Thomas Fraser BRUCE (1885-1917)



2nd Lieutenant: 1069 Thomas Fraser BRUCE.

Born: 1885. Braidwood, New South Wales, Australia. Birth Cert:15774/1885.


Wife: Mary Maud Bruce. nee:.

Died: 12th October 1917. Killed in Action Passchendaele, Belgium.

Father: Robert Bruce.

Mother: Margaret Bruce. nee:.


Thomas Fraser Bruce enlisted with D Company 36th Battalion AIF on the 3rd of March 1916 with the rank of Private and was an original member of the Battalion, he embarked on board HMAT A72 "Beltana" on the 13th of May 1916 from Sydney and disembarked at Devonport, England on the 9th July 1917. The Battalion was marched in to the Durrington Army Camp at Lark Hill to spent the next 4 months in training. Tom was promoted to Corporal on the 28th of August before proceeding overseas for France on the 22nd of November.

36th Battalion war Diary.

22nd November 1916.

Larkhill. Troops entrained at Amesbury Station in three trains. 1st Train 7:47am Compliment-Officers 11 and 327 others, 19 horses, 8 hand carts, 3 4 wheeled wagons and 9 bycicles. Lieutenant Colonel: James William Albert SIMPSON. Officer Commanding. A Company Lieutenant: ARNOLD. B Company Lieutenant: 3 Harry WOODHAMS. Lieutenant: James Michael JULEFF.

2nd Train 9:15am-Compliment-Officers 11 and 327 others. 20 horses, 2 two wheeled, 5 four wheeled vehicles. Major: Archibald Clifford BLACKLOW. Officer Commanding. A Company Lieutenant: Richard Henry DOYLE.

3rd Train 11:am- Compliment-Officers 10, 326 other ranks, 20 horses, 2 two wheeled, 5 four wheeled vehicles. Major: Archibald Leeson PRINCE. Officer Commanding. B Company Lieutenant: 1376 William James GORDON.

22nd November 1916

Embarked "Caesarea" 24 Officers, 811 others. Embarked "African Prince" 8 Officers 168 others, 59 horses, 15 four wheeled vehicles, 12 two wheeled vehicles and 9 bicycles. Total 32 Officers, others 979 left Southampton 6:00pm. 1 Officer 75 others detailed as sentries and boat guard. 1 Sergeant, 1 Corporal and 20 detailed as Firing Party. 5 Sanitary Police and 10 men as Sanitary Party.

23rd November 1916.

Arrived at La Havre 1:40am. Disembarked 7:25am. Marched via town to No:1 Rest Camp arrived 11:40 am. Remained at Rest Camp, Le Harve, till 6:30am 24th November 1916.

24th November 1916.

36th Battalion, less 8 Officers 250 Other Ranks marched via town to point 3 Railway Station, Le Harve at 8:00am. Entrainied and left Le Harve at 10:30am. Proceeded via Montcrolier Buchy, Abbeville 6:10am. 10 hours late via Boulogne Calais and Bailleul. Arrived at Bailleul at 4:25pm 25th November 1916.

25th November 1916.

Detrained at Bailleul marched to billets at Merris district. Arrived at billets 10:45pm. Quartered in 12 billets. Headquarters at Hameur Farm.

26th November 1916.

4 Officers 100 men "A" Company arrived at Merris at 8:30am. Remainder of Battalion arrived at Merris 4:00pm. Hostile aircraft shelled overhead 2:15pm.

27th November 1916.

8 N.C.O's detailed to attend Gas School for 4 days. All Officers instructed in Box Respirator by Divisional Gas Officer. General: GODLEY and MONASH visited billets at Hameur Farm at 2:30pm. Captain: John Martin HAWKEY. and 1 N.C.O. per Company visited forward billets at Armentiers.

28th November 1916.

Battalion left for Armentieres in 16 Motor Lorries. Whole Battalion reported in billets at Armentieres at 5:30pm. Headquarters established at 6:00pm Rue De Strasburg.

29th November 1916.

Whole Battalion still in billets-supply Working Parties Only.

30th November 1916.

Visited the front line on left sector of defences at Armentiers.

