John Kensell BRUCE

BRUCE, John Kensell

Service Number: 2896
Enlisted: 2 August 1915, four years in the Scottish Rifles and in the 5th regiment of the Citizen Forces
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 55th Infantry Battalion
Born: Murrurundi, New South Wales, Australia, April 1891
Home Town: Ultimo, City of Sydney, New South Wales
Schooling: Fort St Public School and Private Schooling, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Plumber
Died: Wounds, 45th Casualty Clearing Station in Dernancourt, France, 1 February 1917
Cemetery: Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension
Plot IV, Row H, Grave No. 14
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Sydney United Grand Lodge Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

2 Aug 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, 2896, 17th Infantry Battalion, four years in the Scottish Rifles and in the 5th regiment of the Citizen Forces
2 Nov 1915: Involvement Private, 2896, 17th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '12' embarkation_place: Sydney embarkation_ship: HMAT Euripides embarkation_ship_number: A14 public_note: ''
2 Nov 1915: Embarked Private, 2896, 17th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Euripides, Sydney
16 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 55th Infantry Battalion
31 Jan 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, 2896, 55th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages, SW to back and groin Trones Wood on January 28 at "Cow Trench", between Flers and Lesboeufs
1 Feb 1917: Involvement Private, 2896, 55th Infantry Battalion, --- :awm_ww1_roll_of_honour_import: awm_service_number: 2896 awm_unit: 55th Australian Infantry Battalion awm_rank: Private awm_died_date: 1917-02-01

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Biography contributed by Faithe Jones

Son of Robert Bruce, of 739, Harris St., Ultimo, Sydney, New South Wales, and the late Emma Bruce. 


Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From François Berthout

Pte 2896 John Kensell Bruce
55th Australian Infantry Battalion, C Company,
14th Brigade, 5th Australian Division
The Somme, today silent and peaceful under waves of red poppies, was more than a hundred years ago, hell on earth, a nightmare of fire and steel through which a whole generation lived, fought and fell on the battlefields blackened by mud and reddened by the blood of brave men who, under machine gun fire and barbed wire, in the dark trenches, gave their youth and served proudly shoulder to shoulder until the last breath of their young lives that they gave for the peace and freedom in which they stand today, young forever behind the rows of their graves whites on which their names and their lives are remembered and honored with gratitude and respect and on which I will always watch over with care, love and dignity so that these men, these heroes live forever.

Today, it is with the utmost respect and eternal gratitude that I would like to honor the memory of one of these young men, one of my boys of the Somme who gave his today for our tomorrow. I would like to pay a very respectful tribute to Private number 2896 John Kensell Bruce who fought in the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion, C Company, 14th Brigade, 5th Australian Division, and who died of his wounds 106 years ago, on February 1, 1917 at the age of 25 on the Somme front.

John Kensell Bruce was born in 1892 in Murrurundi, Newcastle, New South Wales, and was the son of Robert Bruce,a traffic constable, and Emma Bruce, of 739 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney, New South Wales. John was educated at Fort St Public School and private schooling, Sydney, New South Wales. After graduation he served for four years in the Scottish Rifles and in the 5th regiment of the Citizen Forces then before the outbreak of the war, worked as a plumber.

John enlisted on August 2, 1915 at Holsworthy, New South Wales, in the 17th Australian Infantry Battalion, 6th Reinforcement, and after a two-month training period, he embarked with his unit from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A14 Euripides on November 2, 1915 and sailed for Egypt.

On February 16, 1916, John arrived in Egypt and was disembarked at Zeitoun where he joined the 5th Training Battalion and was transferred then taken on strength the same day in the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion at Tel-El-Kebir, half of whose men were veterans of Gallipoli and in Egypt, served in the defense of the Suez Canal until the beginning of June and on June 19, John and the 55th Battalion proceeded to join the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) in Alexandria and embarked the same day on board HMT Caledonian and proceeded overseas for France.

