Monday, July 13, 2015

Special Collections Fossickings 46: Brothers in arms


Caption:  Portrait of  three brothers (L to R) - Jack, Davenport and Astley James Bromfield.    Photographer unknown.
Many stories have emerged from the World War 1 centenary commemorations of families which sent, and sometimes lost, several of their members to this conflict. Fathers enlisted with their sons, sisters became nurses and followed their brothers to Gallipoli or Europe and parents farewelled one son after another as they set off for the Front in a spirit of adventure, patriotism or simple family loyalty.
Caption: "Atherton Boys"    Photographer: Astley James Bromfield, Bromfield Album, NQ Photographic Collection, JCU Library Special Collections.
Caption:  Studio Portrait of Astley James Bromfield     Photographer unknown.
Charles and Mary Bromfield were one couple who saw two of their sons enlist within fourteen months of each other.  Originally from New South Wales the couple had brought their family to north Queensland in the 1890s and when war began to tear Europe apart they were dairy-farming outside Malanda.  The conflict must have seemed very far away from such a remote, rural community but as news of Australian casualties filled the headlines, young men found the call to arms hard to resist.
Caption:  AJ Bromfield (on right) engaged in recreational play on board a Defence force ship.    Photographer unknown, Bromfield Album, NQ Photographic Collection, JCU Library Special Collections.
Astley Bromfield’s war began with enlistment in the 25th battalion in September 1915 followed by embarkation from Brisbane at the end of the year. There was plenty of fun to be had on the long voyage and his photos show on-board “pillow fights” and boxing matches and sight-seeing in Egypt. But it was not all plain sailing and severe paratyphoid landed him in hospital for many weeks. By June 1916 he was in France on his way to the front with the 7th Machine Gun Company, later absorbed into the 2nd Machine Gun battalion. By November younger brother Jack had enlisted with the 15th battalion in Cairns and was soon training in Brisbane.  After his own sea-voyage Jack disembarked in south-west England in April 1917 before marching to one of the Wiltshire military camps.
Caption:  Studio portrait of Jack Bromfield    Photographer: The Talma Studios, Sydney.  Bromfield Album, NQ Photographic Collection, JCU Library Special Collections. 
The pride that Charles and Mary surely felt in their sons must have gone hand-in-hand with anxiety as cables brought news of illness and injury. In September 1917 Astley was badly wounded in the leg on the first day of the Battle of Menin Road, at Ypres. This required prolonged hospitalization. In the same month Jack came down with an unknown fever in France and was again reported sick in December. In February 1918 Astley was wounded a second time and a few weeks later Jack received wounds which put him out of action for eight weeks.  This was a period of intense fighting as the Allies struggled against the onslaught of the German spring offensive. In July came the worst news of all. Jack, only recently recovered from his wounds, was killed in action at the Battle of Hamel. He was 24.
Caption: "Blighties"     Photo credit: Astley James Bromfield, Bromfield Album, NQ Photographic Collection, JCU Library Special Collections.
Happily Astley survived and before returning to Australia made a valiant effort to find his brother’s remains in the wastelands of battle. He eventually returned to North Queensland where he married, raised a daughter and lived a long and productive life. Brother Jack rests forever in the Crucifix Corner cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux.



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