Tom was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on the 13th February 1917 when Sergeant: 1276 Lionel Ernest Osborne WILSHIRE received his Commission as 2nd Lieutenant. On the 12th June Tom was Wounded in Action 1st occassion at Messines when he received a Gun-Shot Wound to the Back and was treated in the field by the 9th Australian Field Ambulance and was carried by Stretcher Bearers to the Australian Casualty Clearing Station.

Tom was transfered to Boulogne to the No: 7 Convalescent Depot to recover from his injuries before being discharged and marched back from Hospital to the Front on the 18th August. Tom rejoined his unit on the 21st of August and received his Commission on the 30th of August and was Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. He was detatched to Divisional School from the 9th to the 16th of September to prepare for the push at Passchendaele.


12th October 1917

At 1:30am rain showers began. By 2:30am it was raining lightly but steadily, by 3:30 fairly heavily. The infantry moved through the pitchy dark in single file. In some battalions each man held on to the equiptment of the man ahead of him; if touch was broken, those in front had to come back. The news that the line as reported by the 66th division was not held only just reached the incomming troops. Accordingly, in the right brigade (9th) the leading Company Commanders Captain Clarence Smith JEFFRIES. V.C. and Captain: Telford Graham GILDER M.C. both of the 34th Battalion stopped their men at the entrance to Broodseinde railway cutting, and themselves went to make sure that their column might not run into the enermy.

At Keerselaarhoek Cemetery they found the tape duly laid, and met the officer of the 36th Battalion who had laid it, and by 3:00 am the time set, the 34th battalion was extended on its jumping-off position. But during the previous halt and afterwards, as it lay on the tape, the battalion was persistently shelled and suffered many casualties.

The first shell killed three signallers. Lieutenant Albert Leslie WATSON. a signal officer of the 34th Battalion, a brave and enterprising leader who also was at the head of the column was severely wounded and all his staff hit. After establising a forward command post Lieutenant Thomas Fraser Bruce 36th Battalion was also killed. Lieutenant Colonel: John Alexander MILNE. 36th Battalion supervising the assembly was knocked down by a shell but continued to command. Chaplain 3rd Class: Captain Charles MURPHY. was also wounded.

(BEAN; History of World war 1 Vol IV p911)

Only one Australian Division, the 3rd, was wholly employed in the days offensive. but the division was to capture Passchendaele an in spite of the depressing conditions, it was eager to achieve the distinction of doing so. One unit carried the Australian flag, to be planted in Passchendaele, and although officers and men in general were not enthusiastic concerning such "stunts" the Commander-in-Chief had been informed, and had told General Monash that, when this flag was planted, the news would be immediatly cabled to Australia.

Some keen spirits looked on the operation simply as a dash for Passchendaele. One young company commander of Monash's reserve battalion, the 33rd, in face of a strict prohibition, led on his company as soon as the barrage fell. Starting from a line 350 yards in rear of the general alignment, the 3rd Division was out of touch with its neighbours from the outset. The heavy shelling on the tapes had made orderly disposition there almost impossible, as German Machine-Guns, undisturbed by the barrage now opened immediatly, no opportunity offered of restoring proper formation.

The 9th Brigage went forward in the utmost confusion and a terrible mix up as reported by Captain Willaim Derwent DIXON D.S.O. 35th Battalion at 6:40 am and "Great Confusion" was the description given by Captain: Henry Vince CARR 35th Battalion. Even on the ridge, the mud was difficult, the hope, if there ever was one, of catching up before the quick barrage finished.

The 9th Infantry Brigade's intendered direction lay not along the ridge and the Passchendeale road, but diagonally across them, and parallel to the railway, which most of the brigade could not see. As the jumping-off line was practically at right angles to the ridge, the brigade tendered to advance alone the heights. The Machine-Gun fire at the start came, on the 9th Brigade's right, from the ruined house near Defy Crossing; on its centre from, "Hillside Farm"; and on its left from Augustus Wood.