After a ten day journey on the Mediterranean Sea, John arrived in France and was disembarked at Marseilles on June 29, 1916 and sent to the Armentieres sector on July 12 where they entered the trenches for the first time and faced the 21st Bavarian Regiment who bombarded the lines of the 55th Battalion with high explosive shells and gas shells and a week later, on July 19, they fought their first major battle of the war at Fromelles which was the worst 24 hours of all the history of the Australian Imperial Force.

Fromelles was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. Directed against a strong German position known as the Sugar Loaf salient, the attack was intended primarily as a feint to draw German troops away from the Somme offensive then being pursued further to the south. A seven-hour preparatory bombardment deprived the attack of any hope of surprise, and ultimately proved ineffective in subduing the well-entrenched defenders.
When the troops of the 5th Australian and 61st British Divisions attacked at 6 pm on 19 July 1916, they suffered heavily at the hands of German machine-gunners. Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades, but, devoid of flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks, they were forced to withdraw.

By 8am on 20 July 1916, the battle was over. The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 casualties, rendering it incapable of offensive action for many months; the 61st British Division suffered 1,547. The German casualties were little more than 1,000. The attack was a complete failure as the Germans realised within a few hours it was merely a feint. It therefore had no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive.

Although designed as a feint to keep German troops from being moved to fight on the Somme, soldiers were also directed to capture and hold the first line German defences. It was to be more than a diversion.
The Battle involved 12 Australian Battalions, and 12 British Battalions across a front of 4000 yards (3.65 kilometres). The Battle also involved another 39 distinct units, including Artillery, Signals, Engineers and Ambulance. There were 17,200 allied soldiers working within an area of four square miles.
On July 19, 1916, at 6 p.m., the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion attacked the German lines with great bravery and at first captured several German trenches and during the night established lines of communication with the Australian trenches in the rear but they suffered very violent German counter-attacks on their flanks and were forced to withdraw to their initial positions with 40 German prisoners and on the morning of July 20, the results were catastrophic, the 55th Battalion lost 35 men killed in combat, 5 died of their wounds ,149 were injured and 139 were missing but John survived this first battle.

On 21 July the 55th Battalion marched for their billets to Bac St Maur but their rest was short-lived and the next day they returned to the front line at "Boutillerie" near Fromelles where they relieved the 6th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, the headquarters of the battalion was established at "Foray farm" and were relieved on August 5 by the 53rd Australian Infantry Battalion then were sent to Fleurbaix where they joined their billets the next day.

Two days before the 55th Battalion was relieved from the front line, John was sent on August 3, 1916 to a Bombing School Of Instruction and joined his unit on August 14 at Fleurbaix then a little over two weeks later, on September 4, he was sent to Divisional Bombing School and returned to his battalion on September 10 at "Port A Clous Farm", Fleurbaix, where he fought until October 14, when he marched with his comrades to Outtersteene where they followed a training period which ended on October 17 and embarked by train at the Bailleul West railway Station for the Somme front.

On October 18, 1916, John and the 55th Australian Infantry Battalion arrived at Pont-Remy, Somme, and joined their billets in Abbeville, more precisely in the school of Abbeville and in the Cooperative Store of the town under a rainy weather then on the 20 October, joined the "Pommieres Redoubt", at a bivouac camp located four kilometers from Montauban and the next day, joined the front line at Gueudecourt, in the "Gird Support Trench", in deep, cold and sticky mud and in rain which turned the sector into a putrid quagmire.
On November 1, 1916, in difficult conditions, John and the 55th Battalion left the trenches of Gueudecourt and joined the front line of Flers, they entered the "Carlton Trench" where they remained two days then moved to Camp Fricourt on November 4, marched to Ribemont on November 5 where they followed a short period of training until November 8, when they left Ribemont for their tickets to Rainneville where they remained until November 19 then joined the Mametz Camp and the 1st December, returned to the front line in Flers where they occupied the "Switch Trench", the "Needle trench" with a force of 911 men.

