The Bruce family soldiers

FAMILY AFFAIR: Brothers Robert, John and William Bruce.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Brothers Robert, John and William Bruce.

WHEN researching our early white settlers some surnames, including Smith, Jones and Brown appear frequently. Other names, frequently heard in their country of origin, like Henderson in Scotland, are rare in our area.

Some names were changed if they were too foreign-sounding or the spelling was unusual.

Bruce, thought to be of Scottish origin, did not need alteration to blend in but still it was not a prolific name in the area.

When researching our First World War soldiers it was discovered that at least eight soldiers bearing the name have links to our area.

One, a Scot named George Hamilton Bruce, was from Casino while the others were from the Tweed River area.

These men were however not from the same family, though some are related.

Robert Arnold Bruce and Roy Henry Bruce were simply working in the area when they enlisted.

Edward Joseph and Henry Theodore Bruce were brothers, the sons of Edward H and Mary Bruce and they were both born in the Tweed area.

The more interesting Bruce soldiers are John Francis, Robert Anthony and William Edward Bruce, the sons of William and Mary Jane Bruce of Murwillumbah.

They were all born in the Southern Highlands near Moss Vale but their parents had brought the family to the Byron/Tweed area of the North Coast when the region was being opened up in the late 1890s and early 1900s.

Good land could be obtained easily and it was an ideal place to bring up a family of nine, including five young boys.

The first of this Bruce family to go to war was William who enlisted in July 1915 aged 21. He was a school teacher and was attached to the 9th Infantry Battalion. He served in Egypt and France.

John, a labourer, enlisted in November 1915 aged 24 and also joined the 9th Infantry Battalion. He was later transferred to the 49th Battalion and also served in Egypt and France.

Robert, a farmer, joined in 1916 aged 21 and was attached to the 2nd Light Horse Regiment, serving in Palestine.

All were lucky enough to return to Australia although John was invalided back in 1917 after having one of his legs amputated. He spent the rest of his life in Murwillumbah.

After the war most of the family remained in the Mullumbimby or Murwill-umbah area but Robert and a younger brother became cane-cutters in Queensland.

Recently we received information about Robert from Queensland-based researcher Ros Lauder who is compiling a list of soldiers who were also members of the Yungaburra Rifle Club near Atherton.

Ms Lauder is especially interested in those who went to Thursday Island and German New Guinea with the Naval and Military Expeditionary Force.

It is thought that Robert Anthony Bruce may have been one of these soldiers prior to his joining the AIF. If this is the case he would have been the first in the family to enlist.

Robert was a selector in the Malanda area after he returned from the war. He never married and drowned in the flooded Johnstone River in 1936, aged 41.

He and his younger brother Harold had been working as cane-cutters and when the harvesting was finished they had gone gold prospecting at Deep Creek.

To get to their claim they had to cross the river. Both brothers were strong swimmers but the river was running fast and Robert was swept away.

A sad end for one of our brave soldiers.

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