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Thursday, 20 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - Before we proceed with the business, I ask the permission of the Senate to make a statement in connexion with the wounding of Major-General Bridges, and the loss of the submarine ASS.

Leave granted.

Senator PEARCE - The following is a copy of a cablegram, from the Admiralty, dated the 18th May, and received here on the 19th May:-

No communication having been received from submarine AE2 since 26th April, her loss must be presumed. From a report received through diplomatic channels at Athens it would appear that three officers and seventeen men were taken prisoners out of a total of' three officers and twenty-eight men. Every effort is being made to ascertain further . particulars' of the survivors.

Board of Admiralty desire to record their deep regretat the loss of this vessel with so many of her gallant crew, after a memorable feat of arms, and congratulate the Commonwealth on the high qualities of their officers and seamen.

I am sure that honorable senators share the sentiments of that message. Since the Commonwealth took her over, this little vessel, I may say, has steamed no less than 30,000 miles, which is a record for a vessel of that type, and has done very valuable service. There is no doubt that the operation in which she was lost was of a very daring character, and we will await further particulars as regards that. I regret tohave to announce that the Government have been informed by cablegram that Major-General Bridges, the . Officer Commanding the First Australian Division, has been wounded very dangerously. I am sure that honorable senators share the regret I express at receiving such news. Major-General Bridges I regarded as one of -our ablest officers - an officer who lived for his profession, and was a thorough master of it - and one in whom I am sure the men of the Division . and the people of Australia had the utmost confidence. That that confidence was justified one will see when he reads the encomiums passed on the operation in which his Division took part by that great soldier, Lord Kitchener, in a Bpcech, reported in the press to-day, in which he speaks of the skill and forethought with which the landing and subsequent operations were carried out. We know, of course, that the main command of the Mediterranean lies with . Sir Ian Hamilton, and that the command of the Australian Division rested in MajorGeneral Bridges; but we feel sure that the latter played a very . prominent part in carrying to a successful issue the landing of the Forces under difficult conditions. I venture to say that his name will always be associated with that feat. I think we can claim, without any boastfulness, that the landing of that Army and its subsequent operations will stand out alongside the feat of Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham, that as time goes past and we are able to look at the thing in proper perspective, it will be one of. the great battle stories of the British Empire, and the name of Major-General Bridges and his command will always be associated with it. We deeply regret that he was wounded so seriously that he had to relinquish the command. I . have to announce that, on receipt of the information, the Government decided to appoint Colonel Legge, the Chief of the General Staff, to the command of the Division.. Colonel Legge is now on his way to the front, and on his arrival we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that the Division is still in the command of an Aus-' tralian officer, who, I feel sure, will prove worthy of the choice which has been made.

Senator Bakhap - Who is in command at present, seeing that Major-General Bridges is wounded ?

Senator PEARCE - I do not know; but I think we can rest assured, with perfect confidence, that the officers on the spot will see that they are under the charge of a competent officer. I think that it would not be right to conclude this statement without expressing, on behalf of the Senate, our deepest sympathy with the wife, the family, and the relatives of Major-General Bridges. Our sympathy goes out to them all the more, owing to the fact that he is away. They are suffering with hundreds of others; indeed, one might say with thousands of others in Australia. I am sure that our sympathy goes out to the relatives and friends of the many who have fallen, and are falling, at the Dardanelles, in the heroic struggle which the Australians are making there. But they have this solace to their feelings : that their relatives have been wounded, and are falling, in the defence of a glorious cause, and of the Empire, that they have either died a noble death or received glorious scars which will stand to their credit.

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