery and in October 1985 he married Edith Lilian Francis.
Bridges attended the first course at the School of Gunnery in Sydney in 1886 and served on its staff for the next 4 years. He was a founding member of the United Service Institution of New South Wales in 1889 and qualified as an instructor of gunnery. The following year he was promoted to Captain and returned to England to attend gunnery courses. He returned in 1893 and held the posts of Chief Instructor at the School of Gunnery and the colony's Artillery Firemaster until 1902 and was promoted to the rank of Major in 1895. Bridges was selected for special service with the British Army during the South African War where he was evacuated to England in 1900 with enteric fever (typhoid), after which he returned to Australia and to his post at the School of Gunnery.
Major General Hutton was in command of the colony's forces and had selected Bridges to act as secretary for major military conferences and committees during 1893ñ96. Bridges was also involved in a later conference of State commandants, to draw up a defence bill for the amalgamated colonial defence forces, which were now under Commonwealth control. In March 1902, Bridges was appointed the prime position of assistant quarter-master general on Hutton's headquarters, giving him responsibility for military intelligence, formulation of defence schemes and organisation of forces. Just 4 months later in July, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel. Bridges became a member of a committee convened by the Minister of Defence to establish an alternative system of command of the military forces, and in 1905 he became Chief Intelligence Officer on Australia's first Military Board of Administration.
In October 1906, Bridges was promoted to colonel and was a strong advocate of the establishment of a general staff to oversee and improve military efficiency. He was also prominent in the founding of a military science department at the University of Sydney to qualify graduates for commissions in the militia forces. However, he believed that the courses would not provide a substitute for a Military College. He was appointed as the first chief of the Australian general staff in January 1909 and within a year became the Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in London. That year he was also appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG).
Establishing Australia's First Military College
Colonel Bridges was recalled from England with the task of founding Australia's first military college in January 1910. Prior to his return, Bridges visited and reported on military schools in England, America and Canada. As the first Commandant of the Royal Military College of Australia, with the rank of Brigadier General, Bridges was responsible for the development of a new college, from the choice of location at Duntroon in the Federal Capital Territory, to its organisation and routine Bridges remained at the college until May 1914 and was granted the senior appointment of Inspector General of the Australian Army.
World War I and the Gallipoli Campaign
At the outbreak of World War I, Inspector General Bridges was instructed by the government to raise an Australian contingent for service in Europe. Bridges was appointed commander of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), a name he chose himself, with the rank of Major General, in August 1914.
After four and a half months of training near Cairo, Egypt, the Australians, along with troops from New Zealand, Britain and France, departed by ship for the Gallipoli Peninsula. They landed at what is now known as ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915. Bridges and the Commander of the New Zealand forces were convinced that disaster was imminent and argued for immediate evacuation. However, the force stayed and Bridges began his daily routine inspections of the firing line. While he was regarded as something of a cold man and generally disliked by his own staff, he was nevertheless much admired for his fearless courage and daily touring of the front lines while under heavy fire.
The Turkish forces launched a brutal attack at Gallipoli in an attempt to force the Australians back to sea and on 6 May 1915, Bridges was obliged to move his headquarters further back after it was shelled. While touring the lines on 15 May 1915, Bridges was shot through the right thigh, hitting his femoral artery by a Turkish sniper. He was subsequently evacuated to the hospital ship Gascon. Infection set in a short time later, and a leg amputation appeared called for. He had however lost so much blood that this was deemed impossible by the Ship's doctors. King George V knighted Bridges on 17 May 1915 upon hearing of his condition, before the gangrenous wound worsened and he died aboard the ship en route to Egypt on the 18 May 1915.
The morning after Bridges' death, Gascon arrived in Alexandria and his funeral was conducted in the military cemetery that afternoon. Four other soldiers were also buried at the same time, and many distinguished British and Australian soldiers and officials assembled to pay their respects.
Repatriation of General Bridges to Australia
In June 1915, the prospect of repatriating the body of Major General Sir William Bridges and returning him to Australia was raised in Parliament. There is little solid information indicating why this decision was made, but the intention was that he was to be buried in the grounds of Duntroon and that it was done with the approval of his widow, Lady Bridges. The exhumation of Bridges was undertaken in July 1915 and his remains were transferred into a new, lead-lined coffin and packed into a wooden case for transportation to Australia.
