During his service in the Mediterranean at Algiers he witnessed the loss of HMS Arrow, which was blown up by an explosion from an ammunition ship, moored nearby in the harbour. This incident killed a number of men on both ships and rendered the Arrow beyond repair.
He was also in Malta during part of the siege of the island when food was in short supply. At the end of September 1943 he was transferred to Gibraltar, then went back to Malta in January 1945. He arrived back in England on the 15th August 1945. After the war he came to Swindon with his wife Violet and family in 1955, moving to Highworth in 1963. He was chairman of the Highworth Branch of the Royal British Legion from 1978 until 1991. He was also President of the Highworth Branch RBL for many years. He was area Poppy Organiser for over twelve years, and helped to organise the annual Remembrance Day Parade and service held at St Michael’s church, Highworth.
On the 24th May 1941, P/JX181870 Able Seaman Colin Abbott BONNER, who was twenty one years of age, lost his life while serving on the battle-cruiser HMS Hood. He was the eldest son of Stanley Abbott Bonner and Marie Maxwell Bonner of Westrop House, Highworth.
The German battleship Bismark and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen sailed from the Baltic on 18th May 1941. Their task was to slip through the British naval blockage on German home waters and break into the North Atlantic. The news that two German warships had left the Baltic soon reached London.
The battle-cruiser HMS Hood and the battleship Prince of Wales were ordered to sail from Scapa Flow to Hvalfjord on the west coast of Iceland in the hope of preventing the Germans reaching the Atlantic. At 0535 hours the British squadron sighted the Bismark and Prinz Eugen off the starboard bow. HMS Hood, for all her 42,100 tons displacement and 860ft length, was beginning to show her age. She had been commissioned in 1920 and reflected World War One ideas of naval warfare. HMS Hood’s lack of armoured protection was to prove fatal. Battle commenced at 0552 hours and within minutes a salvo of 15 inch shells from the German ships guns landed on the Hood with disastrous results. Hood sank immediately and so rapid was her destruction that there were only three survivors. Colin Bonner had been educated at Lancing College, Sussex, and was studying architecture before joining the Royal Navy. He was offered a commission but refused because he wanted to serve with the ordinary ranks. On board HMS Hood he served as an anti-aircraft gunner. His brother Lt. Commander Malcolm Bonner was commander of HM Submarine Aldeny which was involved in the evacuation of Crete in 1941.
Another local man to lose his life while serving on HMS Hood was Lieutenant Commander John G.P. Brownrigg of Lechlade, Glos. He was the son of Rev. Robert Graham Plunket Brownrigg who was vicar of Lechlade from 1902-1932.
Able Seaman Colin Abbott Bonner, and Lt-Cdr John G.P. Brownrigg are both commemorated by name on the Portsmouth Naval memorial, Hampshire. The memorial commemorates 14,921 of those from the 1939-45 war who have no known grave but the sea. Colin Bonner‘s cousin Eric Denning also served in the Royal Navy as a Sub/Lt. He had joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and was serving on a Landing Craft (Tank) on D-Day, 6th June 1944, where he was involved with the American Forces on Utah and Omaha beaches. The Landing Craft did something like twenty trips back and forth to the beaches carrying over one hundred and fifty tanks for the invasion forces. Several of the trips were made under very heavy fire from the German forces. During the storm of 18th – 22nd June, which did enormous damage to the Allies, their LCT was marooned on the beach in shallow water for about four days. It was eventually re-floated when the spring tide came, having to be pushed back into the sea with the help of a caterpillar tractor. They were then towed back to Portland into Weymouth shipyard for repairs, having sustained a damaged rudder during their shipwreck on the Normandy beaches. The crew then spent three months in Weymouth. Finally, they were involved in taking food to Rotterdam in Holland for humanitarian purposes, owing to the country being virtually starved due to the German occupation.
D/MX 75078 Submariner Engine Room Artificer, 5th Class, Clarence William DURNELL, British Empire Medal, Royal Navy. Killed in action 25th February 1942, Age 20. Clarence Durnell, who was born on the 30th December 1921, joined the Royal Navy on the 29th April 1941. He volunteered for submarines on the 23rd July, and was sent for training to HMS Elfin. After a month’s training and having passed all his exams he was sent to Dolphin as spare crew. This was from 20th October 1941 to 1st January 1942. It was during this time as a spare crew member that he was assigned to a submarine to take part in operations round Norway. During November 1941 he was awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery in action off the coast of Norway. Early in December he came home for a short stay of leave. Having returned for duty he then joined the depot ship Maidstone for passage to Submarine P38 in Gibraltar which he joined on the 15th January 1942.
As the Germans and Italians continued to pour men and materials into the North African campaign, so their need for supplies assumed new dimensions. Targets for Allied submarines became more prolific. On the evening of the 20th February 1942 an enemy convoy put to sea from Taranto, comprising four merchantmen escorted by six warships. Along with two other British submarines P38 was waiting to attack the convoy as soon as it came into range.
On the morning of the 25th February the Italian warship Circe picked up a good contact on her ECG 1,630 yards off the starboard bow. This was submarine P38, within seconds Lt. Rowland Hemingway DSC. Commander of P38 gave orders for the submarine to dive deeper. He had obviously seen Circe making speed towards him. By that time other Italian destroyers were closing in for the kill. Assisted by ECG signals and the air-bubble from the submarine, depth-charges were signalled away with precision. P38 was forced to the surface with her bow facing towards the convoy and well out of the sea. Circe moved to starboard in preparation for another attack but whilst executing this manoeuvre the destroyer Antoniotto Usodimare opened fire on P38. The escorting aircraft opened fire with its machine-gun and dropped a bomb when P38 began to submerge. More depth charges were then dropped by the two Italian destroyers who then broke off the attack. With calm restored the ECG search for the submarine was continued. Suddenly, about 30 degrees off Circe’s port quarter, P38’s bows appeared high out of the water with hydroplanes clearly at rise. Her bows remained suspended a few moments before crashing back into the sea to send her stern out of the water at a steep angle and with propellers turning wildly. P38 then dived sharply from view and was not seen again.
What took place in P38 on that Monday morning will of course never be known. Damage reports might have told Lt. Hemingway DSC that P38 was done for and that his best course would be to surface and save the crew. It might be that P38 was in the process of surfacing when she became uncontrollable. Breaking surface wildly she then plunged a thousand feet to the bottom and broke up. All thirty two crew members lost their lives on the 25th February 1942.