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Jonathan Maxwell Bruce

Rank: Major

Lifetime: 1873-1914

Bruce

Entry in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour for Major Jonathan Maxwell Bruce

Major Jonathan Maxwell Bruce was a member of the Rosslyn Park Rugby Club which was based in the Old Deer Park in Richmond. Stephen Cooper for his excellent book (entitled The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players), has researched the lives of the 108 Rosslyn Park Rugby Club Members who were casualties in the Great War. Thanks to his research we have some details of Major Bruce’s educational and service career, largely culled from De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour for Officers killed in the Great War and Major Bruce’s obituary. The obituary and Roll of Honour both include a photograph of Major Bruce resplendent in dress uniform and with a splendid twirled moustache.

Jonathan Maxwell Bruce was born on 22 June 1873 at Dhurmsala (sometimes spelt Dharmsala), Bengal, India where he was duly baptised on 10 August 1873. He was the eldest son of Richard Isaac Bruce, CIE, and his wife, both of “Quetta”, Teddington. The name of their residence is perhaps explained by the fact that his father had been a distinguished Indian Civil Servant serving as Commissioner for the Punjab. Quetta was at this time part of British India. His father had been commended on several occasions for distinguished frontier service. His mother’s name is given as Eliza Mary on the record of his baptism but as Lilla in his obituary. Both parents appear to have been of Anglo Irish descent. His mother is said to be the daughter of the Reverend John B Webb, Rector of Dunderrow, County Cork whilst on his father’s side he was the grandson of the Bruces of Milltown Castle, County Cork whose genealogy we are assured “is given in Burke’s Landed Gentry”.

Major Bruce was educated at Haileybury School from 1887 until 1889. Haileybury was a Public School with strong connections to the Empire. It had, in fact, been founded by the East India Company. Not surprisingly, therefore, after school and Sandhurst, Jonathan Bruce enrolled in the Indian Army. He received his first commission on 16 January 1895, becoming a Lieutenant the following year. He served in campaigns on the North West Frontier from 1897 until 1898 where he won the Malakand Bunna Medal and two clasps. He was subsequently promoted to Captain on 16 January 1904 and finally to Major exactly nine years later.

Meanwhile, Captain Bruce had, on 14 September 1905, married Mabel Walrond (Walbroud?) Trengrouse at St Mary’s and St Alban’s Church, Teddington. The bride, at twenty five years of age, was seven years younger than the groom. She was the third daughter of Henry Trengouse of Chesfield, Teddington who described himself as a “merchant” in the record of the marriage. In Major Bruce’s obituary his father-in-law is referred to more grandly as “Henry Trengrouse of Hampton Wick, JP”. The couple had presumably met when the Captain was visiting his retired parents in Teddington.

The Bruce family’s entries for the 1911 Census reveal that his Regiment was apparently based at The Haven, Ringwould, Dover in April of that year, although the Major does give his address there as c/o R J Bruce Esq, Quetta, Teddington which suggests that the posting might have been temporary. By this time, Major Bruce was 37 years old and had become a father to two daughters, Mary Aileen Bruce and Barbara Maxwell Bruce, who had both been born in Hampton Wick. His obituary gives their respective dates of birth as 5 May 1908 and 11 March 1910. At some point (perhaps prior to 1908) the family had taken up occupation of Kenilworth (13 Seymour Road), a substantial house, which his widow continued to occupy after his death (at least up to 1926) according to her entries in the local telephone directory.

Major Bruce was a very keen sportsman. According to his obituary, he was good at polo and other games, including, presumably Rugby, given his membership of the Rosslyn Rugby Club which was then based, conveniently, at the Old Deer Park in Richmond. He was a clubbable chap: being also a member of the East India United Service Club, St James Square, London.

When war was declared, Major Bruce’s Regiment (the 107th Indian Pioneers) as part of Britain’s tiny, but highly trained professional Regular army, was mobilised and sent to France where shortly afterwards on 24 November 1914, aged 41, he died at Festubert in “the desperate fighting which took place on that day between Ypres and Bethune”. His Regiment had been involved in the end of what came to be known as the First Battle of Ypres.

On 23/24 November 1914 Indian troops were engaged in a number of small attacks (described in George Morton Jack’s book The Indian Army on the Western Front) intended to recapture stretches of the frontline taken by the German infantry. The Indian troops fought heroically with a VC being awarded in that engagement for conspicuous gallantry to Naik Darwan Singh. By the dawn of 24 November 1914 the land had been recaptured at a cost of the lives of 1,150 Indian soldiers. Major Bruce must have been one of the casualties of that action. His grave is in the Bethune Town Cemetery and bears the following moving appeal:

For you, young heroes who gave your lives for generations yet unborn may we, your careless descendants, never forget your sacrifice.

Oddly, although Major Bruce died at the very beginning of the War, his wife did not get Probate of his Estate settled until almost six years afterwards on 28 May 1920 perhaps because the amount involved was relatively small. His effects were worth only a surprisingly paltry £113 9s 4d. His wife was the daughter of a major Hampton Wick landowner, Henry Trengrouse, so it is possible that she was independently wealthy under the terms of a marriage settlement, which allowed her to remain as a widow, never remarrying, at her house in Seymour Road for many years.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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