Dominic Bruce

Dominic Bruce

Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM KSG MA RAF, was a British Royal Air Force officer (Flight Lieutenant), known as the " Medium Sized Officer"[1] who escaped from Colditz Castle.


Early Years

Dominic was born on 7 June 1915, in Hebburn, County Durham, England. He was the second of the four children of William and Mary Bruce BEM . Mary (nee McClurry) Bruce was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1956 for her services to the care of the sick and infirm. His older brother was Brother Thomas (William) Bruce FSC, a member of the De La Salle religious congregation or Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. His two younger siblings were Anne Bruce-Kimber and John Bruce. Dominic's adventures started early in his life when he ran away from home by means of a collier sailing from the Tyne to the Thames. Remarkably on arrival in London he was recognised by a police officer married to his father's sister Anne. He was quickly returned to Shakespeare Avenue in Hebburn. Dominic was educated at and matriculated from St Cuthbert's Grammar School, Newcastle 1927-1935. He was of an adventurous disposition and as an alternative to his formal education he spent some time as an unauthorised visitor to the Newcastle law courts during school time and doubtless would have made a formidable legal adversary in later life should his family had the means for him to pursue a legal career after matriculation.

Dominic married Mary Brigid Lagan in 1938 on 25 June at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Maiden Lane, The Strand, London WC2.

Early RAF Career

Joining the Royal Air Force in 1935 he was posted to No. 9 Squadron. He became a navigator. In 1937 he was involved in an aeroplane crash which resulted from a badly judged descent which removed the roof of a train travelling on railway lines adjacent to the Hadlkey Page works airfield. In 1938 he survived a Wellington bomber crash and was awarded the Air Force Medal (AFM) which was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to Royal Air Force personnel of below commissioned rank, for "an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying, though not in active operations against the enemy". As wireless operator for his plane he was knocked out by a lighning strike. Once recovered he alerted his base to the incident the fact that the crew were bailing out. Wishing to get out of a escape hatch he found his way blocked by other airmen who were hesitating about throwing themselves out of the aircraft into the howling darkness. He rushed to the other side of the hatch and jumped. His parachute harness caught on projecting clamps and pulled the trapdoor shut above him. Dominic was now suspended under the bomber and unable to escape further. Realising what had happened his fellow crew members now galvanised into action raised the trapdoor and were shocked to have Dominic shoot back into the plane like the pantomime Demon King. Not too shocked to eject him again however. Dominic referred to this decoration in his inimicable way as the "Away from Mum" medal.

"RAF No. 9 Squadron fought with RAF Bomber Command in Europe all the way through the Second World War, took part in all the major raids and big battles, pioneered and proved new tactics and equipment, produced several of the leading figures in The Great Escape, as well as Colditz inmates - including the legendary 'Medium Sized Man' Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM originator of the famous 'tea chest' escape; they became one of the two specialised squadrons attacking precision targets with the Tallboy bomb, and led the final mainforce raid, on Berchtesgaden, 25 April 1945."

Second World War

While navigating a Wellington Bomber over the North Sea his plane was shot down in 1941 on the 9th June. Despite the fact that he could not swim he baled out and was rescued by the German Navy near Zeebrugge. He earned membership of the "Caterpillar Club" as a result of this exit from a "disabled aircraft". He was often seen in later life wearing the Club's dark blue tie which had golden caterpillars embroidered on it. After the war Dominic was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his escape attempts 1946.

Spangenberg Castle

Dominic was first held in Oflag IX-A/H which was a German Prisoner of War camp at Spangenberg castle in Germany. Spangenberg was used as a POW Camp from 1939 to 1945. It mainly contained British POWs and some French Air Force personnel early in the war.

The Prisoner of Colditz

Dominic arrived in Colditz Castle which housed a Prisoner-of-War camp for officers labelled Oflag IV-C in 1942 on the 16th March. Colditz Castle was near Leipzig in the State of Saxony in Germany. Oflag IV-C was intended to contain Allied officers who had escaped many times from other prisoner of war camps and were deemed "incorrigible". Dominic is credited with the famed "Tea Chest Escape". on September 8, 1942. "Because of his very small stature Dominic Bruce (Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM KSG MA RAF) was known ironically as the "medium-sized man". He arrived at Colditz in 1942 (after attempting to escape from Spangenberg Castle disguised as a Red Cross doctor). When a new Commandant arrived at Colditz in the summer of the same year he enforced rules restricting prisoners’ personal belongings. On 8 September POWs were told to pack up all excess belongings and an assortment of boxes were delivered to carry them into store. Dominic Bruce immediately seized his chance and was packed inside a Red Cross packing case, three foot square, with just a file and a 40-foot (12 m) length rope made of bed sheets. Bruce was taken to a storeroom on the third floor of the German Kommandantur and that night made his escape. When the German guards discovered the bed rope dangling from the window the following morning and entered the storeroom they found the empty box on which Bruce had inscribed "Die Luft in Colditz gefällt mir nicht mehr. Auf Wiedersehen!"[2] — "The air in Colditz no longer agrees with me. See you later!" The next morning the castle was visited by General Wolff, officer in charge of POW army district 4. He inspected the camp and found everything to his satisfaction. Fortunately for the camp Kommandantur, as Wolff was driven away, his back was turned to the southern face of the castle. If he had turned his head he would have seen a sixty-foot length of blue and white checked (bedsack) rope dangling from a remote window. It was, however, noticed by a hausfrau in the town, who quickly reported it to the duty officer.[3] Dominic was recaptured a week later trying to stow aboard a Swedish ship in Danzig."

