Ythil Charles Lewis Bromley was born on 28th April 1904 at Brentford, Middlesex. He was a Master Mariner.
He arrived in Singapore in 1938 as a Chief Officer aboard RFA Francol.
He was captured by the Japanese and held at Pekan Baroe (Pakan Baroe / Pekanbaru). As a result, he does not strictly ‘belong’ to this website but we are pleased to memorialize any of the prisoners held in Sumatra during WW2.
Bromley died in captivity of beri beri on 3rd August 1945 aged 41. His wife was Vera Marjorie nee Cottee of Mottingham, Kent.
The records of the RFA show that on 3rd March 1942 while on passage to Fremantle, in position 11.00S 109.00E near Tjilatjap, 300 miles south of Java, the Francol was in a convoy of ships (including the Royal Australian Navy sloop HMAS Yarra, depot ship Anking, and British minesweeper 51) which was attacked by the Japanese heavy cruisers Atago, Takao, and Maya together with the destroyers Arashi and Howaki and in the ensuing battle, which lasted only 90 minutes, all 4 ships were sunk. Perhaps not surprisingly given that they were vastly outgunned.
There were only 13 survivors from Francol all of whom became PoW’s. Those lost are remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial (see below), the Hong Kong Memorial, and the Plymouth Naval Memorial. What happened to the other POWs is not known. Note this is somewhat confusing since Bromley was assumed to have died at the time of the sinking of the Francol and is therefore counted among those who are so memorialized, whereas in fact he was a POW, and later died as one. Thus we should say there were 14 survivors, counting Bromley.
Bromley’s grave is to be found at the Dutch cemetery of Leuwigajah near Cimahi which is near Badung south of Jakarta on the island of Java. He is however listed there as NCL Bromley not YCL. This needs to be changed.
He has been found as a six year old on the 1911 census living as a boarder at No. 70 Cauldwell Hall Road, Ipswich, Suffolk:
No probate record has yet been found. The following images all show official entries in various sources listing his capture and later his decease.
DEGRADED TO COOLIES
“We were burying people at the rate of six or seven a day,” said Wing-Commander Coffey. “The Japanese refused to allow them decent burial and the bodies were simply wrapped in matting and dumped in the jungle.
“Captain Myosaki, who was commander of all the prison camps in Sumatra, must take responsibility. The Pakan Baroe camp commandant, Lieutenant Doie, was a sadistic brute who told me on more than one occasion,’I do not care whether the prisoners live or die.’
“Hospital accommodation comprised filthy native huts. There were no medical orderlies. Men with dysentery were dying in their own filth. We had one bed pan and two urinals to 150 men, no clothing, no blankets, no mosquito nets, no disinfectants, and no medicines.
“The Australian prisoners were captured in Java and Madang. Grander chaps I have never met. They seemed more susceptible to pellagra than the others, probably because normally they are big meat-eaters. “There was a big death-toll among the Australians. As far as I know 170 are still alive.”
“There was a big women’s camp near us, with British, Dutch, and Australian civilian women and nurses. There were only one or two Australian nurses, I think. Conditions there were reported to beggar description. Although I never visited it I was told the conditions there were worse than in our camp.”
Wing-Commander Coffey added: “They reduced us to the level of the lowest coolies, and did everything possible to degrade us.”
Captain Kirkwood, who was medical officer with a large party of British, Dutch, and Australians building roads, told a similar story of brutalities, starvation, and hardships. Men, most of them weak and many ill, who had done no walking for two years, were forced to march 131 kilometres.
On one day they marched 31 kilometres. Many dropped from exhaustion, their feet in a terrible state. They had to carry, in addition to their own gear and cooking utensils, all Japanese kit and tools. They also had to carry their own sick. They did a night march through jungle in pitch dark of 23 kilometres, with men staggering into ditches and swamps. Japanese guards had what they called “medicine sticks,” with which they beat the sick to make them march faster.
When they finally reached their destination they found the camp area was a flooded paddy field without buildings of any sort. No men fit to work on the road were allowed to help build huts, which the sick had to improvise from banana leaves, through which water poured when it rained.
The camp’s “consultant medical officer” was a Japanese private who had taken a short course in dentistry. There were a number of Australians in this camp, which was situated north of Pakan Baroe. Captain Kirkwood said the Korean guards used to beat up the patients.
One Melbourne man was beaten to death because he was too sick to get out of bed and bow to the guards. “I saw screaming, slavering Koreans beat up a Royal Navy lieutenant who was in command of the prison camp,” said Captain Kirkwood. “Without provocation they beat him across the face with sticks until he fell. He was hauled to his feet and beaten again. It was the most sickening beating-up I have seen, but throughout the naval officer did not utter a word. He stood and took it.”