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Friday, 21 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - I ask permission to move a motion in regard to the death of Major-General Bridges.

Leave granted.

Senator PEARCE - I move-

1.   That the Senate expresses its deep sense of the loss sustained by the Commonwealth in the death on the battlefield of Major-General Bridges, C.M.G:., Officer Commanding the First Division of the Australian Imperial Force, and places on record its deep appreciation of his great services in the development of our defence system, and its admiration of his organization and leadership of the Australian Forces now in action in the Dardanelles.

2.   That the Senate tenders its sincere sympathy to the bereaved widow and family of this distinguished soldier.

3.   That the President be requested to convey the foregoing resolutions to Mrs. Bridges.

Yesterday, at about mid-day, we received from the Head-Quarters in Egypt a cablegram intimating that Major-General Bridges passed away on board ship on the 18th inst. As honorable senators know, the General was wounded in action, and, although at first some hope was held out, a later cablegram indicated that the worst had to be feared. Unfortunately, that has occurred, and we have lost the services of one of our most distinguished soldiers. I believe that it is the only loss of a General on the British side during the present war. It brings home to one the severe nature of the operations in which the deceased General took such a prominent part. I had an intimate association with him for many years, and an opportunity of seeing and admiring his many brilliant and soldierly qualities. He was a man who was not easily approachable, and did not make many friends, but he was one of whom it can be said that he would give an honest opinion whether it was a pleasant one or not. He was a scholarly soldier, who made a life study of his profession, and his merit was acknowledged, not merely in Australia, but over sea as well. He rendered distin guished service in Australia.His record stands out from the records of all our officers as a distinguished one. He took a leading part in the re-armament of our coast defences. He was a member of the Committee that went into the question of our coast defences after Federation, and made recommendations which led to the abolition of the multitudinous forms of armament which we then possessed, and brought our Forces up to a modern condition, armed with modern guns. When, later, the Forces developed, the time came for the inauguration of a genera] staff, Major-General Sir John Hoad was the first Chief of the General Staff, but I think it is no injustice to his memory to say that a great deal of the pioneering work in the inauguration of that system which is such an important part of our defence policy was carried out by the late Major-General Bridges. When the General Staff in Australia was linked up with the Imperial General Staff in London, Major-General Bridges was chosen by the Government, of which I had the honour to be a member, to take that important position, and there, for some time, in association with the War Office he acted as our representative in military matters in England, and received the highest encomiums from the War Office for the work he did there. He was recalled by the Cook Government, through Mr. Cook, as Minister of Defence, to take the position of Commandant of the Royal Military College, and the work he did there entirely justified the choice which was made. It will live as a lasting memorial to his name. He set a high standard to the staff which has spread to the cadets, and, so long as the College exists, the memory of Major-General Bridges, and the standard he set there, will live with it. The College, of course, has played, and will play, a very important part in the defence system we have adopted, and it is fortunate that the Commonwealth was able to find amongst its own officers an officer of the calibre of Major-General Bridges to take such an important position in that branch of our defence system. When the present war broke out, and the late Government decided to send troops to the front, my predecessor. Senator Millen, selected Major-General Bridges to take command of the First Division, and the splendid way in which he carried out the inauguration of that

Division, and the leadership he showed when it was in Egypt and in the field at the Dardanelles, proved that the choice was a wise and proper one. We have very little information as to the details of those operations; but, as I said yesterday, I believe that when the story is written it will be one of the most stirring stories in the history of the British Empire. It will stand alongside the most brilliant achievements of the British Army. Whilst, of course, for its success it depended greatly upon the initiative, the courage, the dash, and the resource of the Australian soldiers, still all that would have been wasted if there had not been associated with it a wise generalship and courageous leadership. That MajorGeneral Bridges was stricken down on the battlefield should bring home to the people of Australia the fact that practically the whole of that Force is operating on land which is under shell fire, and therefore they should have some patience with the difficulties which are being met with in regard to news from the front, and things not being done which they, perhaps, think should be done. It is made plain to us that the General Staff, which usually in warfare is at a safe distance in the rear, is itself under fire. That being so, we can form some faint conception or the difficulties and the dangers in which Major-General Bridges and his staff carried out their multifarious duties in directing the operations of the Force, and those conditions, it must be remembered, still obtain. I am pleased to be able to render this tribute to a gallant soldier, a distinguished Australian, a man whose name will live in our history. I may add that to-day we received from Alexandria the following cablegram dated yesterday, 20th May: -

General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces, telegraphs - " Please transmit the following message to Governor-General, Australia: - Bridges died on passage to Alexandria. Whole force mourns his irreparable loss, avenged yesterday in brilliant action by his own troops, who inflicted loss of seven thousand on enemy at a cost of less than five hundred to themselves. - Ian Hamilton."

I am sure that the words, contained in the message are true, that Major-General Bridges' loss will be as deeply mourned and as keenly felt by the soldiers under his command aa it is by the people throughout the Commonwealth.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - It was avenged.

Senator PEARCE - It was promptly and efficiently avenged. I am sure that I only speak what is in the mind of honorable senators when I say that our hearts go out in deepest sympathy to the widow and family. They have lost, as I know personally, a loving husband and a loving father. He was all that a husband and a father should be. The extent of their loss no words of ours can express, but if our sympathy will be any assuagement of their grief we tender it, though we feel that the greatest comfort they can have is the knowledge that he died at the post of duty ; that he gave everything that a man can give to his country, and that his name will live in its history. I beg to submit the motion.

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