The coffin arrived in Melbourne on 1 September 1915, followed by a State memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral and a funeral procession through the city on 2 September 1915. Thousands of men and women crowded the streets to watch the funeral procession, gathering to mourn for Bridges and to express their own grief over the casualties of war.
His body was subsequently transferred to Canberra where it lay in state at St John's Church in Reid. On the afternoon of 3 September 1915, Bridges was reburied on the slopes of Mount Pleasant overlooking RMC Duntroon.
The following description of the funeral procession to the site is given by Major General Hopkins, a graduate of RMC Duntroon of 31 December 1917. He was Instructor in Cavalry and Riding, and Officer Commanding B Company in 1926, as well as Commandant of the College from 1951 to 1954.
This [funeral] took place on September the 3rd, 1915 when only Third and Fourth Classes were available. The Third Class provided a small guard over the Catafalque for the brief Lying-in-State in St John's Church and the Corps of Staff Cadets - all that were available from both Classes - formed the escort as the coffin was borne on a gun carriage to the gravesite on a crest of the ridge over-looking the College. We, the Corps, had practised the unusual slow march which started and finished the road journey between St John's and Mt Pleasant and the drill movements 'Reverse Arms' and 'Rest on your Arms Reversed'.
We, the escort, were formed up outside the Church. Every notable figure in Australian political and Service life was present watching our every move. Drums of the Band were draped in black. The General's horse, the only horse taken to war ever to return, stood behind the gun carriage with the General's boots reversed in the stirrups [note that this account does not correspond with historical dates of Sandy's return to Australia and therefore may have been another horse to represent Sandy]. We presented arms as the coffin was placed on the gun carriage then, with 'Arms Reversed', began the slow march of the funeral procession away from the Church. The Band, I seem to remember, played 'The Dead March From Saul'. I found the music to be the most harrowing part of a really awesome experience. The solemnity of the slow march coupled with the muffled drums and a heartbreaking rendition of the saddest music ever written was certainly my abiding memory from this eventful day. The cortege slowly marched along the unpaved road for three or four hundred yards and then broke into quick time for the mile or so more to Duntroon. The day was ideal and there was little dust as we marched over the spur to Mt Ainslie and proceeded to the College grounds. We entered the Yass Gate, later to be called the Gun Gate. Here we began the steepish track through the trees and up the ridge to the grave-site. Once again the funeral music tore our heart strings. The track was lined with spectators but one was concentrating as never before in maintaining a correct and even slow march on this, by no means smooth, track up the hill. I have no recollection of the sermon or the Service, only that we presented arms when the guns (I think they were doing it on the Parade Ground), began to fire a 13-gun salute.
Bridges was one of only two Australian soldiers killed during WWI to have been repatriated to Australia, the other being the Unknown Soldier, who was exhumed from France and buried in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in 1993.
The Duntroon Estate and the Royal Military College
The Campbell Family and the Duntroon Estate
In 1825, the wealthy Sydney merchant importer and warehouse owner, Robert Campbell, was awarded a land grant of 4,000 acres on the Limestone Plains (currently Canberra). In 1830, Campbell orgnanised the construction of a homestead called 'Limestone Cottage', and later renamed as 'Duntroon'. It was built using local stone by convict and free labour, and completed in 1833.
Campbell had his shepherd and overseer, James Ainslie, manage the estate while he remained in Sydney. In 835, Charles Campbell, Robert's third son, became the manager of the estate. Robert Campbell eventually retired in Duntroon in 1843 and died there in 1846. The estate passed to his fourth son George, who came to live at Duntroon with his wife Marianne in 1854. It was George and Marianne who renamed the estate 'Duntroon'.
George and Marianne Campbell remained at the property until 1876, when they moved to England. George Campbell died in 1881 and Marianne returned to live at Duntroon until her death in 1903. The contents of the estate were sold, and the property was left vacant until it was acquired by the Australian government following the selection of Canberra as the national capital.
Establishment of the Royal Military College
The history of the Royal Military College (RMC) started with the Federation of the Australian colonies in January 1901, and the recommendation by the first commander of the Australian Military Forces in April 1902 that a military college be developed to serve the new country.
The Defence Act of 1903 provided the legislative basis for the new college. The Australian Government instructed Colonel William Throsby Bridges to investigate overseas examples and then establish the Australian college. On 30 May 1910, he was appointed the first Royal Military College Commandant with the rank of Brigadier General.
In July 1910, Duntroon was selected as the site of the college. It was officially opened on 27 June 1911. In 1912, additional lands were added to the original military acquisition.