Courtesy of Bill Ronald
Lieutenant William Bruce Ronald
Born: 7 August 1885 - Melbourne, Victoria
Enlisted: 9 July 1915 aged 29
Unit: “A” Battery, 68th Brigade Royal Field Artillery (RFA)
Served: Egypt, Macedonian (Salonika) Front & Palestine
Died: 20 April 1936 - Pakenham, Victoria
Known as “Bruce”, William was the son of William Murdoch Ronald and his wife Annie of Nabea Station, Coonamble in western NSW. The Ronald family was long associated with the Australian Mercantile Land and Finance Company, which had extensive pastoral interests across Australia. Bruce’s father died when he was young (1). Bruce later attended Melbourne Grammar, where he became regarded as one of its most outstanding all-round sportsmen, excelling at cricket, football, tennis, and especially athletics. He was Victorian All Schools athletics Champion three years running from 1903 to 1905 (2). Later, Bruce became regarded as the finest fast bowler in Victoria and a likely future member of the Australian Eleven (3). Indeed, it was said that his leaving Melbourne to jackaroo “back o’beyond” “deprived Australia of a potential champion” (4).
Bruce was farming in the Mallee when WWI broke out. Following the Anzac landings at Gallipoli, he decided to enlist. Bruce joined the British Army, which at the time was desperately short of officers and was seeking suitably well educated and athletic leaders from amongst the graduates of schools such as Melbourne Grammar (5). Enlisting in England rather than Australia was also thought to offer the prospect of reaching the front lines sooner (6). Bruce obtained a commission (as a Second Lieutenant) in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) in July 1915 (7). After a period in Egypt, he was sent to the Macedonian (Salonika) Front in northern Greece, where British and French forces pinned down Germany’s Bulgarian ally. He served there with “A Battery”, 68th RFA. Bruce was later promoted to full Lieutenant and transferred to Palestine, where he was mentioned in despatches and promoted “in the field” to the rank of Captain, though this was not officially confirmed (8). Whilst serving in Palestine, he also contracted malaria (9). In 1918, Bruce learned that he had lost his property in the Mallee and with it most of his life savings (10). When he was returning to Australia, he met Mary Gwladis Chirnside, a niece of Andrew Chirnside of “Edrington”, Berwick. Gwladis had been nursing in English military hospitals. Bruce and Gwladis, who had known each other since childhood, fell in love and married soon after arriving back in Melbourne in early 1920 (11). Bruce and Gwladis subsequently acquired the Mount Bourke estate in Pakenham, which they renamed “Koo-Man-Goo-Nong”, an indigenous name meaning “place of rest” (12). There, Bruce became a leading grazier, even pioneering the use of superphosphate in the district (13). He was a keen district cricketer, and played a major role in the Pakenham Cricket Club winning the 1927 premiership (14). The War had seriously impaired Bruce’s health (15) and tragically, he died suddenly in April 1936 aged just 50. The Pakenham Gazette reported that “a gloom was cast over the district” when the news broke, as Bruce was “popular with all who knew him” (16). He was survived by Gwladis and two young sons, Peter and Michael. Peter himself became an exceptional local citizen, including serving on Berwick Shire Council for 23 years.
The assistance of Bruce’s grandson Bill Ronald is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) SMH 15/4/1896 p. 8
(2) The Age 28/4/1936 p. 3
(3) & (4) Ibid & The Age 9/12/1933 p. 5
(5) (9) (10) (14) & (15) Information provided by Bill Ronald
(6) (8) (11) (12) & (13) Ronald (1987) pp. 202-209
(7) Kiddle (1923) p. 364
(16) Pakenham Gazette 24/4/1936 p. 2