Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bridgeford, Sir William (1894–1971)

by Jeffrey Grey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Bridgeford (1894-1971), by unknown photographer

William Bridgeford (1894-1971), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 022929

Sir William Bridgeford (1894-1971), army officer, was born on 28 July 1894 at Smeaton, Victoria, second child of George Bridgeford, baker, and his wife Christina Gordon, née Calder, both Scottish born. Educated at Ballarat High School, in March 1913 William entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory. He graduated on 28 June 1915 and was commissioned in the Permanent Military Forces. Next month he was appointed lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force and posted to the 29th Battalion. He embarked for Egypt in November. Promoted captain on 12 March 1916 and transferred to the 8th Machine-gun Company that day, he sailed for France in mid-June.

His company fought as a component of the 5th Division in the disastrous battle of Fromelles in July. When a number of his junior officers became casualties, Bridgeford reorganized three sections under non-commissioned officers, arranged for ammunition supplies and kept the guns in action. For his efforts, he was awarded the Military Cross. From April 1917 to February 1918 he trained in staff duties at 8th Brigade and 5th Division headquarters. Rejoining his unit (later designated the 5th Machine-gun Battalion), he was gassed in April and evacuated to England. He returned to the front in August and was promoted temporary major on 23 September. After brief employment as a staff officer, he was repatriated in March 1919.

In keeping with reductions to the military establishment, Bridgeford resumed his substantive rank of lieutenant, but was granted the rank of honorary major in the P.M.F. On 22 November 1922 he married a divorcee Phyllis Walina, née Frederico (d.1971) in Scots Church, Melbourne. Having held a succession of posts as brigade major from 1919, he was a company commander (1925-26) at R.M.C., Duntroon, and attended the Staff College at Quetta, India, in 1926-27. Back in Australia, he carried out staff and instructional duties before going to London in 1938 to take the course at the Imperial Defence College. At the outbreak of war he was a temporary lieutenant colonel, acting as military liaison officer in the Australian high commissioner's office. 'An able and widely-experienced soldier', in June 1940 he was promoted temporary brigadier and selected to command the A.I.F.'s 25th Brigade, then being formed in England. In November he became deputy-adjutant and quartermaster-general on the headquarters of I Corps in the Middle East. For his administration of the corps and his efforts to keep units supplied during the Greek campaign, he was appointed C.B.E. (1941) and awarded the Greek Military Cross.

Travelling home via the Netherlands East Indies in early 1942, Bridgeford was promoted temporary major general and made D.A. and Q.M.G., First Army, on 6 April. He commanded the 3rd Armoured Division from April 1943. As D.A. and Q.M.G., New Guinea Force, between August 1943 and April 1944 he contributed to the successful operations which culminated in the occupation of Madang; he was appointed C.B. (1945). On 1 July 1944 he assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Division and led it during the fighting on Bougainville in 1944-45. He was four times mentioned in dispatches for his service in World War II. Returning to Australia, in January 1946 he was appointed quartermaster-general and third member of the Military Board at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. On 1 October 1948 his promotion to substantive major general was gazetted. In July-August 1950 he took a team of officers from the three services to Malaya to obtain information on the campaign against communist insurgents and to advise on jungle-fighting techniques. Bridgeford's report convinced the Australian government that it could offer little support to the British, especially given the decision (made in July) to send servicemen to Korea.

Promoted temporary lieutenant general in February 1951, he had charge of Eastern Command until November when he departed for Tokyo to become commander-in-chief of the British Commonwealth forces in Japan and Korea. Occupying units were being withdrawn from Japan, but Bridgeford's Korean responsibilities were to embroil him in controversies with the governments of other Commonwealth countries. In May 1952 he allowed British and Canadian soldiers to be deployed as guards alongside those from the United States of America whose treatment of prisoners of war had received unfavourable publicity. Complaining of Bridgeford's alleged lack of consultation over a measure which had political implications, the Canadian government pressed for his removal; the Australian and British authorities endorsed his decision. Later that year the British government raised questions about his post as part of its successful attempt to place its own senior representative at United Nations Command Headquarters. Bridgeford was appointed to the Legion of Merit (U.S.A.) on his return to Australia in February 1953. He retired as honorary lieutenant general on 14 March.

In May 1953 he was made chief executive-officer for the forthcoming Olympic Games, to be held in Melbourne, and was subsequently appointed K.B.E. (1956). Six ft 1 in. (185 cm) tall, with blue eyes and a fresh complexion, 'Big Bill' was a bluff, genial man who enjoyed shooting and golf. He was active in the affairs of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia and had been honorary federal treasurer in 1954-56. In his retirement in Melbourne and at Warra, Queensland, he was a director of several companies, including Goulburn-Murray Television Ltd. Sir William died on 21 September 1971 at Kenmore, Brisbane. After a military funeral, he was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His son and stepdaughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (Canb, 1963)
  • R. O'Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vols 1-2 (Canb, 1981, 1985)
  • J. Grey, The Commonwealth Armies and the Korean War (Manchester, Eng, 1988)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 14 Apr 1953, 28 Feb 1957
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 23 Sept 1971
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

Jeffrey Grey, 'Bridgeford, Sir William (1894–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bridgeford-sir-william-9579/text16879, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

William Bridgeford (1894-1971), by unknown photographer

William Bridgeford (1894-1971), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 022929