Master Warrant Officer Bruce Bamlett, CD joined The Queen’s Own Rifles in 1972, and served his country for 25 years before losing his battle to cancer on 21 March 1997, at 41 years of age.
Bruce was one of the original Queen’s Own airborne soldiers, completing his Basic Parachutist Course in 1973, and earning four sets of parachutist wings – Canadian, American, British and Dutch. His US wings were earned by a daring display of Rifleman’s initiative, whereby he and a few cronies drove to Fort Bragg and arrived, unannounced, to manifest for some jumps. At the Arnhem + 50 jump into Holland in 1994, Bruce was presented with his British wings, and later with his Dutch wings by Queen Wilhemena of the Netherlands. He would often joke with his peers about the difficulty in selecting which set of foreign wings to wear with his patrols.
MWO Bamlett served in the Golan Heights in 1981-82 with the UN peacekeeping force, and participated in numerous exercises with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. He was the Queen’s Own’s rappelling instructor, and was also a long-serving member of the Pioneers and Skirmishers.
In 1986, he became a Firefighter with the Vaughan Fire Department, qualified as an Acting Captain, and was active in the Training Division as a First Aid Instructor Trainer, and as a rope rescue instructor.
One of Bruce’s hobbies, besides civilian skydiving, related to a different aspect of being airborne; he was always interested in flying and acquired his license to fly ultralight aircraft. He was also an instructor with St. John’s Ambulance.
Bruce married Beverlee Bertalan in 1987. He and Bev have two daughters, Brittany (5) and Brooklin (2). He will be sorely missed by his wife and children, family and friends.
Captain John Fotheringham, QOR of C
A Life Lived: Bruce Bamlett Bruce
Bamlett was the epitome of an Army Sergeant Major: six foot four, able to take command of any situation, and to gain instant respect and admiration from his Officers and his troops. On top of that he was extremely funny and a talented cartoonist.
When I first went to the recruiting office of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada I saw cartoons of Army life, one of them showing a Sergeant Major (him) yelling at a Recruit (soon to be me) with a yellow puddle at the Recruit’s boots.
Bruce was a true Soldier who cared about his troops and would risk punishment for sticking up for what he knew was right. He took his purpose seriously but never himself. For the Queen’s Own he initiated an impromptu radio operator’s course one Christmas, and created an “Airborne Rifleman’s Aide Memoire” and a “Section Battle Drills Booklet” using pictures he drew himself.
He cautioned troops to call him Bruce on the phone because his wife would tease him for days if someone asked for “the Sergeant Major”. Beverlee wouldn’t let him take himself too seriously even if he wanted to.
Last year at age 41 Bruce was diagnosed with an extreme case of brain cancer. He was given the choice of having surgery which might leave him paralyzed or blind, or a lesser operation that would help but leave him in control of himself. He felt he wanted to “stay Bruce” for as long as he could.
He worked at “staying Bruce” in the year following. It must have been hard especially for his young daughters Brittany and Brooklin, who could only understand that Daddy was very different. It was hard on Beverlee to see her strong husband brought to such a level; in the end he required full-time nursing and had to be helped to eat. I learned a lot from her courage and sense of purpose as she remained upbeat in what to me were terrifying conditions. Bruce still retained his pride and sense of humour. When I last saw him he was joking about things we’d done years ago, but had no memory of what had happened two minutes before.
At Bruce’s funeral we all learned different aspects about him. It’s hard to piece together a life lived. Eulogies touched on his schooldays, his family life, his days as a Police officer, and his more recent work as a fire-fighter. Each of them added to my portrait of the Sergeant Major. Even the padre was brief and to the point.
As the consummate Sergeant Major Bruce had planned his own funeral and said he wanted people to remember him as he was, and all the fun and funny times past. As he said “The funeral sounds great, too bad I’ll miss it.” In true army humour we told him he’d be the guest of honour.
Over 20 of us met after his funeral at Barberian’s Steakhouse: friends past, former serving members and those of us left to carry on the traditions of Regiment, the next generation of the Queen’s Own Family. It was a very boisterous evening. “Alcohol was served” as we said. We were all relieved Bruce had finally succumbed to the disease. None of us would allow the solemnity of the occasion to dampen our spirits. We shared our comradeship in a manner he would have approved.
We went around the table, actually zigzagging from side to side across the table, all telling Bruce Bamlett stories. The only rule was they had to be funny. Each of us told a hilarious story and we were all laughing uproariously, each of us remembering our own memories and versions of these events. Anyone who told a story that was poignant but un-funny was berated for its “inappropriateness.”
Then, in the most touching moment I’ve ever experienced, the Colonel asked each of us to say one word, or one sentence that best described how we felt about the MAN. The words came: “My mentor”, “My hero”, “Loyalty”, “A true soldier”,”Outstanding”, “Sergeant Major”, and “My best friend.”
We toasted Bruce for the final time. I think he would have liked to be there. I know I was glad to be. Goodbye Bruce.
P.S. Bruce got the last laugh on me. I used his rifle the day after he died instead of my own. I figured I owed him that. It wasn’t until I completely missed the target that I remembered he was left-handed and his sight would have been completely different. I’m sure he was watching down on me laughing. Serves me right.
Sergeant Bill Paton, QOR of C