Charles George Bonner VC

b. 29/12/1884 Shuttington, Warwickshire. d. 07/02/1951 Edinburgh, Scotland.

Charles George Bonner (1884-1951) was born at Shuttington, Warwickshire on 29th December 1884, the youngest son of Samuel Bonner and his wife Jane nee Hellaby, formerly of Bramcote Hall. While Charles was still an infant, his father, a farmer and JP, uprooted the family and settled at Aldridge, near Walsall, in Staffordshire. Educated at Bishop Vesey’s Grammar School, Sutton Coldfield and Coleshill Grammar School, he joined the training ship “Conway”, moored in the Mersey, in 1899 as the first step towards a career in the Merchant Navy.

Charles G Bonner VC

He left in 1901 and joined the firm of George Milne & Co, and served his apprenticeship aboard the sailing ship “Invermark” out of Aberdeen. His rise was swift. After spells as second mate, and then chief mate, he passed all the necessary examinations for the master mariner’s certificate by the age of 21. Joining the Johnston Line, he exchanged sail for steam. He served on the company’s Black Sea trade routes, and was aboard the “Incemore” when she was involved in a collision with the “Kaiser Wilhelm” off the Isle of Wight shortly before the outbreak of war. The German liner was soon to be armed and converted for her career as a surface raider.

On the outbreak of war, Bonner joined the Belgian Army. He was removed due to being a “suspect” person, came over to England, and volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve. Due to volunteers not being needed at this point, he joined the RNVR at Crystal Palace, and was soon promoted to Petty Officer. He was soon back in Belgium with the Naval Division. He was eventually commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, and joined the Trawler Section at Larne, Northern Ireland.

At some point, he met Gordon Campbell by chance, and Campbell, impressed by Charles’ varied service thought he was perfect for the job of decoy work. He took him on as his second officer and it was in that role aboard “Pargust” that he earned the DSO for his part in the destruction of UC-29 on 7th June 1917 (gazetted 20th July). Barely a month later, he would earn a greater honour in the award of the Victoria Cross.

On 8th August 1917 in the Bay of Biscay, Atlantic, Lieutenant Bonner was with HMS Dunraven (one of the ‘Q’ or ‘mystery’ ships playing the part of an unobservant merchantman) when she was shelled by an enemy submarine. The lieutenant was in the thick of the fighting and throughout the whole of the action his pluck and determination had a considerable influence on the crew.

Bonner’s VC was notable for being presented to him by the King even before the official announcement of the award had been published in the London Gazette. The break with tradition resulted from Campbell’s fears for his friend’s safety. Having recovered from his injuries, Bonner had been given command of his own Q-ship, the auxiliary schooner “Eilian”, whose crew included William Williams VC, DSM. But Campbell, concerned, urged the Admiralty to have an early investiture before Bonner went out on patrol. On 7th October 1917, he was rushed to Sandringham House, Norfolk, where he presented with his VC by King George V.

Thankfully, Campbell’s fears were to prove unfounded, and Bonner survived the war and resumed his career in the Merchant Navy. For a couple of months he served as a First Officer with the Furness Withy Line, before joining the Leith Salvage and Towage Company, based at Edinburgh. During a career spanning 21 years he became an acknowledged expert in ship salvage. Among his more memorable achievements were the refloating of the Danish steamer “Elizabeth” from a reef at Johnstone’s Point, Campbeltown, in Argyll, in 1925, and the salving of the Caledonia in the Firth of Forth during the Second World War. Such was the reputation in this field that in 1948 he was flown to Norway to act as adviser on the salvage of the German battleship “Tirpitz” which, having been damaged by midget submarines (two VCs awarded), was sunk by the RAF.

Bonner, who married Alice Mabel Partridge, a solicitor’s daughter from Walsall, at St Matthew’s, Walsall, on 17th June 1917. They had one son, whom they named after Charles’ former Captain and the ship he served on. Gordon Dunraven Bonner followed in his father’s footsteps, serving as a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the RNVR. Charles died at his home at 12 Netherly Road, Edinburgh on 7th February 1951. He was 66. After a funeral at Warriston Crematorium, his ashes were buried at Aldridge, his childhood home in St Mary’s Churchyard. Bonner’s medals are not publicly held.