Edward Frederick Robert (Bob) BAGE


BAGE, Edward Frederick Robert

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 25 August 1914, Melbourne, Victoria
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: 3rd Field Company Engineers
Born: St Kilda, Victoria, 17 April 1888
Home Town: St Kilda East, Port Phillip, Victoria
Schooling: Melbourne C of E Grammar School
Occupation: Civil Engineer/Antarctic Expeditioner
Died: Killed in Action, Gallipoli, 7 May 1915, aged 27 years
Cemetery: Beach Cemetery - ANZAC Cove
Plot I, Row D, Grave No. 7,
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, MCC Roll of Honour 1914 - 1918 - Melbourne Cricket Club, Melbourne Grammar School WW1 Fallen Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

25 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, Melbourne, Victoria
22 Sep 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 3rd Field Company Engineers, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
22 Sep 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Captain, 3rd Field Company Engineers, HMAT Geelong, Melbourne
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 3rd Field Company Engineers, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
7 May 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, 3rd Field Company Engineers, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli

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Edward Frederick Robert Bage (1888-1915)

Robert (as he was known) Bage was an Antarctic expeditioner with Sir Douglas Maswon, prior to the outbreak of WW1.  He is one of ten men whose biographies form part of a compelling anthology by Ross McMullin , titled "Farewell Dear People", examining the lives and achievements of ten remarkable men and reflects and speculates on potential that was never to be realised because they were lost in the conflagration of the Great War, in the service of their nation.

Bob Bage is a classic example of McMullin's "Lost Generation" - his story demands remembrance


He was the third child of Ted and Mary (nee Lange), there being two older sisters, Freda and Ethel.  Ted was a partner in a wholesale pharmacy business Felton, Grimwade & Co.  However his health failed and he died in 1891 when Robert (his parents used this name in deference to Ted's brother) was just 3 years old.  Mary subsequently took her young family to the UK for five years, where the girls attended Oxford High School.

On return to Australia, Mary and her brood were taken under the familial wing of her sister Gertrude and husband Charles (Ted's brother).  Not long afterwards, Bob like his father, uncle and other male relatives, found himself at Melbourne Grammar, where he excelled as a student and sportsman, particularly in rowing, in which he later represented Trinity College for a number of years.  He went on to Melbourne University where he was drawn to the sciences maths and engineering.  He also began travelling extensively.  First to South Australia and Broken Hill, where he and university colleagues were hosted by BHP, then to Canada via Fiji and Hawaii.

On completion of university in 1908, he secured employment with Queensland Railways.  He  also joined the militia.  It was at a militia camp in Queensland in 1910 he met Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, an event that was to have a significant impact on him according to his uncle Charles. He left his job with the railways and joined the small regular Army as a military engineer.  He was appointed together with Vernon Sturdee, who would later come to prominence in the Army.

His military service and some family networks and connections, led him to the next crucial phase of his life, Antarctic exploration.

He was selected for a ‘multi-role’ place with Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Expedition in later 1911 as astronomer, assistant magnetician and recorder of tides. He took leave without pay from the Army.  He had been chosen for his personal qualities and to ensure he was up to speed technically, he undertook a crash course at the Melbourne Observatory.

The embarked on the Aurora on 2 December 1911. They landed in Antarctica of 3 January 1912, expecting to stay for about a year when the Aurora left . Bage’s work on the expedition won him admiration from all of his colleagues, including Sir Douglas Mawson himself and photographer Frank Hurley, who went on to define Australia’s involvement through his photographic skills. Bage, Hurley and New Zealander Eric Webb undertook a particularly gruelling 600 mile sledging expedition together suffering snow blindness, emaciation and debilitation, but garnering important magnetic geographic and meteorological records.

The Aurora returned soon after to collect them but as the other parties returned, the expeditioners were faced with having to leave a party behind for another year because one of the parties, comprising Mawson Ninnis and Mertz had failed to return.  The Aurora had departed and Bage and a number of his comrades were left behind, but a day later a haggard emaciated and exhausted Mawson returned alone, his two comrades having perished.

The Aurora returned to collect them but could not do so due to weather. Once again it departed.  It not to be until December 1913 that it returned.  Bage and his comrades disembarked in Adelaide, Mawson's home town, on 26 February 1914.  They had been away two years and three months.

"Sir Douglas Mawson's Expedition, judged by the magnitude of both its scale and of its achievements, was the greatest and most consummate expedition that ever sailed for Antarctica.  The expeditions of Scott and Shackleton were great, and Amundsden's venture was the finest Polar reconnaissance ever made; but each of these must yield the premier position , when fairly compared with Mawson’s magnificently conceived and executed scheme of exploration.”  Gordon Hayes in his survey of Antarctic research 1928

Much of this was due to the southern sledging party, which “accomplished even more than I had anticipated”, according to Mawson. Bage, Webb and Hurley still retain the record for distance covered in a day’s sledge hauling (some 800kg) and it is highly unlikely that it will ever be broken.

The Mawson expedition was overshadowed by activities going on concurrently. Amundsden had won the race to the Pole. Scott and his colleagues had perished in the attempt.  The Mawson expedition's true contribution to Antarctic research was not to be realised for some years.   The outbreak of War in Europe further muted its impact.  But its scientific value emerged as the data was progressively consolidated interpreted and published.  Webbs work for example was not published until 1947.

On the outbreak of War in August 1914, Bob Bage enlisted in the AIF. He had become engaged to Dorothy Scantlebury, five years his junior.

Bob Bage was allocated to the 3rd Field Company of Engineers in the 1st Division.  He and his colleagues embarked for the war aboard the HMAT Geelong on 22 September 1914.  He was well known because of his Antractic exploits, but it was his personal attributes and demeanour that continued to win him the respect of all those he came in contact with.

He applied himself diligently to his tasks in the lead up to and following the landing.  However, Bob Bage's service on Gallipoli was to be tragically cut short.  The Engineers were busy from the outset, preparing field defences, manufacuring bombs (hand grenades were not available), building roads, carting ammunition and built gun psotiions for the Artillery.

Early in May some abandoned trenches were identified forward of the 11th Battalion by Captain Raymond Leane.  Major General Bridges himself inspected the area and requested that an attempt be made to push forward as soon as possible to gain the position at night.  To do this it needed to be clearly marked and for that to occur a party needed to go forward to do so - in daylight.  Bage was nearby at the time surveying the forward area with a prismatic compass, assisted by two sappers.  As he passed by Bridges exclaimed "Here's the man!" and Bob Bage found himself  tasked for what he quickly realised was an almost suicidal mission.

And so it proved to be.  Bage and a small party had made their way forward and were in the process of driving in the marke pegs when they came under Turkish small arms fire.  Bage was wounded initially and then subsequently shot through the head and killed.  The cavalier manner in which these men's lives had been thrown away on a whim by Bridges caused a great deal of resentment at the time.

(Bage)....was very popular among both officers and men and many were the expressions of regret when the news was received at Victoria Barracks that he had fallen. He was an indefatigable worker, a thorough and efficient organizer, and one of the most promising of the younger officers of the permanent forces. (Adelaide Register 16 June 1915 P8)


Special mention in Divisional Orders for act of conspicuous gallantry or valuable services,

See the links to Australian War Memorial on left of page

Steve Larkins February 2015