Squadron Leader James (Bruce) Blanche QVRM AE*
No 1 MHU, No 2 MHU, No 603 Sqn, No 600 Sqn
Bruce Blanche was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and and spent much of his young life in Brunei and in the Far East where his Canadian born father worked as an oil driller with Shell. Oil must have been in Bruce’s veins as he was later to develop a successful career as an exploration geologist in the hydrocarbon industry. In recognition of his expertise, Bruce was made an Honorary Professor at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh.
Having joined the University Air Squadron whilst reading for his degree at London University, Bruce joined No 1 (City of London) Maritime Headquarters Unit of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and trained as an intelligence officer, but his civilian work in the oil business brought him to Scotland and he then transferred to No 2 (City of Edinburgh) Maritime Headquarters Unit in Edinburgh where he rose to become deputy commanding officer. Sadly, Bruce entered a lift on the second floor of his company office in Glasgow only to find the lift wasn’t there. He fell to the basement, sustaining major injuries. After a considerable period of recuperation Bruce was back in uniform.
As an intelligence officer, Bruce was pivotal in ‘back room operations’ deep underground in Pitreavie Castle where submarine, surface and air reconnaissance tasking was conducted. He also worked in the intelligence section at the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane, home to the Polaris and later Trident nuclear submarines. One of Bruce’s greatest military attributes was that he could always see ‘the big picture’ and this, coupled with his detailed knowledge of Soviet forces and his international experience as a consultant in the oil and gas business, made him a most valued asset during exercises and other operations. Indeed, during the Gulf War, Bruce personally briefed the Commander in Chief of the RAF and other senior staffs on the importance of the oil and gas fields in the Middle East and the implications of air attacks in that region.
Churchill is attributed in saying, “The Reservist is twice the citizen”. Bruce was the epitome of this. He was an exceptional asset to the British nation.
Bruce worked closely with Bill Simpson and David Ross as a co-author of the history of 603 Squadron entitled “The Greatest Squadron of Them All”. This remains an acclaimed and most detailed aviation publication running to two large volumes and no less than eight hundred pages. Bruce was utterly dedicated to and promoter of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, its ethos and traditions such that he was appointed official historian of the Force. For his work in uniform he was invested personally by Her Majesty The Queen, with the Queen’s Volunteer Reserves Medal. This remains a rare honour that was fully deserved. Later, he became a founding Trustee of the Force Foundation and subsequently a guiding light in the planning for and installation of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Memorial at Alrewas and the Roll of Honour at St Clement Danes Church in the Strand.
After a short illness, Bruce died in hospital on 7 November 2018, aged 72. Bruce leaves his wife Jean, daughters Rachel and Sarah and son Jamie.