The pillbox opposite the centre was supported from the rear by a trench in which were Germans with Machine-Guns, and here occured a delay which threatened to wreck to whole attack. it was not until an hour after the programme time that these places were rushed by the neighbouring portion of the line under Captain: Henry Vince CARR and Captain: Robert Derwent DIXON. D.S.O of the 35th Battalion. The trench contained 35 Germans and 4 Machine-Guns. Part of the line was also held up by a pillbox close to Passchendaele road near the highest point of the ridge.

Here there was practically no shelter from attack, but Captain Clarence Smith JEFFRIES. V.C. of the 34th Battalion managed to organise a party, with Sergeant: 21 James BRUCE and another NCO and a dozen men, and outflanking it, charged the place from the rear, capturing 25 Germans and 2 Machine-Guns. These actions set free the advance. The pillbox captured by Captain; Clarence Smith JEFFRIES. V.C. being not far short of the first objective, the 34th Battalion dug in there.

Great loss had been incured; the 34th Battalion had only three officers left and there were wide gaps in the line. The right flank had swung far away from the railway, along which the 4th Division was attacking, but on the left Captain: Thomas Graham GILDER M.C. of the 34th Battalion who had been wounded by a Machine-Gun bullet, but was carrying on found the 10th Brigade digging in slightly to his left under Captain Latchford, 38th Battalion, and fell back seventy yards to join it.

The Advance to the second objective was to begin at 8:25, the low clouds had opened, and fleecy cirrus with patches of blue were widening overhead and the sun had come out. The 9th Brigade had been so late in reaching the first objective that, while most of the 34th Battalion dug in, the 35th Battalion, allotted for the second phase, moved straight on. Standing on the Passchendaele road, Captain: Henry Vince CARR and Captain: William Derwent DIXON. D.S.O. of the 35th Battalion endevoured to decide where the barrage then was; at first Carr thought it may be behind them, but finally decided that it was ahead.

The confusion at the start had split the brigade into mixed parties of all battalions and many of the 34th went on with the 35th, the main body of which, about 100 in all, now advanced along the south-eastern side of the ridge in order to catch the barrage. The hour was probably a little before that for the second advance. A German Machine-Gun in the gap between the brigade's right and the railway immediately opened with deadly effect.

Major: John Bruce Buchanan 36th Battalion, the senior forward officer was killed. At this critical juncture Captain: Clarence Smith JEFFRIES. V.C. of the 34th Battalion, again accompanied by Sergeant: 21 James BRUCE, led out a few men from the first objective and made for the gun. it was shooting in short bursts, and he was able to work up fairly close. Seizing a moment when it was firing to the north, he and his men rushed at it from the west. It was switched round, killing him, and sending his men to the ground.

But when its fire eased they worked round it, rushed the position, seized 25 Germans and 2 Machine-Guns. This gallant and effective action Captain Clarence Smith JEFFRIES. V.C. was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for removing the chief danger to the advance along the crest, but as soon as the 35th Battalion crossed to the eastern side of the hill it became the target of a number of field and heavy guns which, from the hedges and other cover in various parts of the landscape, fired over open sights.

After passing a corpse on its right, the 35th Battalion settled down on what its officers took to be the second objective, although on the extreme right they were actually short of the first. Captain: Henry Vince CARR, now the senior officer on the spot, reported; 8:35. On objective, with about 100 Captain: William Derwent DIXON. DSO and three officers. Casulties 25 or 30 per cent. Captain: Henry Charles Dight Cadell , MC Lieutenant C T Main, Lieutenant: Keith Maitland Day, reported killed and Lieutenant: Frank Horne, Lieutenant: Christopher Kyffin Mears, Lieutenant: Charles John HENRY were wounded. Prisoners sent back 400-500. Contact on flanks uncertain, being heavily shelled.

Three posts were established under surviving officers, right Lieutenant: Norman Beade D'ARCY. MC centre Lieutenant: Joseph Francis ADAMS.  left Lieutenant: Harold Sydney WYNDHAM. In this brigade the battalion for the final objective was the 36th, and a report came along that it had gone through. Actually, it had advanced with the 35th, but, on the left, penetrated to the second objective, which bad been reconnoitred during the previous halt by the commander of the company Captain: Robert Austin GOLDRICK. M.C.

