INDENT Victoria Cross London Gazette 4.9.1918. "William Arthur McCrae Bruce. "For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. On the 19th December 1914, near Givenchy, during a night attack, Lieut. Bruce was in command of a small party which captured one of the enemy trenches. In spite of being severely wounded in the neck, he walked up and down the trench encouraging his men to hold on against several counter-attacks for some hours until killed. The fire from rifles and bombs was very heavy all day, and it was due to the skilful disposition made and the example and encouragement shown by Lieut. Bruce that his men were able to hold out until dusk, when the trench was finally captured by the enemy."
Lieutenant William Arthur McCrae Bruce, V.C. (1890 - 1914), educated at Victoria College, Jersey from September 1904, entered Sandhurst as a King's Indian Cadet and passed out in the Autumn of 1909. He was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in January 1910 and left for India the following month where, for one year he was attached to the 1st Battalion the Northumberland Fusiliers; in march 1911 he was appointed to the 59th Scinde Rifles at Kohat and was advanced to Lieutenant in 1912. Lieutenant Bruce subsequently arrived in France with his Regiment which formed part of the Indian Expeditionary Force, 26 September 1914
"The Second, Third, Fourth, and Indian Corps would continue to demonstrate on the 19th December along the whole front and seize every favourable opportunity which may offer to capture any of the enemy's trenches" (General Head Quarters, 19th December 1918)
In accordance with the general directive for local offensives, Lieutenant General Watkins commanding the Lahore Division would direct the attack on the 19th against the objective of German front line trenches to the North-East of Givenchy. The left section of the assault was to be delivered by two companies of each of the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry and 1/4th Gurkha Rifles of the Sirkind Brigade and the right section by the 59th Scinde Rifles (which had replaced the 129th Baluchis) of the Jullunder Brigade - both sections to act simultaneously.
A brief but accurate Artillery barrage of four minutes was put down on the enemy positions and the first line of men moved out over the parapet - at 5.34 am in a high cold wind laced with rain the attack began on a 300 yard front. Although 'No Man's Land' of about 180 yards was considerable, the initial assault was very successful - our casualties were light, over 70 prisoners were taken and two lines of trenches were taken. Further advances were made difficult by heavy fighting on the right of the 59th and the enemy trenches were full of the 1st and 2nd line of attackers - the 3rd line had to lie down in the mud to the rear of the trench, thus exposing themselves and taking unecessary casualties. A bank overlooked in the darkness shielded a large body of Germans who were picking off the attackers from their rear with bombs and rifle fire.
The 59th Rifles reached the main German trench with only a few men and found British soldiers, Gurkhas and Germans locked together in one teeming mass. Fighting became very confused, the thick, clinging mud jammed the rifles and sucked the boots and even the clothes off some men - grenades ran out at an early stage in the attack, a commodity the enemy was never short of. Any men making their way back to the British lines now faced an expanse of ground swept by hissing bullets and heaving with explosions from enemy 'bombs'.
Lieutenant Bruce with a Platoon of his Regiment approached the enemy trench somewhat to the left of the main attack, the Germans declared their intent to surrender and held up their rifles, but as soon as the attackers showed themselves over the parapet they were shot. Although wounded in the neck, Lieutenant Bruce charged the enemy and was the first man into the trench where, after dispensing with the occupants, consolidated the position and inspired the remainder of his Platoon to form a redoubt. In spite of his weakness from loss of blood, Bruce coolly directed the fire of the shrinking band of defenders at the serried ranks of counter-attacking enemy until he was shot through the chest and was killed instantly.
Havildar Dost Mahomed took over the defence - more rifles jammed in the mud and more casualties were taken. Only after the Germans employed a trench mortar with deadly effect did the Havildar give the order to retire - the men absolutely refused saying "Their Sahib Lieutenant Bruce had ordered them to hold on to the end"
Havildars Dost Mahomed and Abdul Wahab (both of whom received the Indian Order of Merit) survived and managed to crawl back to the British Lines. The unrecorded men who refused to retire, faithful to their dead officer were all killed or severely wounded - Lieutenant Bruce's body was never recovered.
The bravery displayed by this 24 year old Lieutenant was rewarded by the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross nearly five years later, when full details of the action were made known by returning Prisoners of War. His name is commemorated on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial in France, and in St Clements' Church, Jersey, Channel Islands.
The 59th Rifles lost four officers and 22 men killed with one officer and 85 other ranks wounded; any ground gained on 19 December was lost by the evening with the exception of a 90 yard section of enemy sap trench.