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NAVY NEWS, JANUARY 2009 45
Bonner, man of honour
CAST your mind back
a few months to last
spring.
Some 200,000 people poured
on to the streets of Portsmouth
(that’s considerably more people
than actually live on the island) to
welcome the city’s football team,
newly-crowned winners of the FA
Cup.
The players were hailed as
‘heroes’, their manager Harry
That shrinkingh hiki
Redknapp, the local newspaper
proclaimed (with typical hyperbole
feeling
as is its wont when Pompey are
concerned) was deserving of a
knighthood (he’s still to be so
GIVEN the ever-shrinking RN,
honoured…).
one day you’ll probably be able to
slip it in your pocket.
How our perspectives have
Until that day comes, you’ll
changed – and not for the better.
have to rely upon the ever-
If you want a true hero, rummage
dependable pocket guide to the
through naval history. You’ll fi nd
Senior Service, Steve Bush’s
one Charles George ‘Gus’ Bonner,
British Warships and Auxiliaries
an unassuming man of honour,
(Maritime Books, £8.99 ISBN
the son of a Staffordshire farmer.
978-1-904459-361).
In October 1917, there was a
Updated annually (now in its
clamour in his native Aldridge,
30th year), it is 104 fact-filled
a town of some 3,000 folk, to
pages on the state of the RN,
welcome a returning war hero.
RM, RFA, Fleet Air Arm and
The noun is apt in this case.
ancilliary organisations.
‘Gus’ Bonner had just been
Indeed those ancillary vessels
awarded the VC.
– tugs, water carriers, aircrew
His life is lovingly – and
● 'HMS Dunraven VC in action against the submarine that sank her, August 8 1917'... a painting by painting by
comprehensively – told by Sue
Charles Pears of the dramatic action in which Gus Bonner received Britain's highest honour r
training craft, range safety vessels
Satterthwaite in Bonner VC
Picture: The Society of Marine Artists/IWM Art 5130 Collection/Bonner VCection/Bonner VC
– account for 23 pages, while the
nuts and bolts (ie the surface and
(privately published, £19.99 –
profi ts to the Royal British Legion
sangfroid, he reported: “I am There were public meetings in though I don’t want another dose another dose
submarine fleet) account for 25.
– ISBN 978-0-955480-18).
sorry, Sir, to leave the gun without his honour, a concert, a salver of quite so bad as that again.gain.”
The author paints a rather
Bonner (pictured, right)
permission, but I believe I was a tea and coffee service presented, Gus Bonner survivved the war
bleak view of RN present and
earned Britain’s highest military
blown up.” standing ovations and songs sung and became a leading salvding salvage
future. Ten years on from the
decoration for his role in a ‘Q
It was this “consummate with gusto. expert, ultimately oveerrseeing the
Strategic Defence Review, the
overhaul of Britain’s amphibious
ship’ action, trying to lure U-boat
coolness”, not to mention And most touching of all was end of several dreadnoughtsoughts.
forces is “perhaps the single
UC71 to its doom.
“conspicuous gallantry”, which a poem, After the Strafe, probably He died of cancer in 1951 in 1951
success story”.
Instead it was the killer-in-
resulted in the award of the VC composed by his father. It is more and although he had livd lived
As for the rest... Type 45
disguise, HMS Dunraven, which
that autumn. McGonagall than McCrae, but it for most of his later yr years
destroyers will number six, not
was mortally wounded in the
It is a story which has been told is especially touching nonetheless: in Edinburgh, Bonner’nner’s
12 and the replacement for the
battle in the Bay of Biscay in
before in books about the Q ships,
“They say it was a gory sight
ashes were scattered in d in
Type 22/23s, the ‘Future Surface
August 1917.
or naval VCs. But the author has
After the brave explosion
the Staffordshire toown
Combatant’ won’t be around
Bonner, Dunraven’s fi rst
been given unprecedented access
past
where he grew up.
until 2019 at the earliest – by
lieutenant, was knocked
to the family papers, not to obscure
And your brave Uncle Gus
Portsmouth hosted a d a
which time the frigate/destroyer
unconscious by a shell from UC71
records and archives up and down
was found
parade in honour of its ts
force will be 20-22 strong, at
which detonated a depth charge;
the land (and beyond…).
Unconscious by the mast;
‘heroes’ last May; the e
least ten fewer ships than planned
the blast threw him across the
In fact, it is less the VC action
But things like this, you know,
people of Aldridge
under the 1998 review.
deck, but he crawled “inch by
than the aftermath which is
must be
parade each year
And then there’s the global
inch” back to his 4in gun post.
particularly uplifting.
Ere men attain to the VC.”
to celebrate the life economic crisis squeezing the
His day did not get any better.
The Bonner family home was and achievements of British – and hence the MOD’s
The explosion sparked a fi re besieged with reporters – they
The man himself rarely talked Gus Bonner, more – budget. “The potential for
which made the deck red hot were “strange, pompous, untidy,
about the deed which defi ned him than 90 years after cancellation is never far away and
and eventually spread to the dirty” (good to see things haven’t
in the eyes of the others, except on he won the Victoria the RN remains vulnerable to
Dunraven’s magazine, blowing changed – Ed).
odd occasions in the bosom of his Cross – and more further defence cuts,” fears Bush.