He went up the road towards Passchendaele. The barrage, he said afterwards was no hindrance to him, although he left the line lying as close to it as possible "or where he thought it was." He was unable to detect the intensification of the barrage for the second phase, but led his men forward at the proper hour.

As no other battalion was there, he now established the line with its left on the road 600 yards from the church, about the point reached by the 66th Division's troops on October 9th. In front of the position Captain: Robert Austin GOLDRICK. MC. and Lieutenant: E.H Fleiter (39th Battalion) found hidden in a shellhole men of the 66th Division. One had a broken arm, the other trench-feet. They took the Australians at first for Germans. When reassured,"we knew the Australians would come," they said, 'We prayed hard."

From the direction of the church, which lay straight down the highway, no fire came. two Germans ran up the road and surrendered. South-east of the village, along the Moorslede road, were the Germans who seemed "very windy," and near the road two 5.9-inch howitzers began to blaze at the troops bigging in.

The 9th Brigade had taken its second objective and the 10th its first, but the position of the officers in charge of these advanced lines was full of anxiety. On the eastern slope Captain Henry Vince Carr 35th Battalion, the senior officer in this part of the 9th Brigade's front, could see the 4th Division somewhat ahead of its right, and by 10:55 he had discovered that the 36th was on the left, but farther left than the 10th Brigade was far behind on its first objective . The German Guns ahead were sniping with dreadful accuracy. Carr on the western slope, sent back for instructions: "what am I to do?"

Word of the true situation reached headquarters slowley. As on the 9th, the first news was all encouraging. General Monash in the Ypres ramparts heard shortly after 7 that both brigades were "well away"; but by 8:26 he had ample evidence that the first objective was taken. At 9:25 the intelligence officer examining prisoners(Lieutenant Cutlack, Official War Correspondent) reported having heard from the wounded men that the second objective had been reached.

At 10:28 headquarters was informed of a statement of a wounded man, that the 38th Battalion had gone through. A further report that Australians had been seen at Crest Farm although quickly contradicting but probably true nevertheless. Which confirmed Monash's impression that his division was succeeding. Concerning the New Zealand brigade on his left, however, there was no word until, at 10:50, there arrived the tragic information that the New Zealand Division was stopped by the enemy alone the entire front.

Monash has already heard at 9:55 that the 10th Brigade was held up by fire from Bellevue Spur. Believing that his division was still advancing, he asked that every gun that the New Zealand Division could spare should be turned upon that ridge to suppress the fire. Meanwhile, he would order the reserve (39th) battalion of the 10th Brigade to be ready to assist in holding the ground already won. The reserve battalion the (33rd) of the 9th Brigade he was still keeping back to assist in the capture of Passchendaele.

Shortly sfter noon news of the true situation arrived. Lieutenant Jackson of the 40th Battalion had established at Waterfields pillbox near the Ravebeek a forward report-centre from which a series of messages, admirably accurate, was flashed by lamp to the headquarters of Lieutenant Colonel Lord of the 40th Battalion. Thus Bridadier General McNicoll of the 10th Brigade was able to inform Monash of the pricise position of Giblin's Line. He added that the situation was very serious and the casulties very heave. At the same time from the front line of the 9th Brigade arrived a pigeon message, sent by Captain Richard Gadd of the 36th Battalion.

We are on the Blue Line (second objective) with composite force all three battalions, both flanks in the air.

The New Zealand Division was to make a second attempt at 3:00pm, and Monash was of the opinion that from the 9th Brigade, well forward on the ridge, patrols might still work northward around Crest Farm. His reserve, the 33rd Battalion (9th Brigade), was accordingly ordered to attempt this at 4:30pm and the 10th Brigade's foward line being meanwhile reinforced by its own reserve, the 39th Battalion.

These orders went out, but none of them were fulfilled. The New Zealand Division had been defeated by obstacles which no hastily renewed bombardment could have overcome. no infantry in the world could have crossed the Ravebeek mud, penetrated the dense wire, and attacked the crowded pillboxes of Bellview with the assastance of a barrage which did not even screen the advance. No blame can attatch to the artillery. Its commander, according to the New Zealand official history, had reported on the previous day that his guns might be unable to give efficient support.

