The 1939 electoral register shows that Wilfrid Montague Bruce and his sister, Rosamond Hilda Bruce were living at The Elms at 26 Gloucester Road in Thornbury.
Wilfrid was born in Sculby, Yorkshire on 26th October 1874. He was the fourth son of Canon Lloyd Stewart Bruce and his wife, Jane Skene. The Census of 1881 shows him at the age of six living in the village of Carlton with his widowed father Lloyd who was rector of Carlton and Cannon of York. The thumbnail photo on the left was taken about 1889. We are grateful to Francesca Guarnieri who sent us this image and explained that Rosamund (known to the family as “Prechie” is on the far left while Wilfrid is on the right and has a stick. Please click on this image to see a larger photograph.
Wilfrid was educated at Edinburgh Academy and H. M. S Worcester (the Thames Nautical Training College). In May 1894 he became a Second mate in the Merchant Service. He then served for three years on a large sailing ship before joining P. & O. services, although he remained attached to the Royal Naval Reserve. He became a certified master of a foreign going ship in May 1901.
Wilfrid joined his brother-in-law, Robert Falcon Scott (who had married Wilfrid’s sister, Kathleen in 1908) on his expedition to the Antarctic. There are many references on the Internet mentioning Wilfrid’s role on the expedition. From these we have gleaned that in 1909 Wilfrid sailed to Vladivostok in Siberia to meet another member of Scott’s team, Cecil Meares. Cecil had travelled overland on the Trans Siberian Railway in search of suitable sledge dogs and hardy ponies for the expedition. He bought 34 dogs and 20 Manchurian ponies and managed to get these to Vladivostok where he was met by Wilfrid. It was Cecil and Wilfrid’s task to escort the animals safely to New Zealand. They had to sail via Kobe in Japan, Hong Kong, Manila, New Guinea, and Rockhampton, Brisbane and Sydney in Australia. They finally arrived at Quail Island in Lyttleton Bay, New Zealand having lost only one pony and one dog.
They joined the rest of Scott’s party as their ship, the Terra Nova, sailed from Lyttleton to Antarctic in October 1910. Wilfrid was a member of the ship’s party and he doesn’t seemed to have played a role in Scott’s overland journey to the South Pole. Wilfrid was christened “Mumbo,” by other members of the crew and after the expedition another member of the team wrote about Wilfrid, that ‘although a little older than the rest of the officers, he willingly took a subordinate place, and that he withheld his advice when it was not asked for and gave it soundly when it was’.
When Scott embarked on his trek to the South Pole, the Terra Nova (presumably with Wilfrid aboard) returned to winter in New Zealand and on their way they discovered that Roald Amundsen and his team of Norwegians were racing Scott to get to the Pole first. The Terra Nova sailed back to Antarctica in the spring expecting a celebratory reunion with the team left ashore. Instead they heard the news that Scott and his four colleagues had perished.
On his return to England, Wilfrid was given several awards for his efforts. He was promoted to Commander in the R. N. R. for his services, given the award of Reserve Decoration (R. D.) and awarded the Polar Medal with clasp inscribed ‘Antarctic 1910 – 1913’ given to the members of the expedition who had served on more than one voyage. This medal was presented to him by the King on 26th July 1913. In 1918 he was invested with a C. B. E.
When War broke out, he was appointed to H. M. S. Halcyon and was in charge of the Lowestoft minesweepers throughout the War. During the later months he was senior naval officer of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, having been promoted to Captain R. N. R. in 1917.
On 25th November 1913 Wilfrid married the Honourable Dorothy Florence Boot at St Anne’s Church, Soho. Their wedding cake was topped by a model of the Terra Nova (Scott’s ship). Above at the top of the page we have a photograph taken at the Langham Hotel after the wedding.
Dorothy was the daughter of Jesse Boot, 1st Baron Trent who transformed the herbalist shop opened by his father into the national retailer known as ‘Boots the chemists’. At the time of their marriage Boot’s name was also associated with their large chain of lending libraries and Lady Boot’s schemes for the benefit of the hundreds of young girls employed by the Boot company. Wilfrid and Dorothy had three daughters: Nancy Jessica born in the Lowestoft area on 1st April 1915, Charity Florence born in Nottingham area on 3rd January 1917 and Rosemary June born in Nottingham on 4th June 1919.
We are not sure why Wilfrid came to the Thornbury area. It appears there must have been a separation between Wilfrid and Dorothy. Wilfrid is listed in the 1931 electoral register as living in Quarry Farm in Kington, just outside Thornbury. We know from a newspaper report of March 1930 that “Captain Bruce of Thornbury” was already giving talks in the area about the South Pole Expedition. In 1937 he was chosen to represent England – in an international fly fishing competition at Loch Leven. We know a little more about his interests as he was President of the Thornbury Football Club during the late 1930s and in the 1920s at least was also well known for breeding “Large Black” pigs.
By 1938 Wilfrid had been joined by his unmarried sister, Rosamond and they had settled as tenants renting a flat in The Elms, 26 Gloucester Road, Thornbury. Wilfrid and Rosamond continued to live at The Elms until at least 1950 (according to the Electoral Registers). He died at Epsom in Surrey on 21st September 1953 aged 78. According to the probate of his will, his assets at the time of his death were valued at £155.
Wilfrid’s father was the precentor of York Minster. This is presumably why Wilfrid’s three daughters created a lasting memorial to their father by donating three window panels to the Minster for its North window. The panels read ‘These three French panels of Date C1510 were given to the Minster by three sisters,’ ‘ To the very dear memory of their father Captain Wilfrid Montgomery Bruce C.B.E., R.N.R. A Chorister of the Minster 1874-1953’ and ‘ Navigating Officer of the “Terra Nova” in Captain Scott’s Last Expedition to the Antarctic’.
Rosamond Hilda Bruce was baptised on 12th March 1873 at Scalby near Scarborough in Yorkshire. The 1881 Census shows that she and three of her sisters were living with their great uncle William Forbes Skene in Edinburgh. By the Census of 1901 she had become a teacher at a girls’ school in Boston Lincolnshire. We understand that in 1913 she travelled to India and worked there as a school teacher for about six years. She appears to have lived in London on her return from India.
We believe that she came to Thornbury about 1938. Although she had previously been a teacher in a private school, she was not qualified to teach at a state school. Francesca Guarnieri describes her as a “self made language teacher.” Rosamond became a governess of the de Salis children at Fairfield House. Although she got a position at Thornbury Grammar School, we understand it was mainly supervising the children at lunchtimes and similar non-teaching roles. Rosamond was affectionately known as “Brucie” by her friend Mair Johnston, a teacher who also lived at The Elms with her husband, “Johnny.” In fact in later years Mair proudly displayed a battered old banjo casing (the strings and skin had rotted long ago) which she claimed had ‘been to the South Pole’. This must have been the property of Captain Bruce and given to Mair by ‘Brucie’. In 1952 Rosamond arranged for her nephew, Peter Scott, to visit the Grammar School to talk about his recent visit to Iceland. Rosamond Hilda Bruce died in Hastings in 1963 aged 90.
We don’t know much about Wilfrid’s wife, Dorothy, except she died on 20th December 1980 aged 91. She had been living at Les Pommiers, Millbrook, Jersey.