Seaford resident Cuthbert Bromley distinguished himself during the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915.
Cuthbert was born to his parents, John and Marie Louisa in Hammersmith, London before the family moved to live in Seaford. One of four brothers, Cuthbert had originally intended to enter either the medical profession or the civil service upon the completion of his schooling. However, he eventually settled on the army and received a commission in the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1898. Cuthbert proved to be a strong and capable soldier and in 1901 was gazetted as a Captain and served in West Africa before also being stationed in India.
Cuthbert briefly served as superintendent of Gymnasia in Ireland, a testament to his incredible physical prowess. He was widely recognised as being incredibly strong and capable of great sporting achievement. Under his leadership, the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers gained a variety of regimental sporting achievements. Cuthbert had also achieved the notable feat of swimming between Malta and Gozo, a feat which is still attempted by swimmers today.
War time service
By the outbreak of the First World War, Cuthbert was adjutant (a military rank or appointment) of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and, in 1915, the regiment was included in the plans for the attack on Gallipoli as part of the Dardanelles Campaign. The original aim of the operation had been to lead an expedition through the Dardanelles Straits and eventually threaten the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople. However, the Ottoman defences at Gallipoli had heavily disrupted the attempts by the British and French ships so it had been decided to land an infantry force to try and eliminate the Ottoman positions and thus clear the way for the fleet.
On April 25 1915, Cuthbert Bromley led the 1st Battalion onto W Beach near Helles Point. The landings were a disaster. The Ottoman Empire had heavily fortified the beach with a mix of barbed wire and land mines, some of which were hidden just below the surface of the water. The artillery bombardment of the supporting naval ships had failed to destroy the wire defenses and clear a path for the landing infantry and, as a result, many were killed as they exited their boats or drowned. It was during this landing that Cuthbert Bromley performed actions of notable bravery and heroism as reported in the London Gazette.
On the 25th April 1915, headquarters and three companies of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers in effecting a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula to the West of Cape Helles, were met by very deadly fire from hidden machine guns, which caused a great number of casualties. The survivors, however, rushed up to and cut the wire entanglements, notwithstanding the terrific fire from the enemy, and after overcoming supreme difficulties, the cliffs were gained and the position maintained. Amongst the many very gallant officers and men engaged in this most hazardous undertaking, Captain Bromley, Serjeant Stubbs, and Corporal Grimshaw have been selected by their comrades as having performed the most signal acts of bravery and devotion to duty.
Cuthbert received a wound to his back during these landings but steadfastly refused to leave his unit for medical treatment. It was only when he received a further bullet wound to his leg during further fighting on the 28 April that he was finally evacuated for treatment. After a few weeks of recuperation, Cuthbert returned to his unit at Gallipoli and, when the commanding officer fell sick on 13 June he was promoted to acting Major. He still held this rank when he led his men into battle at Gully Ravine. To motivate his men Cuthbert gave a stirring and impassioned speech before leading them over the top. Early in the battle he received a wound to his foot but, once again, refused medical assistance and continued to lead his men forwards. It was not until the following morning once he was sure that the captured position was sufficiently consolidated that he agreed to return back behind the line and seek treatment.
The HMT Royal Edward
This final wound saw Cuthbert evacuate to Cairo for medical treatment for six weeks as his foot healed enough to bear his weight. Having been finally been passed fit by a medical board, Cuthbert managed to arrange himself passage onboard the troopship Royal Edward in order to return to Gallipoli from Egypt as quickly as possible.
However, this eagerness to return to his men and his duty was to prove fateful. On 13 August 1915, the Royal Edward, whilst it crossed the Mediterranean at 9am, was intercepted by UB-14, a German submarine and torpedoed. A later investigation by Lt Col WB Pearson, Cuthbert’s close friend and commanding officer, ascertained the events following the attack on the ship and reported them to Lady Bromley, Cuthbert’s mother.
The Royal Edward was struck by one or two torpedoes about 9.am. and went down in about 4 1/2 minutes. Your son was not well that morning – a touch of fever and had not come down to breakfast as usual. As far as I can gather he was one of the last to jump overboard but must have either jumped on some floating wreckage or had some fall on him for he was seen swimming in the water in a half-unconscious state with his forehead damaged. One of our men who knew him helped him onto a collapsible boat but which kept turning over as people tried to climb on. So the awful hours passed until the hospital ship ‘Soudan’ was seen in the distance and your son and this man started to swim for it – but your son was by this time very feeble and told the man to go on and he turned back after about 20 yards and swam back towards the upturned boat crowded with men.
The next details I have is from a semi-official source and says a man – one of ours, who knew him well, who had been rescued in one of the hospital ship boats – was in this boat as it cruised about picking up survivors. They found your son’s body floating in the water and took it on board and tried to revive him, but it was some hours after the original tragedy and he was dead and so his body was consigned once more to the deep, for the boat was nearly filled to the gunwale and there were still some survivors struggling in the water.
In March 1917, Cuthbert’s actions and bravery during the landings at W Beach were formally recognised with the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross, the highest honour in the British Army.
Cuthbert was commemorated on the Helles Memorial in modern day Turkey. He is also recognised on the war memorial in his home town of Seaford as well as having a road named after him.
Cuthbert Bromley was honoured with the laying of a VC Paving Stone in Seaford on 16 August 2015. This memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex, Peter Field Esq. Members of Bromley’s family, his regiment, and local dignitaries were also in attendance.
VCs of the First World War: Gallipoli by Stephen Snelling