This magnificent division, which lost nearly 3,000 men, had been held up in almost exactly the same position as the 49th three days before-the left brigade penetrating half-way to the first objective, the right stopped almost at the start.The Germans were reinforcing. The New Zealand battalion commanders knew that their men had no chance of succeding by renewed attack, and the order was eventually cancelled.

As for the Australians, of the two battalions that Monash had now ordered to participate, the 39th had already to a large extent been involved in the fighting, and the 33rd, endevouring to reach its position of readiness for outflanking Passchendaele,had suffered great loss. No less than 6 of its Officers were killed or mortally wounded. Captain: Wilfred Frank Hinton,in command of the forward company, Lieutenant Leonard Rockley Brownlow,  Lieutenant: Thomas Acheson Armstrong,   Lieutenant: Albert George Kilpatrick,  Lieutenant William Rees-Reynolds and Lieutenant: Norman Francis Goble.

By the time Lieutenant Colonels Henderson DSO 39th Battalion and Morshead attempted to carry Monash's orders, they found that the attacking force of both brigades was back almost at its starting point. What had happened was as follows.

Neither Major: Giblin near the Ravenbeek nor Captain: Henry Vince CARR on the ridge had received their messages sent serveral hours earlier. The 9th Brigade's line was still being battered by the German Guns. Captain: Richard Gadd 36th Battalion, whose troops were being wiped out, informed Captain: Henry Vince CARR 35th Battalion that Lieutenant Colonel: John Alexander Milne DSO 36th Battalion had now come forward to Hillside Farm. Carr accordingly sent Captain: William Derwent DIXON. DSO with Gadd to explain to Milne the desperate nature of their situation. Milne said that he would try to get their troops relieved after dark, but till relieved they must hold on.

(BEAN; History of Word War 1 Vol IV page 921)

Meanwhile, however, the German artillery was annihialating some parts of their line. All leaders of Carr's three posts were out of action. Lieutenant: Joseph Francis ADAMS was Killed in Action and Lieutenant: Norman Beade D'ARCY. MC and Lieutenant: Harold Sydney WYNDHAM. were wounded. Of the remaining officers of the 36th Battalion, Major: John Bruce BUCHANAN. and Lieutenant: Fredrick William PUTNEY. had been Killed in Action and Captain: Robert Austin Goldrick MC wounded. Farther back Lieutenant: Sydney COOK. had been Killed in Action and Lieutenant: William Wand and Lieutenant: Herbert Reginald MAILER. were wounded.

At 3 o'clock rain began to fall steadily. at 3:15pm Captain: Richard GADD. 36th Battalion, thought agreeing with Captain: Henry Vince CARR 35th Battalion that to hold on meant innihilation, refused, in view of his Colonel's orders, to retire. Carr consented to wait while Gadd again sent word to Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander MILNE. D.S.O. CARR himself at 12: 30 had sent Captain William Derwent DIXON. D.S.O. to the headquarters of the 35th Battalion at " Seine", from which no word had been received all day.

At 3:45pm, no reply having come from Milne, and Dixon not having returned as he had been kept at 35th Battalion headquarters awaiting the arrival of an order from brigade headquarters concerning the projected operation by the reserve battalion, Gadd agreed to withdraw and Carr sent along the line a note: The 35th Battalion will retire.

When visiting Gadd, Carr had warned the troops of the probable order to withdraw, and he now saw that the left had already begun to retire. He told men whom he passed to get back as fast as they could to the 34th Battalion (which he believed to be on the first objective). Captain: William James GORDON. M.C. 36th Battalion, strongly dissatisfied with the order, went straight to Lieutenant Colonel: John Alexander MILNE. D.S.O. urged that the forward position was tenable, and with Milne and Major: John Martin HAWKEY. M.C. rushed out to stop the withdrawal. But it was too late.