Bonner and his gun crew up in And while contemporary family. than half a century
So a happy 2009 to all...
the air (as well as the gun and its newspapers were fi lled with “By every law and regulation after his death.
shells). adulation for Bonner’s exploits, it’s [I] was killed on three different They seem to have
Burned and covered in blood, the personal congratulations which occasions, by shells and their priorities right in in
Bonner once again crawled across have the ability to move – letters explosions,” he wrote to his Staffordshire…
the wrecked deck of the Dunraven, from former headmasters, former parents a few days after the battle. ■ Available from wwww..
this time to bridge. With typical shipmates, local councillors. “Am feeling quite unkillable now, bonnervc.co.uk
The real scourge of Boney?
IN 1808 Vice Admiral Sir
the French Marshal Bernadotte made that Saumarez was just as
James Saumarez (the
The Grove
as crown prince of Sweden. He important in the fi nal defeat of
name is of Guernsey
might have prevented the marshal Napoleon as Collingwood or even
origin) was appointed to Review
reaching his new realm to be, Nelson. His careful management
but did not – thereby ensuring a of the Baltic in the end forced
command the Baltic Fleet, good relationship with the new
Napoleon to make his greatest
a post he held for the
regime that had replaced the pro-
mistake, the disastrous 1812
following fi ve years, fl ying
Napoleon: The Baltic 1807-12
British, but erratic King Gustav.
Russian campaign the led to his
(Boydell, £45 ISBN 978-1-84383-
his fl ag in HMS Victory
He could see that “a ‘phoney’ war
fi nal crushing defeats.
. 431-1) – Tim Voelcker, puts up
that allowed trade to continue”
The story is well told by Dr HP BOOKFINDERS: Established
During that time, although he a stout defence of the British
was so clearly the best policy for
Voelcker whose book is a model
professional service locating out
never commanded in a fl eet action C-in-C pointing out that the risks
both countries that it would be the
of careful scholarship. The book’s
of print titles on all
he played an absolutely crucial of attack probably did outweigh
result.
only problem is its rather high price
role in defeating Napoleon, writes the potential gains and that the
subjects. No obligation or SAE
Dr Voelcker paints an attractive
tag. Let us hope it soon appears
Prof Eric Grove of the University of Russian fl eet in question played
required. Contact: Mosslaird,
picture of his subject, an offi cer
in paperback. Its accessibility of
Salford. no more role in operations against
Brig O’ Turk, Callander, FK17 8HT
of great humanity, honesty and
style deserves a more reasonable
His defence of British trade in the British.
defi ance of the French Empire’s
integrity, whose conduct was
price to give it the readership it
Telephone/Fax: (01877) 376377
After his decision to blockade
strategy of hitting the British
guided by strong, quietly-held
deserves. martin@hp-bookfinders.co.uk
rather than fi ght, Saumarez had
www.hp-bookfinders.co.uk
economy by a general trade the temerity to write to the Tsar
religious principles.
embargo and his careful handling to try to wean the latter away from
Saumarez seems to have been
of Sweden even when the once ally his enforced but unnatural French
less concerned with the potential
actually declared war on Britain alliance.
fi nancial benefi ts of his position
(but did little about it) led the This was but a part of a policy
elsewhere – not least the opening than many naval offi cers of his
way to the peace concluded in July of quiet diplomacy with the
of the Peninsular campaign that day and was more anxious that his
1812 with both Sweden and Russia littoral powers, backed up by the
took attention away from the subordinates received prize money
that began the fi nal collapse of the power of his fl eet, that sustained
Baltic, the previously preferred than himself.
French Empire. British interests rather better than
point of application for British His close relationship with his
Saumarez has had something of the previous policy of terror and
troops. wife produced a correspondence
a bad press, largely because of his intimidation that had seen the
The policy of restraint came that was of great use to the author.
apparent unwillingness to attack burning down of Copenhagen in
under particular strain when a Unlike his great contemporary
the Russian fl eet at Rogervik the infamous joint operation of
signifi cant number of British Collingwood he was able to
in 1808. The great American 1807. This pushed Denmark into
cargoes in Prussian fl ag ships were delegate and made full use of his
philosopher of sea power Alfred a hostility that lasted until the end
sequestered by the Swedes. The distinguished subordinates such as
Thayer Mahan, who worshipped of the war, despite the deleterious
C-in-C was given authority to Keats and Byam Martin.
at the shrine of Nelsonian effects of war with Britain on such
be more aggressive, if he thought Now we are post Trafalgar
aggressiveness, was rather critical, a maritime power. Britain suffered it necessary, but eventually a 200 it is important that the key
damning Saumarez with faint too; Danish raiders were one of settlement was reached on the role played by the Navy in the
praise. Saumarez’ greatest headaches. basis of compensation. succeeding decade is given its due
The author of this new study Much was left to Saumarez by Saumarez’ judgement had been weight.
– Admiral Saumarez Versus a London distracted by events tested by the appointment of There is an argument to be
0045_NN_Jan v2.indd 145_NN_Jan v2.indd 1 99/12/08 15:24:07/12/08 15:24:07
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