b. 15/06/1890 Edinburgh. d. 19/12/1914 Givenchy, France.
William Arthur McCrae Bruce (1890-1914) was born on 15th June 1890 at 5 Warrender Park Crescent, Edinburgh, Scotland. His father was Colonel Andrew Murison McCrae Bruce, who was commissioned in 1860 and served with 2nd Bengal Fusiliers, 1st Gurkhas and 4th Punjab Infantry, before commanding at Bangalore as a local Brigadier-General. He saw active service in Bhootan, Miranzai, Jowaki, Afghanistan, Zhob Valley, Hazara and on the 1st Miranzai Expedition, where he was Mentioned in Despatches. He retired in January 1899 and was created a Companion of Bath in May 1900. William’s mother was Margaret nee Hay. His parents had married in Portsea, Hampshire on 6th July 1889. William had a younger sister.
On returning from India, the family settled at “La Fontaine”, Pontac, Jersey, Channel Islands. William was educated at Victoria College in St Helier 1904-1908 and was a member of the Cricket XI in 1907-1908. He was a contemporary of another future VC, Allastair Malcolm Cluny McReady-Diarmid (then Arthur Martin Drew).
William entered the Royal Military College Sandhurst (King’s Indian Cadet) in 1908. When he was commissioned on 29th January 1910, he was initially attached to a British battalion in India for a year, which was the practice for all officers before joining an Indian Army regiment. William’s attachment was to the Northumberland Fusiliers. He learned Urdu and transferred into the 59th Scinde Rifles on 8th March 1911. He was promoted to Lieutenant the following year. He was in England on leave in 1914 when war broke out and began the journey back to India immediately, but was ordered instead to meet his unit in Cairo, Egypt. The Battalion sailed from Karachi on HMT Takada on 29th August, arriving at Port Tewfik and continued to Cairo, where it stayed for two days. It then moved onto Alexandria and then finally to Marseilles, France arriving on 26th September 1914. Its first action was at La Bassee at the end of October.
On the 19th December, 1914, near Givenchy, during a night attack, Lt. Bruce was in command of a small party which captured one of the enemy’s trenches. In spite of being severely wounded in the neck, he walked up and down the trench, encouraging his men to hold on against several counter-attacks for some hours until killed. The fire from rifles and bombs was very heavy all day, and it was due to the skilful disposition made, and the example and encouragement shown by Lt. Bruce that his men were able to hold out until dusk, when the trench was finally captured by the enemy.
What Bruce had done during the action at Givenchy remained unknown until captured officers returned after the war and made their recommendations. Sadly, his body was not recovered, and he is commemorated on the Neuve-Chapelle Memorial. His father was not well enough to attend an investiture at Buckingham Palace. William’s VC was presented to his mother at a private ceremony by the Lieutenant Governor of Jersey, Major General Sir Alexander Wilson KCB. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. When the VC came up for auction at Christie’s on 10th November 1992, former Victoria College teacher, Dixie Landick, launched an appeal and raised the £19,000 needed to purchase it. It is displayed at the Jersey Museum, St Helier.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: VICTORIA COLLEGE, JERSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS. (ON LOAN AT JERSEY MUSEUM, ST HELIER, JERSEY).
BURIAL PLACE: UNKNOWN – ON NEUVE-CHAPELLE MEMORIAL, FRANCE. PANEL 25
Ned Malet de Carteret – Victoria College Memorial and Close up of memorial, and also the Victoria College VC Board.