The 34th was not, as Captain: Henry Vince Carr 35th Battalion, believed, on the first objective. The Commander of the line, Captain: John William RICHARDSON. 34th Battalion, on hearing of the extreme weakness of the force at the second objective, had reinforced it. He and his only remaining officer's Lieutenant: James Clement BURGES.  Lieutenant: Bruce Gray McKENZIE, and Lieutenant: John Abbott LONGWORTH. had all been Killed in Action while organising on the first objective, and the first objective now lay empty. The retiring troops, being without orders as to the position to be taken up, streamed back past Milne's headquarters.

All that Hawkey, Gordon, Gadd, and others could then do was to lead a fraction of them forward again to the first objective, where they remained during the night. Captain: William Derwent DIXON. DSO with Captain: John Grieve PATERSON. adjutant of the 35th, went up to organise the 35th there, but could find none of it's men. When eventually re-formed the remnent of the 35th was temporarily attached as a Company to the 33rd Battalion.

9th-12th October 1917 saw the 3rd Division, 9th and 10th Infantry Brigade in action during the Battle of Passchendaele, which saw massive losses and suffering in the Australian ranks. The casualties numbered 3,199 men in 24hours during the height battle. The 34th Battalion lost every officer that day, either killed or wounded including their Medical Officer, Major: Gother Robert Caslide CLARKE. and some of his staff were killed while dressing the wounded. The spirit of some of the wounded is illustrated by the case of Corporal: 3170 Winsleigh Alexander MURRAY. 35th Battalion, (formerly a Methodist Minister from Newcastle) gave up his place in a queue waiting for stretcher bearers and was never heard of again.

The Battle of Passchendaele saw 60 Officers and 1,322 other ranks loose their lives.

9th Infanry Brigade Casulties.
33rd Battalion. AIF 11 Officers 273 Other ranks
34th Battalion. AIF 15 Officers 323 Other ranks
35th Battalion. AIF 18 Officers 296 Other ranks
36th Battalion. AIF 15 Officers 383 Other ranks
9th Machine Gun Company. AIF 1 Officer 36 Other ranks
9th Light Trench Mortor Battery. - Officer 11 Other ranks

During this action at Passchendaele Tom was Killed in Action and was no known grave.


Tom is remembered with honour and is commemerated in perpetuity by the Commonweath War Graves Commission at the MENIN GATE MEMORIAL, Ypres.

Family Information

Thomas was a married 32 year old Tram Conductor from Hyde Park, Sydney N.S.W, where he lived with his wife Mary Maud at 28 Yurong Street, prior to enlistment. Thomas Bruce a halfback, number 28, played in 19 matches for the Eastern Suburbs club in the years 1909-1912). Although not being a member of Eastern Suburbs first premiership winning side in 1911, he is however listed as playing for them in that season. He played alongside DALLY MSEESENGER from 1909-1912.

DALLY MSEESENGER became the foundation rock upon which rugby league built itself in Australia. His exploits have become legend, and, remarkably, many can now be confirmed thanks to match reports in newspapers of the time. He continued playing rugby league from late 1907 until retiring at the end of the 1913 season. In that time he played for the NSW "Blues", Queensland "Maroons", Australia, New Zealand, Australasia, and twice toured England and Wales (with the "All Golds" & the first Kangaroos). He also captained his club side, Eastern Suburbs, to premiership titles in 1911, 1912 and 1913.

Eastern Suburbs 1911 playing squad

No:5 Dan Frawley.
No:9 Larry 'Jersey' O'Malley.
No:10 Sid 'Sandy' Pearce.
No:18 Herbert Henry 'Dally' Messenger.
No:20 George Green.
No:23 Percy White.
No:25 Mick Frawley.
No:28 Tom Bruce.
No:29 Eddie Griffiths.
No:43 Barney Dalton.
No:45 Bob Williams.
No:49 John 'Dinny' Campbell.
No:50 Leslie Cody.
No:51 Fred Kinghorn.
No:52 F. Strickland.
No:53 Eddie White.
No:54 Charlie Lees.
No:55 A. Nicholson.
No:56 Harold Corbett.
No:57 J. Cunningham.
No:58 W. Dalton.
No:59 G. Mackay.
No:60 Herb Collins.

Wikipedia Link

Military Records

Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia)

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