Sidney Reginald BROMLEY
Eyes blue, Hair dark, Complexion dark
The Bromleys - A Family Affair - Two Brothers and Their Sister
Sidney “Sid” Bromley and Albert “Bert” Bromley and Nellie Bromley were the children of Sidney and Alice (nee Taylor) and they lived in Brewarrina, New South Wales. There were eight children in total, Stella, Maud, Nellie, Sidney, Henry, Mona, Albert and Roy. Nellie, Sid and Bert served in WWI. Sidney (father) was a plumber and he also had held a position as a Warren Commons Trustee for the management of Crown land in the area. Nellie, Sid and Bert attended the Brewarrina Public School. After completing their schooling, Sid became a plumber, Bert a railway clerk and Nellie a nurse. Their parents eventually moved to Waverley, Sydney, where Nellie worked as a Nurse.
The Call to War for Sid and Bert
At just 18 years old, Bert was the first to enlist on the 3 August 1915, in Dubbo, New South Wales. Sid, 23, followed him on 2 November 1915, joining in Holdsworthy, New South Wales. Both were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 15th Reinforcements. Nellie enlisted much later on the 17 June 1918, in Sydney.
Bert and Sid’s initial training was at the Liverpool camp, after which they headed to Egypt. They left Sydney on 8 March 1916 on the HMAT A15 Star of England, arriving at Port Said on 10 April 1916.
Hilton Saunders (4901), who came from the same area as the Bromleys, wrote of the trip to Egypt to his parents:
“I am still O.K., and still enjoying the happy-go-lucky life of an Australian soldier. I have now settled down to camp life after having had a most enjoyable trip over the water from Sydney. There is no doubt it was a lovely trip from the very day we left Sydney till we landed in Port Said.”
Shortly after their arrival, they boys were reassigned to A Company in the 53rd Battalion. This new battalion had being formed as a ‘sister’ battalion to the 1st, as part of the major troop reorganisation being done to accommodate all the new recruits.
As noted in the War Diaries, the Gallipoli experienced soldiers from the 1st were not slow in pointing out to whoever would listen that they were the “Dinkums” and the 53rd were the “War Babies”.
Source AWM4 23/70/1, 53rd Battalion War Diaries, Feb-July 1916, page 3
Training for all continued. In March they were sent to Ferry Post, on foot, a trip of about 60 km that took three days. It was a significant challenge, walking over the soft sand in the 38°C heat with each man carrying their own possessions and 120 rounds of ammunition. Many of the men suffered heat stroke.
The Bromleys’ training continued until 16 June, when the 53rd began the move from their Ferry Post camp to support the Western Front.
The 32 officers and 958 soldiers of the 53rd left Alexandria on 19 June on the Royal George, bound for Marseilles, France. After arriving in Marseilles on the 28th, they had a 62 hour train ride to Thiennes.
It was noted that their “reputation had evidently preceded them”, as they were well received by the French at the towns all along the route.
Source Australian War Museum 53rd Battalion War Diaries February-June 1916 page 4
After their arrival they had several days of marching the 30 km to Fleurbaix and then were settled into billets on 16 July. Early the next morning, the 53rd were moved straight into the front lines for an attack, but it was cancelled due to bad weather. They remained in the trenches in relief of the 54th.
By 11.00 AM on the 19th, heavy bombardment was underway from both armies and at 4.00 PM the 54th rejoined in the trenches on their left.
All were now in position for battle. The main objective for the 53rd was to take the trenches to the left of a heavily armed, elevated German defensive position, the ‘Sugar Loaf’, which dominated the front lines. If the Sugar Loaf could not be taken, the 53rd and the other battalions would be subjected to murderous fire from the machine guns and counterattacks from that direction.
As they advanced, they were to link up with the 60th and 54th Battalions on their flanks. The Australians went on the offensive at 5.43 PM. They moved forward in four waves – half of Sid and Bert’s A Company and B Company in each of the first two waves and half of C & D in the third and fourth.
The first waves did not immediately charge the German lines, they went out into No-Man’s-Land and laid down, waiting for the British bombardment to lift.
At 6.00 PM the German lines were rushed. The 53rd were under heavy artillery, machine gun and rifle fire, but were able to advance rapidly. Corporal J.T. James of C Company (3550) reported:
“At Fleurbaix on the 19th July we were attacking at 6 p.m. We took three lines of German trenches”
As below, the 14th Brigade War Diary notes that the artillery had been successful and “very few living Germans were found in the first and second line trenches”, but within the first 20 minutes the 53rd lost all the company commanders, all their seconds in command and six junior officers.