April 19, 1944 Flt. Lt. D. Bruce British Cut bars on north side of castle, reached wire fence. Detected.

June 16, 1944 Maj. R. Lorraine Flt. Lt. D. Bruce "Bosun" J. Chrisp British Tunnel through sewers into German yard detected

"Flt Lt Bruce's conversation with the commando leader Capt Black is retold in "Operation Musketoon" by Stephen Schofield.[4] Operation Musketoon was the codename for an Anglo-Norwegian raid against the German-held hydroelectric power plant in Glomfjord Norway between 11–21 September 1942.

BBC TV Series

In 1972 BBC TV flighted a series entitled "COLDITZ" which chronicled the lives of the allied prisoners of war held in the castle. One of the characters portrayed was "Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter (played by David McCallum) - Flight Lieutenant Carter is a young, upstart, hot-headed RAF officer who enjoys goon-baiting and is very impatient to escape.[5] He misses his young wife, Cathy, very much, and seeks to return to her. He finds himself frequently in solitary confinement. In the second season, he mellows a bit as he accepts the post of escape officer, and is tempered by that responsibility. The fictional Carter closely resembles the real Colditz inmate Flight Lieutenant Dominic Bruce OBE MC AFM KSG MA RAF, the legendary 'Medium Sized Man'[1] from IX Squadron, who was sent to Colditz after escaping from Castle Spangenberg. Bruce was the author of one of the most celebrated of all escapes from Colditz, the so called 'Tea Chest' escape, a replica of which was featured in the Imperial War Museum's 'Great Escapes' exhibition."

Later life

His war time service ended Dominic became a student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1946 and graduated with the Batchelor of Arts degree in 1949 reading Modern History. He completed what was known as War Degree (7 terms) and awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1953 (MA) . Dominic served as: Adult Education Tutor, Bristol University 1949-50. Assistant Secretary of the University Committee, Adult Education HM Forces, 1950-53. Further Education Officer Surrey County Council, 1953-9. Principal, Richmond Technical Institute 1959-62. Dominic became the Founding Principal of Kingston College of Further Education 1962-1980 .[6] During the course of the interview for the post of Principal one of the panel learned about Dominic's nine chidren, "All yours?" asked the startled Councillor. "So my wife assures me " came back Dominic's impish reply. Dominic was: A Council Member Association of Principals of Colleges, Regional Advisory Council and Sub-Committees. Chairman, General Commissioners of Income Tax, Spelthorne Division. Chairman Further and Higher Education Committee, Archdiocese of Westminster. Roman Catholic Schools Officer, Archdiocese of westminster, 1978-80. Education Advisor to the RAF Benevolent Society.

Honours and Awards

The Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great (Latin: Ordo Sancti Gregorii Magni,) (KSG), was awarded to Dominic by Pope John Paul II. The order was established by Pope Gregory XVI on September 1, 1831. It is one of the five Orders of Knighthood of the Holy See. The order is "bestowed on Catholic men and women in recognition of their personal service to and support of the Holy See and the Catholic Church, unusual labours, and the good example set in their communities and country." Members of the order have no privileges, except the right of riding on a horse inside St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, a right that has not been exercised recently.

Dominic was awarded the OBE, Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queeen Elizabeth II in ---- for his Services to Education . The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry and a national order of merit established in 1917 by King George V.

Dominic Bruce died on 12 Feb 2000[7] in Richmond, Surrey, England. He was survived by Mary Brigid Bruce (died 15 June 2000) and six sons (Timothy Patrick Bruce died 26 September 2008) and three daughters.


  1. ^ a b *Aristotle The History of Animals Part 10
  2. ^ Chancellor, Henry. COLDITZ The Definitive History London 2001 Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 79494 1
  3. ^
  4. ^ *Schofield, Stephen Operation Musketoon London Corgi Childrens; New Ed edition (April 19, 1974) ISBN 0552094897
  5. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 56693. p. 11146. 17 October 2002
  6. ^ *Bradshaw, P., Benjamin, B., Cotterell, A. 1999 KINGSTON COLLEGE A Brief History Ki ngston Surrey: CDT Printers
  7. ^ Obituary, New York Times

External links

  • Obituary, New York Times
  • Bradshaw, P., Benjamin, B., Cotterell, A. 1999 KINGSTON COLLEGE A Brief History Kingston Surrey: CDT Printers
  • Reid, P. R. 1953. The Latter Days. Hodder & Stoughton. Also as The Latter Days at Colditz, 2003, Cassell Military Paperbacks. ISBN 978-1-4072-1466-5.
  • Reid, Patrick. Colditz: The Full Story. New York: St. Martin's, 1984. ISBN 0312005784
  • Reid, Patrick R. The Colditz Story. London Hodder & Stoughton. 1954 Pan Books
  • Schofield, Stephen Operation Musketoon London Corgi Children's; New Ed edition (April 19, 1974) ISBN 0552094897
  • Colditz A Pictorial History London Caxton Editions 2001 ISBN 1 84067 156 4
  • Chancellor, Henry. COLDITZ The Definitive History London 2001 Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0 340 79494 1
  • Warner Home Video The Colditz Story British Lion Film Corporation 1955 WTB 38083
  • (used with the author's permission)
  • Imperial War Museum Sound Archive
  • Biographical Register, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

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