On December 8, 1916, the 55th Battalion was relieved by the 54th Australian Infantry Battalion and marched to Bernafay Camp and the next day joined Delville Wood Camp, moved back to Montauban Camp on December 17 and were sent to Dernancourt on December 19 and Buire-Sur-l'Ancre on December 24. On January 1, 1917, the 55th Battalion left Buire-Sur-l'Ancre and marched through Franvillers, Flesselles, Fricourt, Buire, and arrived in the trenches of Montauban on January 18, in the "Quarry Siding" sector, moved to Trones Wood on January 28 at "Cow Trench", between Flers and Lesboeufs where unfortunately, three days later, on January 31, 1917, John met his fate and was seriously wounded in his back by a shell and was immediately evacuated to the Highland Division Medical Dressing Station then admitted to the 45th Casualty Clearing Station in Dernancourt on February 1 where he died of his injuries later in the day, he was 25 years old.

Private number 2787, Thomas Sayer, witnessed John's death and declared:
"The battalion was in support in Cow or Blighty Trench facing Bapaume.At about 6pm several lads were sitting round a brazier warming themselves,the weather being cold,when a shell came over and burst amongst them.Bruce was one of those struck.Bruce was the most popular chap in the Company."

Today, John Kensell Bruce rests in peace alongside his friends, comrades and brothers in arms at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension, Somme, and his grave bears the following inscription: "Far away from those who love him."

John, it is with exceptional bravery and determination that you served and fought with dedication and conviction on the sacred soils of northern France alongside your friends and your brothers in arms in the trenches, the muddy and tortured fields of the Somme, under the rains of bullets and the hurricanes of shells, steel and fire which transformed once green and silent landscapes into fields of death which were flooded with blood and scarified by kilometers of sharp barbed wire in which were mown down a whole generation of men who fearlessly answered the call of duty and marched together to the sound of bugles, united behind the bagpipes and drums they went forward through the poppies with in their hearts the desire to serve and to to make their country proud, to do what was right by giving their today for peace and freedom and in the ardor of their youth they arrived in France full of hopes, with faith in victory , they were young and thought they would live the greatest adventure of their lives but their steps soon led them to hell, to an unnamed nightmare and discovered the horrors of war, they saw death over the parapets and lived in an endless fury that drowned their friends in madness but despite what they lived and went through, they remained strong and united in the finest spirit of mateship that allowed them to move forward and face the bloodshed that were the fields of the Somme and what were the great war.Watching over each other, these men, in the face of adversity and brutality, became brothers who shared joys and sorrows together, they showed humanity in the face of the violence of a world in turmoil and gave their courage and their heart in the battle so that this war puts an end to all wars but the price of peace, after four years in blood and in the trenches was terrible and saw their friends, their fathers, their brothers who fell in Amiens, Pozieres, Villers-Bretonneux, Flers, Gueudecourt, Bazentin whose fields became cemeteries on which today thousands of white tombs stand behind which stand so many young boys who came from so far away and who gave their today , their lives for our country which will forever be grateful to them for all they did and gave for us and which, with respect and dignity, will always be remembered for who they were and who they will always be through my eyes,exceptional men, heroes, our Diggers, my boys of the Somme over whom I will always watch with infinite gratitude and whose steps I proudly follow on the battlefields to learn from them and whose graves are the silent and eternal witnesses.Young they were and young, through the poppy fields they will be forever, their memory will never fade and their stories, their names will live on forever. As long as I live I will be there for them and their families, their souls and the spirit of Australia, the spirit of ANZAC will always be kept alive and strong as will the flame of remembrance which, for them, will never cease to shine.Thank you so much John,for everything.At the going down of the sun and in the morning,we will remember him,we will remember them.

I would like to warmly and respectfully thank the Fromelles Association Of Australia and their invaluable help, without which I would not have been able to write this tribute.