Sid and Bert were among these early casualties. Private F. Tuvey (4923) reported that Bert was killed about five yards from the German line and that Sid was killed trying to help Bert. He notes that they were best mates.
The 53rd continued on and were able to link up with the 54th on their left and, with the 31st and 32nd, occupy a line from Rouges Bancs to near Delangre Farm, but the 60th on their right had been unable to advance due to the devastation from the machine gun emplacement at the Sugar Loaf.
The 53rd held their lines through the night against “violent” attacks from the Germans from the front, but their exposed right flank had allowed the Germans access to the first line trench BEHIND the 53rd, requiring the Australians to later have to fight their way back to their own lines.
By 9.00 AM on the 20th, the 53rd received orders to retreat from positions won and by 9.30 AM they had “retired with very heavy loss”.
By 4.30 PM the remains of the Brigade assembled at HQ. Of the 990 men who had left Alexandria just weeks ago, 36 were killed, 353 wounded and 236 missing.
As the brothers died not far from the Australian lines, Sid’s body was recovered, but there are no records of his burial. Later reports by the Graves Registration Unit mention his exhumation from a grave at Bois Grenier, a cemetery near Fromelles, before he reached his final resting spot in the Ration Farm Military Cemetery (Plot VI, Row J, Grave No. 43), La Chapelle d’Armentieres, 5 km from Fleurbaix. A letter to his parents about his final grave was sent 24 June 1920.
While the brothers died together, Bert’s body was not found. His identity disc was picked up by the Germans and he appeared on a German death list dated 4 November 1916, stating that they had buried the soldier. A report in a local paper at the time reported:
A Warren native, Private Bert Bromley, who enlisted at Brewarrina,
was shot dead by a sniper. His brother Sid is also reported missing.
He was commemorated at VC Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles, France, Panel 7. However, in 2008 a mass grave that had been dug by the Germans outside of Fromelles was discovered. It contained the remains of some 250 soldiers.
With this discovery, the Australian Defence Force undertook a project to match up DNA of the soldiers in the grave with living relatives to be able to honour the soldiers properly.
Bert’s remains were positively identified in 2011, 95 years after his death.
Graham Rowe, his cousin three times removed, said his family had been searching for some time for answers to what happened to Bert. He says he approached the Department of Defence when he realised, may have died at Fromelles.
"I think I went to their website and they had a list of soldiers who they suspected had been buried at Pheasant Wood and he was listed. "It's hard to describe really, it's just 'here's a connection to a pretty historical event'," he said.
On 19 July 2011 his headstone was dedicated with 13 other soldiers with the ceremony led by the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Veterans Affairs.
Finally, Bert has a known grave - Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, Grave I. A. 7.
Nellie Also Answered the Call to War
Nellie had become a trained nurse and was living in Sydney. She also felt the call to war and at 28 years old enlisted on 17 June 1918.
After initially serving in Sydney, she transferred to the AIF to go to Egypt. She left Australia on 9 Nov 1918 on the HMAT AA8 Wiltshire, arriving in mid-December.
She worked at several general and auxiliary hospitals at Abbassia, on the outskirts of Cairo.
In addition to war casualties, they treated men with a range of illnesses and diseases including malaria, dysentery and pneumonia from the Sinai and Palestine campaigns.
Nellie also had an interesting ‘side vocation’ interest, particularly for this time. In late July 1919, she was granted leave to go to London to attend a motor engineering course at the Motor Training Institute, which she passed "paying close attention to her work and made good progress"
Source: NAA: B2455, BROMLEY, N E – First AIF Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, page 38
After this, she served a short nursing stint at Sutton Veny, outside of Southampton, before being sent home. She left the UK in late November and arrived in Australia in mid-January 1920.
She received her discharge in April. Nellie married after the war and had two sons and a daughter.
Her sons served in the RAAF in WW2. Her eldest son was killed on a mission over Libya and his body was never found, but her youngest son survived the war.
Remembering the Bromley Brothers
Sid and Bert received the British War and Victory medals.
They are commemorated at:
The family’s multi-generational community commitment certainly deserves our respect as shown in father Sidney’s role as a Commons Trustee and the military sacrifices that the family has made in two wars. This seems best captured in a tribute by the members of the community to Bert.
Lest we forget.
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