A SMALL group of invited guests gathered at the war memorial at Lerwick’s Hillhead on Friday morning to witness the unveiling of a commemorative paving slab in honour of Lieutenant William Bruce.
Bruce, the only person in Shetland’s World War One Roll of Honour to be awarded a Victoria Cross, died in the trenches in France 100 years ago to the day.
Born in Edinburgh to Andrew Bruce, from Dunrossness and Margaret Hay, he had strong connections to both Shetland’s south mainland and Whalsay.
Leading the commemoration, Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell thanked the Shetland Family History Society and Anderson High School history teacher Jon Sandison for their work to establish that Bruce’s connection to Shetland was “real”.
The dedication was led by the Reverend Dr Caroline Lockerbie.
Lieutenant William Arthur McCrae Bruce of the 59th Scinde Rifles was killed, aged 24, while commanding a small group of infantry during a night raid capturing a German trench at Givenchy near La Bassee, on 19 December 1914.
Despite being wounded in the neck, he walked along the trench top exhorting his men to hold out against counter attacks, when he was shot and killed.
Bell said: “What we have been able to do this morning is honour the only Shetlander to have received a VC one hundred years to the day since he fell in battle at Givenchy.
“The paving stone, having been laid will ensure that Lt Bruce’s name will forever be commemorated in the place to which he had such strong attachment.
“As with all acts of commemoration, the hope is that future generations will be curious, ask questions about what happened, and take time to honour and remember.”
It emerged that not only was this the 100th anniversary of Bruce’s untimely death, but also the 160th anniversary of the Westminster Parliament creating the Victoria Cross as a way to reward bravery among common soldiers.
Sandison said since then 1,357 Victoria Crosses have been awarded, 636 of which were during the Great War.
“Courage is facing your fears, your worst nightmares also doing something that goes beyond the norm, and in William Bruce’s case it was being wounded and then holding the trenches position until being shot,” he said.
“It is important that we have days like this one hundred years on just so we never forget the sacrifice people made and we always think about why wars happened.
“By remembering and not forgetting wars we work to ensure wars do not happen in the future.”
The work done by Sandison, Elizabeth Angus and Kate Canter of the Shetland Family History Society is part of a major project to record the lives of all Shetland men connected to the First World War.
The impressive result of their work can be seen and consulted at the society’s offices at Lerwick’s Hillhead.
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