Fighter ace, lecturer and musician;
Born: August 17, 1917; Died: August 13, 2012.
Robert Bruce, who has died aged 96, was a Second World War fighter ace who as a flight lieutenant became recognised for his superb navigational skills. He also displayed considerable courage in operations to destroy V1 rockets as they left their launch vehicles in the Pas-de-Calais.
He joined up with the Canadian pilot Ross Bannock and the two created a formidable fighting force. They were aces in two categories, which was a rare achievement. As well as destroying nine enemy aircraft in combat they accounted for 19 V1 bombs and saved countless civilian lives in the East End. His heroism was recognised with a DFC and Bar.
Robert Richard Fernie Bruce was connected to one of the ancient families of Scotland, the great-grandson of James Bruce, the 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine. He was born at Inverkeiler, Angus, and attended Rugby School, where he showed an early musical talent – particularly on the piano and cello. He read music at Edinburgh University, gaining a first-class degree and studied further in Amsterdam.
On the outbreak of war he was registered as a pacifist and served with the London Ambulance Service during the Blitz and then at Gloucester Royal Hospital, where he met a nursing sister, Beatrice, whom he later married.
He eventually changed his mind about pacifism and signed up with the RAF. From 1942 much of his training was done in Canada at the Navigation School at Mount Hope, Ontario, and over Christmas 1943 he went to Greenwood, Nova Scotia, where he met Mr Bannock.
They teamed up at the Mosquito training unit and were posted back to England where they continued their training at Middle Wallop in Hampshire.
In 1944 they joined 418 Squadron and became night intruder fighters with orders to attack German fighters as they returned to base.
They also flew over Europe to damage enemy airfields so that Bomber Command could fly to their destinations in greater safety.
The V1 offensive was causing havoc throughout the south of England and Flt Lt Bruce compounded a scheme whereby the Mosquito could attack the flying bomb soon after its launch – before it had gained maximum speed – and destroy it. One night they flew over Abbeville and spotted V1s being launched in profusion. Despite the repeated enemy bombardment and heavy anti-aircraft fire, they destroyed three bombs. Three nights later they destroyed four.
It was a remarkable series of sorties and within three months they had accounted for another 10, making them among the most successful allied crews against the flying bombs. The missions were particularly hazardous as all the launch areas were heavily fortified by enemy guns. Both men were awarded DFCs.
Flt Lt Bruce and Mr Bannock also saw service over Copenhagen, shooting down Messerschmitts and, on another occasion, after a bitter dog fight, they had to return to base – more than 600 miles – over enemy country, with only one engine. In February 1945, Flt Lt Bruce was awarded a Bar to his DFC.
He was demobbed in 1946 and, after working as a teacher in Brighton, was appointed a lecturer in music at Cardiff University. He also pursued a career as a composer and in the early 1950s wrote a symphony which was premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and later recorded by the Polish Symphony Orchestra. He remained in contact with many of his former colleagues and autographed some watercolours by Philip West based on wartime themes.
After retiring in 1977, he lived with his wife Beatrice in Llechryd, South Wales, where they created a magnificent garden. Beatrice died in 2010. He is survived by a son and a daughter; an elder son predeceased him.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.