Jack Bruce Collection

Jack Bruce in front of the museum's SE.5a

John McIntosh Bruce was known to all as Jack. He was Keeper and Deputy Director of the Royal Air Force Museum until his retirement in 1983. He was the foremost authority on British aircraft of World War One.

Jack was born in Scotland in 1923 and educated in Scone and Perth. When the Edinburgh University Air Squadron was formed in 1941 he was one of its founder members and in 1942 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. Much of his service career was spent in Canada, where he graduated as a pilot, then as a Staff Navigator. Joining the RAF interrupted his career at the University of Glasgow, from where he graduated as a Master of Arts in absentia in 1943.

In 1946 Jack left the RAF and began a career in the Civil Service. It was during this time that he began to research British First World War aircraft and his first article, concerning the Sopwith Pup-derived Beardmore WB III, appeared in 1950. His second was a history of the De Havilland DH4 and this was the first of eighteen articles to appear in Flight magazine.

While the series was still in progress, Putnam published Bruce’s first book, British Aeroplanes 1914-1918. This massive work of scholarship, containing 400,000 words, 657 illustrations and retailing for the vast sum of 12 guineas, rapidly became the leading reference on the subject. The book set the seal on the author’s reputation and further articles and books followed, the research and writing of which were to the highest quality. He regularly contributed to Air Pictorial, and wrote 26 of the Profile Publications monographs, while his volumes in Macdonald’s Warplanes of the First World War series corrected some of the information in the Putnam book.

When the Royal Air Force Museum started recruiting in 1966, Jack was appointed, through an open competition, as Keeper of Aircraft and Aviation Records, before becoming Keeper of Aircraft and Research Studies and then Keeper and Deputy Director of the museum. He described the latter role as “overall responsibility for the nation’s largest, most representative and most important collection of aircraft and aeronautica”. After his retirement, Bruce served for a time as Charles A. Lindbergh Professor of Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Bruce continued to write through the 1980s and 1990s for Air Enthusiast and Aeroplane Monthly, while Putnam published his Aeroplanes of the Royal Flying Corps Military Wing in 1982. He was the author of all the Albatros Publications books on British aircraft.

Among many other roles, Bruce was Vice President of Cross & Cockade International from 1971 until his death. He was appointed a Companion of the Imperial Service Order in 1975.

The Museum bought many of Jack’s photographs at auction, following his death in 2002. The collection of nearly 23,000 photographs has been catalogued and digitised by Julian Hale, with the support of Cross & Cockade International.