With the help of my friend, I’ve been finding out more about Douglas Bruce, and his five sisters.Apart from his older brother, Charles Edward, who died at the age of 36, this seems to have been a long-lived family.
(If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)
I’d already discovered that Douglas Bruce was only a couple of months from his 91st birthday when he died in April 1983. A search through the Times Archive for his death notice gave me a unexpected feeling of sadness, as if I were reading about the death of a my own friend or relation.Why should I have felt so moved by reading that brief notice, with its ready-made phrases?
This man had no connection with me or my family, and from what I’ve deduced about his character, based on the documents and photos that randomly ended up in my house, he doesn’t seem to have been a very pleasant young man. At the same time, I was pleased to discover that he’d ‘died peacefully at home’, and hadn’t lived out his last few years in the loneliness of a less-than-caring Institution.
Without any photos of Mr Bruce at this age, I’ve had to make do with this ‘borrowed’ picture from this site Better still, he was a apparently a ‘much loved husband’ – a statement that has partially answered one of my first questions about the man who’d captured the hearts of at least two women in 1920s China. So my next task was to find out as much as I could about his marriage (with my friend’s invaluable help!) Another surprise followed. His wedding took place in 1978, when he was 86! His bride was 62-year-old, Phyllis D Slaughter, who survived him by eight years.
This short message in the Times Death Notices confirms that we have found the ‘real’ Douglas Gordon Bruce of the letters and photos from China. APC South China is The Asiatic Petroleum Company (now Shell), which we know was his employer, but I was rather puzzled by the name ‘Fanlingerers’ with its Edinburgh address, the organisation for donations to be made, instead of funeral flowers.
The Fanlingerers appear to be (or have been) a club for supporters of what is now the Hong Kong Golf Club Fanling.
The mention of ‘much loved uncle’, fits what we know about his siblings. Each of his five sisters was married, and as you can see in this previous post, the young Douglas Bruce was recorded on the 1911 census as living in the household of his sister, Edith, and brother in-law, Douglas Robert Finnis. At that time he already had at least one nephew (Roy Bruce Finnis, aged 3) and one niece, Jean Bruce Finnis, a baby of 9 months). I can picture the 18-year-old young man happily playing with little Roy, before he left for China in about 1915.
This photo, dated 1919, and labelled, Bruce Meyer, (from the box with the letters ) is the son of his close friend, Mr Meyer, and it seems likely that the baby, was named after Douglas Bruce, who would probably have been his godfather. Another of Douglas Bruce’s sisters, Kate Maud, married Vernon Walter Finnis, the brother of Edith’s husband, in 1904, when she was 25, so it would be GREAT if anyone researching the Finnis family was able to find some of ‘Finnis’ nieces and nephews, or their children, who might have known about the life of Douglas Bruce.
I have just discovered that his sister, Alice Mabel, married Walter Ricks, also in 1904, aged 23. The census of 1901, shows Walter Francis Ricks (aged 23) living with his parents and siblings, and working as a ‘Commercial Traveller’. His father was James Ricks (then aged 55)), and has given his occupation as Artist, painter and Sculptor.
A search for Walter Ricks on the 1911 census, has unearthed two more nephews for ‘Uncle Douglas’, James Bruce Ricks, born in 1905, and Donald Bruce Ricks, born in 1910. They lived in Nassau Road in Barnes, not that far from Barrowgate Road, so it seems more than likely that ‘our’ Douglas Bruce would have had some contact with these two little boys, while he was living with his sister, Edith Finnis and her two children – especially as another sister, Ethel Gertrude, was recorded as living in the household of Walter Ricks.
The remaining two of his sisters married quite a lot later (possibly a result of the slaughter of so many young men in W.W.1). Amy Beatrice (the youngest of the five sisters) was married to Charles Oram in 1922 when she was 32, well within the child-bearing age. The next in age, Ethel Gertrude, married four years later to Charles Horton, in 1926 when she was already 38, but still with the possibility of children.
Amy and Ethel both lived to a good old age, Ethel surviving till 85, and Amy at 80. As their deaths were both registered in Worthing, it seems that, as widows, they set up house together . I don’t yet know whether or not they had any children.
I’ll be hoping to find out more about Phyllis, and whether she actually was his first wife, or had married decades earlier to one of his women friends in China or Hong Kong.
I’ll be posting Bessie’s fifth and final letter very soon.