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  Charles Granville Bruce (1866–1939), by George Percy Jacomb-Hood, 1913 Charles Granville Bruce (1866–1939), by George Percy Jacomb-Hood, 1913
Bruce, Charles Granville (1866–1939), army officer and mountaineer, was born in London on 7 April 1866, the youngest son of , politician, and his second wife, Nora Creina Blanche (d. 1897), youngest daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir William Napier. He was the second youngest in a large family in which three brothers, from both Lord Aberdare's marriages, and eight sisters (including ) reached adulthood. They lived at Dyffryn, an estate in Glamorgan, and at Queen's Gate, London. Charlie Bruce was educated at Harrow School (1879–80) and Repton School (1881–4), and spent two years in the militia in York, where he was a noted wrestler and runner. He was commissioned in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry in 1887; and he served briefly with an Indian regiment in Madras and Burma before moving in 1889 to the 5th Gurkha rifles, the regiment with which he served for most of his career. Stationed at Abbottabad, he saw much service on the north-west frontier of India: in Black Mountain (Hazara), 1891; Miranzai, 1891; Chitral, 1893; Waziristan, 1894–5; and Tirah, 1897–8. In all he received six clasps to his two frontier medals, three mentions in dispatches, and a brevet majority in 1898. During the Tirah campaign Bruce cut the Gurkhas' tight-fitting breeches off above the knee, an improvisation that was once said to have introduced shorts into the Indian and British armies. In 1891 Bruce studied the equipment of Italian mountain troops in Turin, and he ran a training course for frontier scouts from 1891 to 1913. He taught staff college instructors in his training methods on the slopes of Snowdonia in 1910.

Bruce travelled widely in the Himalayas and organized porters for several important mountaineering expeditions. In 1892 William Martin Conway chose Bruce to join an expedition to the Karakoram since his father had been president of the Royal Geographical Society. Bruce made several ascents including that of Pioneer Peak (22,600 feet/6890 metres) on Baltoro Kangri, but he injured his back and leg in a crevasse on the return from the Karakoram. In 1895 he joined A. F. Mummery's expedition to Nanga Parbat. A severe attack of mumps forced Bruce to leave before Mummery and two Gurkhas were killed. In 1907 Bruce accompanied T. G. Longstaff and A. L. Mumm's expedition to Garhwal. A knee injury prevented him from reaching the summit of Trisul (23,360 feet/7120 metres) with them and Karbir Burathoki, one of the many Gurkhas whom he introduced to climbing. In 1907 and 1910 Bruce developed serious proposals for the ascent of Mount Everest that were abandoned for political reasons. On 12 September 1894 he had married Finetta Madeline Julia (1866/7–1932), third daughter of Colonel Sir Edward Fitzgerald Campbell, second baronet; their only child, a son, died in infancy in the Himalayas, an occurrence Bruce considered the greatest blow in his life. He described his travels in Twenty Years in the Himalaya (1910), and Kulu and Lahoul (1914), both of which included chapters by Mrs Bruce, who often accompanied him and was the author of Kashmir (1911).

After being adjutant and second-in-command of the 5th Gurkha rifles he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in May 1913, and in May 1914 he was appointed to command the 6th Gurkha rifles. He went with them to Egypt for the defence of the Suez Canal on the outbreak of war in 1914. In Gallipoli he commanded the depleted battalions of the 29th Indian brigade, including the 5th and 6th Gurkhas at Gurkha bluff, for which he was thrice mentioned in dispatches and promoted brevet colonel in November 1915. Severely wounded in the leg, he was evacuated before the withdrawal, and on discharge from hospital was appointed general officer commanding the independent frontier brigade at Bannu, a position he held from 1916 to 1919. He commanded the North Waziristan field force in 1917, and served in the Third Anglo-Afghan War (May 1919). In these operations he was mentioned twice in dispatches. His health deteriorated in the heat, and he was invalided out of the service with the honorary rank of brigadier-general in 1920. He then became secretary to the Glamorganshire Territorial Association in Cardiff.

