A Family connection with Broome

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.


6 thoughts on “A Family connection with Broome

  1. Dear Gary & Julie,

    Graham & I are heading to Maitland Hospital to see Mum. We have printed a copy of your postings, especially the ones pertaining to her father, to take with us! I am sure it will do her heart glad to know that you are thinking about her constantly! Safe travelling! I will let you know how things are by email as soon as I can!
    Love to you both!

    • Hi Paula, I m glad you are finished the marking. Now I imagine that you have got to tell the class the results with the usual reactions. Yes, I have quite an interesting family history on both sides. On that side (Mum’s) all the men have been soldiers and all the women teachers (?)

      • Does that make you a woman?!!! Haha ha. (Phil, Kevin and I are reaing your blog and that is ouir response P5 on a Thurs with a boring as Staff Meeting looming) Man we wish we were you!!!

      • I thought that it was Year Advisers mantra “If yo c an’t say something nice, don’t say anything! – and don’t blame Kevin even if it was him!
        Actually, my Mum’s side of the family we have traced back into the 1600’s and the first male found so far was a school teacher who became one of the “Peelers” – the first paid police men.
        Now a job for the three of you – next time Kelvin comes to use the facilities you can tell him that just before 1 pm Monday in Broome on local ABC radio, Gary heard someone calling himself Kelvin Hastie talking about the renovation programme for the organ in Sydney Town Hall. He sounded just like the Kelvin I have known for 22 years and I am afraid there is some serious identity theft going on!

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