Headgear to Helmets: Tom Bruce
Headgear to Helmets is a documentary feature film that provides an insight into rugby league players who enlisted in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and saw active duty during the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign.
The following story is the fifth in a series of seven.
Born in 1885 at Braidwood, Tom Bruce moved to Sydney as a youngster and grew up adjoining Hyde Park. When the new code of rugby league commenced, he threw in his lot with the Eastern Suburbs club and graduated to their first grade side in 1909. Over the next four seasons, he played 29 first-grade premiership matches with the club.
The Tricolours (as they were known pre-Roosters) were a potent outfit that contained the likes of Test stars Dally Messenger, Sandy Pearce and Danny Frawley. A halfback, Bruce had plenty of competition for a place in the side, with future Australian cricket captain Herbie Collins also in the Easts XIII. That quality is reflected in the fact that they won three successive premierships from 1911-13; they were the first club to achieve such a feat.
Tom Bruce only appeared in the first year of that success. When war commenced, he quit as a tram conductor and served as a camp cook at Holsworthy before resigning in March 1916 to enlist in the AIF. Assigned to the 36th Battalion, he soon distinguished himself as a soldier and within 18 months had received a commission as a Second Lieutenant.
Although wounded in early 1917, Bruce returned to his battalion but was killed in action at the Battle of Passchendaele on October 12 by the heavy German artillery that pounded the Australian trenches. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial. Bruce left behind a wife and two infant children who had to face life without their father, one of 60,000 Australians who perished in WWI.