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A fitting military funeral after 82 years

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

During the latter part of 2022 I was honoured to attend the Military Funeral of LAC John Stuart Mee Bromley in The Netherlands.

My part in this story began several years ago when during a visit to The Netherlands, fellow Historian & friend Jan Jolie told me that he was struggling to research Bromley’s life prior to World War 2.

Jan had been researching the story of 6 Aircraft of 264 Squadron for a number of years, his article ‘Unlucky Baptism of Fire’ which told the story of these aircraft had already been published in ‘After the Battle’ Magazine.

Jans research focused on a flight of six Boulton Paul Defiant reconnaissance fighters of 264 Squadron who took part in a combat operation along with six Spitfires of 66 Squadron to patrol the Dutch coast between Ijmuiden & The Hague with the objective to attacking German Troop Transport on the 13th May 1940.

Airmen and World War II Boulton-Paul Defiant from No 264 Squadron, Creative Commons Licence (Wikicommons)

During the operation the six Defiants spotted seven JU 87 Stukas dive-bombing a target to the south-east, going in to attack them an air battle ensued during which some ME 109s would also join in & would see several individual dog-fights to develop.

Five of the Defiants would be shot down with only One returning to Britain.

The aircraft involved were: -

Blue 1 (Defiant L6969)

Flight Lieutenant George FA Skelton - Captured

Pilot Officer Jack E Hatfield - Evaded

Blue 2 (Defiant L6958)

Pilot Officer Samuel R Thomas - Evaded

LAC John Stuart Mee Bromley – Killed in Action

Blue 3 (Defiant L6960)

Pilot Officer Gordon E Chandler – Killed in Action

LAC Douglas L McLeish– Killed in Action

Green 1 (Defiant L6977)

Pilot Officer PEJ Greenhous - Captured

Sergeant FD Greenhalgh - Captured

Green 2 (Defiant L6965)

Pilot Officer Alexander M McLeod - Evaded

LAC Walter E Cox - Evaded

Green 3 (Defiant L6974)

Pilot Officer DHS Kay - Returned

LAC EJ Jones – Returned

On his return to the UK P/O Thomas advised that during the dogfight his starboard engine caught fire & that his dashboard & control column was shot away by a stream of bullets that came from the rear. He lost control for a time before turning the aircraft on its back so that both men could bail out as had been previously arranged. He received no reply from LAC Bromley & had to bail out when the flames reached his cockpit.

Thomas came down on an island south-east of Dordrecht, helped by locals he would return to the UK on the 14th May.

In 1994 their aircraft was discovered when a group of holidaymakers stumbled across its remains in the wetlands at Biesbosch. The relevant authorities were summoned & following excavation human remains & personal belongings were found within the aircraft. These would would lie in storage until it could be proved that they were the remains of LAC Bromley & that the aircraft was in fact L6958.

Excavation of L6958 (Image courtesy of Jan Jolie)

It would take many years to reach the conclusion that the remains belonged to Bromley this was due to the fact that confirming his identity from such a small number of bones was extremely difficult & I suppose a lot of other factors had also to be ruled out.

The engine & many other items of the Aircraft now reside in Biesbosch Museum where a Memorial to LAC Bromley was unveiled in 2001.

Through my research I discovered that John Stuart Mee Bromley was born on the 16th March 1916 at 2 Rossett Ave, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, England. His Birth Certificate details no father & his mother is detailed as Constance Maud Bromley a Linen & Stores Manageress of 2 Toft Street, Edge Lane, Liverpool.

On the 15th June 1916 at Christ Church, Kensington, Liverpool, John was Baptised. On this occasion his name was detailed as John Stewart Bromley son of Constance Maud Bromley, again no fathers name was given.

When the 1921 Census was taken on the 19th June, John along with his mother were living in the Old Swan area of Liverpool. John was attending school full time & his mother Constance is detailed as a Shop Assistant who was out of work.

On the 14th August 1922 John was enrolled at Walton Breck School, Liverpool. At this point he was being called Jack Stuart (Jack being an interchangeable name for John in the UK). At this time has address was given as 28 Newcombe Street & his parents name was given as Fred. It states that he came to this school from Lister Drive School & that he went on to leave the school in 21st December 1922 to move to Tiber Street School.

Not much is known about John’s father ‘Frederick Mee’, although a search does reveal a few possibles.

In 1929 Constance is noted on the Voters Roll as residing at 62 Beaumont Street, Liverpool.

The 1939 Register was taken to ascertain who might be eligible for war service & although it is available to search, persons who it is thought may still be alive today are hidden from view. Although no entry for John can be found there is one for Constance staying 13 Sugnall Street, Liverpool. Her occupation is given as a Confectioners Manageress. She is noted as being a Widow, no marriage was found for Constance so she may have pretended to be married or widowed to prevent any stigma over her illegitimate son.

John joined the RAF as a class ‘F’ reservist & was given the service number 521432 where he reached the rank of Leading Aircraftman serving with 264 Squadron. He died following the crash of his Defiant L6958 south of Rotterdam on 13th May 1940 & was commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey.

The death indexes show that his mother Constance died in 1958 in Liverpool.

I carried out a considerable amount of research in relation to Constance Bromley, her parents & siblings. I sent a few letters off to potential living family & through this I was able to speak with a second cousin, who had been unaware of John & his untimely death.

The Air81 casualty file revealed letters between Constance Bromley & the Air Ministry. Struggling with the handwriting & language in some cases Jan asked me to transcribe these letters. Understandably, these letters make difficult reading. Having been told in 1940 that her only son was killed in action she asks again in 1946 if there could be a mistake. She tells the Air Ministry that since 1942 she has worked hard to try to find him & that she would continue to do so until her last hours.

Constance would be put in touch with John’s pilot Samuel Thomas (later Squadron Leader) who would relay the events of the day, loss of the aircraft & that it was his belief that John lost his life in action.

The Air Ministry further advised her that in the absence of news it was thought that the aircraft her son was flying in may have come down into one of the many waterways in the area & was lost without trace.

These details were passed onto Jan who was in contact with the Authorities.

It took many years for the various authorities to work on this case & having just returned from a holiday in the Netherlands, I was surprised to receive an invitation from the Ministry of Defence to attend the Military Service of John Bromley which would take place a couple of months later.

Invite from the Ministry of Defence

Being told that no living family would be attending the funeral I quickly booked flights with the thought of Constance’s letters in my mind. This poor woman never had the opportunity to learn where her son was found nor did she get to attend his funeral so it was important that I did!

At 1520hrs on Wednesday 28th September 2022 at Jonkerbos War Cemetery in Nijmegen Leading Aircraftman John Stuart Mee Bromley of 264 Squadron was laid to rest. The service was conducted by Reverend Squadron Leader Josephine Critchley of the RAF.

(Images courtesy of Jan Jolie)

His coffin was draped with the Union Jack & was carried to its place of burial by members of the RAF Regiment.

I was honoured to place a wreath at his grave & for the first time since applying for my Great Uncles WW2 RAF Service Medals, I wore these along with my Father’s RAF Service medal for the occasion. They are a reminder to me of why I do this job & I like to think that they watch over me as I do.

(Image courtesy of Jan Jolie)
Scattering Earth onto the Coffin (Image courtesy of Ben Mulder)
War Grave of John Stuart Mee Bromley (Image Courtesy of Ben Mulder)

During the reception that followed I thanked Jan for all his encouragement over the years.

Although he has now stepped down from his own research, we both like to think that I have now picked up that baton.

(Image courtesy of Jan Jolie)


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