b. 22/09/1899 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 26/02/1991 Richmond, Surrey.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 24/05/1932 RAF Barton, Manchester.
Eric Watt “Jock” Bonar (1899-1991) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on 22nd September 1899, one of two sons of John Alexander and Edith Bensley Bonar (nee Keeley). Eric’s younger brother, Edwin, was born in 1901. Eric was mechanically minded from an early age, and following schooling, he gained an apprenticeship at Scottish Commer Cars, which built petrol-engined lorries.
In 1914, on the outbreak of the Great War, he lied about his age to enter the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) Regiment, but when his mother learned that he had been posted to Gallipoli she sent a copy of his birth certificate to his Commanding Officer, and Jock was sent home to return to his apprenticeship. When he was old enough he joined the Royal Navy Motor Boat Reserve as a mechanic, becoming a Petty Officer with the Dover Patrol Maintenance Depot, later transferring to minesweepers.
After being demobbed in 1919 he joined a friend in a motor bike servicing business in Glasgow, specialising in American bikes. The business did well, but the hours were long, and in 1922, Jock as he was known, decided to learn to fly. He joined the RAF as a fitter, and therefore had served in all three branches of the Armed Forces. He managed to secure a place on a Non-Commissioned Officers’ pilot course at Digby Aerodrome. He was posted as the first NCO fighter pilot with 25 Squadron, being selected for the “Gloster Grebes”, a aerobatic display team, which performed before King George V at the 1925 RAF Pageant held at Hendon.
He then took up an instructor’s course at the Central Flying School, Sealand. Nearing the conclusion of his RAF service he was taking part in a charity flying display at Birkenhead when he was approached by Major Clarke, who ran a flying school and joy riding outfit at Squires Gate Airport, Blackpool, and Jock accepted an offer to join him. His first civil aviation job was flying tourists around the Blackpool Tower in an Avro aircraft. He then joined Berkshire Aviation Tours as a “Barnstorming” pilot. When Barton Aerodrome was built in 1930, he took an appointment at the flying school.
On 24th May 1932 at Barton Aerodrome, a training aircraft piloted by Flight Sergeant Jack Treadwell, with Leading Aircraftsman William Lane as pupil, was seen to roll at low altitude, stall and then spin to earth out of control. It crashed and burst into flames. Bonar immediately rushed to the scene, and, with an asbestos blanket covering him, plunged into the burning wreckage. Lane was in the front cockpit and it was impossible to get to him. However, he was able to reach Treadwell, releasing him from his harness and dragging him from the wreckage. He was rushed to hospital with very serious injuries from which he sadly died.
On 5th August 1932 it was announced in the London Gazette that Eric Bonar had been awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal. Later that month he and PC Hayes received the Bronze Medal from the Society for the Protection of Life from Fire. The New Years Honours List included the award of King’s Police Medal to Herbert Hayes. On 22nd February 1933, they both travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive their EGMs from King George V.
In 1933, Jock joined the staff of Personal Airways at Croydon, which was formed to fly horse-racing people to their meetings. In 1934 he tried to take part in the McRobertson air race to Australia, but his aircraft was withdrawn. He then took charge of the flying school at Luton Flying Club, and in 1938 development pilot for Rolls Royce, working on the Merlin engine, which powered Spitfires and Hurricanes in World War II. He rejoined the RAF as Pilot Officer for his war service, and in 1940 exchanged his EGM for the George Cross.
After the war, he freelanced in the charter market with a Miles Gemini aircraft, and later established his own aviation business at Croydon. By 1951 he was so disenchanted with Air Traffic Regulations he gave up his pilot licence. He became involved with his son, Malcolm, in the development of a motor business. He lived in Croydon for over 30 years, and spent the last two years of his life at the Royal Star and Garter Home for ex-servicemen in Richmond, Surrey. He was the oldest surviving holder of the GC when he died of heart failure on 26th February 1991, aged 91. He was cremated at Croydon Crematorium on 7th March.
Jock’s medals including his GC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 and 1953 QEII Coronation Medal were sold at Glendinning’s on 26th September 1974 and are in private ownership.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: CROYDON CREMATORIUM, CROYDON, SURREY.
ASHES SCATTERED BY SON AT SITE OF CROYDON AIRPORT.
Marion Hebblethwaite – Image of Eric Bonar GC.