When Tibet unexpectedly granted permission for a Mount Everest expedition, Bruce could not obtain leave to join the first reconnaissance in 1921, but he was appointed leader of the next expedition in 1922. He was too old to take part in the climbing, but his knowledge of Himalayan languages and military organization, his cheerfulness and joviality, and the Gurkhas he brought to organize the porters all contributed to the expedition's success. Captain John Geoffrey Bruce (1896–1972), a Gurkha officer and Bruce's cousin, and George Ingle Finch, a chemist, supported by Lance-Naik Tejbir Bura, a Gurkha NCO, reached a record elevation of 27,300 feet (8310 metres) using oxygen. Afterwards Bruce resigned his Territorial Association appointment, moved to Kensington Crescent, London, and with other climbers wrote The Assault on Mount Everest, 1922 (1923). In 1924 Bruce was again appointed Everest leader, but contracted malaria on a tiger hunt immediately before the expedition. On the march to Everest he became seriously ill and turned the leadership over to Colonel E. F. Norton. Bruce became the model for later Everest leaders. When Colonel John Hunt was chosen to lead the successful 1953 Everest expedition, the organizers were looking for ‘another General Bruce’ (Goodfellow to Hunt, 10 July 1952, RGS, EE 68).

During his lifetime Bruce was respected as an authority on the Himalayas and its peoples, though his ability to understand the ‘native mind’ was more ambiguous than his contemporary reputation suggested. For example, Bruce and Zatul Rinpoche, the head lama at the Rongbuk monastery at the foot of Everest, each left very different accounts of their encounter in 1922. According to Bruce, he told the lama that ‘we regarded the whole Expedition, and especially our attempt to reach the summit of Everest as a pilgrimage’. According to Rinpoche the general told him that ‘As this snow peak is the biggest in the world, if we arrive on the summit we will get from the British government a recompense and high rank’ (Hansen, 721). Their meeting is recorded in John Noel's silent film, Climbing Mount Everest (1922). Undoubtedly Bruce's boisterous conviviality, exuberant horseplay, and combination of geniality and dignity, endeared him to many people in both the Himalayas and Britain.

Bruce was rotund as well as jocund. His strength, endurance, and appetite enjoyed a phenomenal reputation, but his burly frame eventually suffered from his strenuous exertions. Early photographs depict the youthful, muscular officer with moustache; by the 1920s he was overweight, wore a pince-nez, and had been advised by his doctors to avoid exercise. Bruce was appointed MVO in 1903, and CB in 1918. The Royal Geographical Society awarded him the Gill medal in 1915, and the founder's medal in 1925. On behalf of the Everest expedition he received a special Olympic medal in 1924. He was president of the Alpine Club from 1923 to 1925, an honorary member of European climbing clubs, and an enthusiastic founder member of the Himalayan Club. He received the honorary degrees of DSc from Oxford and Wales, DCL from Edinburgh, and LLD from St Andrews. From 1931 to 1936 he served as colonel of the 5th Gurkha rifles. After his wife's death in 1932 he wrote an autobiography, Himalayan Wanderer (1934), and moved to 27 St Mary Abbot's Terrace, London, where he died on 12 July 1939. A funeral service was held on 17 July at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and he was buried at Thames Ditton churchyard.

Kenneth Mason, rev. Peter H. Hansen


The Times (13 July 1939) · The Times (15 July 1939) · The Times (18 July 1939) · The Times (16 Sept 1939) · Alpine Journal, 52 (1940), 101–7 · Himalayan Journal, 13 (1946) · B. E. M. Gurdon, GJ, 96 (1940), 301–3 · C. G. Bruce, Himalayan wanderer (1934) · Debrett's Peerage · WW · RGS, Everest expedition archives · P. H. Hansen, ‘The dancing lamas of Everest: cinema, orientalism and Anglo-Tibetan relations in the 1920s’, American Historical Review, 101 (1996), 712–47 · A. Macdonald, ‘The lama and the general’, Kailash, 1 (1973), 225–33 · M. G. Dauglish and P. K. Stephenson, eds., The Harrow School register, 1800–1911, 3rd edn (1911) · Repton School Register, 1557–1910 (1910) · m. cert. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1939)


Alpine Club, London |  RGS, Mount Everest expedition MSS  



BFINA, British Pathé Newsreels, Climbing Mount Everest, 1922, London, G1078–1924


photograph, 1895, repro. in Bruce, Himalayan wanderer, 129 · photograph, c.1910, repro. in C. G. Bruce, Twenty years in the Himalaya (1910), frontispiece · photograph, 1912, repro. in C. G. Bruce, Kulu and Lahoul (1914), 136 · G. P. Jacomb-Hood, portrait, 1913, repro. in Bruce, Himalayan wanderer, frontispiece [see illus.] · J. Noel, photograph, 1922, repro. in Bruce, Himalayan wanderer, 280 · photograph, 1924, repro. in Bruce, Himalayan wanderer, 288 · photographs, RGS

Wealth at death  

£2466 18s. 11d.: probate, 13 Sept 1939, CGPLA Eng. & Wales