My Grandfather, Alfred Bromfield
The recent Movie “Australia” has made more people aware that Darwin suffered as much from a surprise bombing attack as Pearl Harbour. Less well know is that two weeks later nine Japanese Zeros came out of nowhere to strafe with machine guns and canon fire the airfield and harbour in Broome. The town had no defenses – most of the aircraft were slow flying boats, sitting ducks in the harbour, filled with women and children, refugees from the Japanese invasion of Java. They were fleeing for safety in Australia. The attack only lasted about ten minutes but left 24 aircraft destroyed, 70 dead and the town in chaos.
Realizing that the Japanese could have taken the town with a company of soldiers, the pearling luggers on the beach were destroyed to deny their to invaders to use as raiders of all the isolated tiny settlements along the Western Australian coast. The four best were sailed to Perth for use by the Navy.
This is where Lawrence family history meets the bigger picture. Later in the war, when the threat of invasion had disappeared after the defeat of the Japanese Army in New Guinea, the Navy asked for volunteers to sail the boats back to Broome. Our Grandfather, Alfred Bromfield and two others, all keen fishermen and amateur sailors volunteered to sail one, were caught in a huge storm and all lost at sea. Our Grandfather who had survived Gallipoli, although severely wounded drowned at sea leaving a wife and three children. I wonder what convinced him to offer to ferry this boat more that 2000 km north?
There is a memorial to him on the gravestone of his wife, our Nana, Alice, who lived a widow for 30 years more, shared with their great grand daughter, Meredith Lawrence in Rookwood cemetery in Sydney.
I had hoped to find more information about the particular boat at the excellent historical museum in Broome, but the circumstances during the war mean that they have no records of which boats were burned and which ones saved. At home I have a yellowed newspaper cutting, recording the loss of the boat and sailors and it will have to wait for my return to do some research as I am told the government probably paid compensation for the boar, leaving a paper trail to be followed.