William Henry Bonsor RAOC
William Bonsor's family hailed from Newtongrange his uncle had served as a Private and a 2nd Lt in the first world war. When war was declared in 1939 William ,a Territorial soldier, was embodied with his unit as a Lt OME 4th Class with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps at Dundee on 1st September,1939.
Initially they were stationed in the south of England before crossing the Channel in January, 1940 in one of the coldest winters in living memory. What followed next was known as the Phoney War as troops setteled in to a period of inactivity and little in the way of hostilities.
This state of affairs was rudely interrupted in May 1940 when the Germans launched a Blitzkreig offensive through the Low Countries. In a few days they steamrollered their way through the neutral countries of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands before setting their sites on France. The objective was to cut the BEF off from the Channel Ports and destroy them. The 11th Army Field Workshop was billeted on the outskirts of Rouen, orders were received on 10th May for elements of the unit to break camp and head up to Belgium. The few days saw the men enagaged in clearing roadblocks and setting up temporary workshops in the open to keep vehicles running.
Their work was severely hampered by refugees streaming away from the fighting and numerous air attacks by the Luftwaffe on the roads. By the 18th/19th the situation was deteriorating badly, the Workshop was constantly on the move and under threat of air attack at any time. In the Words of G H Skea a member of the workshop :
May 18 (Saturday) Dug air raid trenches - glad of them. Large scale bombing attacks being carried out by the enemy, many formations broken up by our fighters Watched some terrific aerial battles with quite a number of planes brought down. One enemy fighter only about 20 ft. overhead being chased by a Spitfire. Cpl. Tully in action with our bren gun. Orders received to move at our own discretion now. Slept on hay in open in full equipment. Steady stream of tanks and artillery moving back during the night
May 19 (Sunday) Artillery battery arrived in the morning beside us and started shelling some targets. Decided we had done all we could in the area so we set off. Terrific air battles taking place. Bit of a scare when an enemy fighter targeted the Scammell on which I was travelling. Luckily a Hurricane pilot spotted him diving straight towards us, got on his tail which made him break off, so we were able to watch as the Hurricane shot him down a short distance away.
By the 23rd the writting is on the wall, Captain Anderson made a recce of Dunkirk and the following day the men were told to ditch all stores from any vehicle capable of carrying men.
1940, May 26 (Sunday) CALAIS taken by the Germans.
1940, May 27 (Monday) Ordered to destroy equipment and proceed to DUNKIRK area. On the way a gendarme tried to stop us saying that there were Germans in the way but we carried on without mishap and arrived at BRAY DUNES near the French/Belgian border. Ordered to spread out in the dunes. Some bombing going on but as we were a bit North of the main beach at DUNKIRK we had no great trouble.
1940, May 28 (Tuesday) Nothing to do for most of the day as we waited for our turn to try and get off the beach to the ships lying off shore. When we left out last campsite we had been told to take as much foodstuffs as we could carry with us. I reckoned chocolate was a good idea so I had managed to carry a few bars which were light weight but would provide energy.
Cpl. Tully (old sweat from the first World War) had grabbed the Unit's rum ration. In the evening we wore ordered to the beach and waded out in the sea to try and get on the small boats ferrying troops to the larger ships offshore, but the sea got too rough and the effort had to be abandoned -so back to the beach.
Most of the men were evacuated the following day on the steamer Killarney. As Killarney sped out of Dunkirk with decks full with evacuees, it spent an agonising 45 mins under fire from a German coastal battery at Gravelines. Despite zigzagging and laying smoke, the Killarney took a hit on the aft boat deck, killing 8 and wounding 30.
The ship eventually got out of range of the guns only to be spotted by the Luftwaffe. However as a bomber lined up for a strafing run, a Spitfire shot its tail off. The Killarney was finally escorted to Dover by three RAF Bombers. The ships captain (Capt R Hughes) reflecting upon his lucky escape (she missed a mine that sank the SS Mona's Queen sailing alongside her earlier that morning), decided NOT to return to Dunkirk.
Privates Easson (back row) and Crighton (2nd row) were killed on the Killarney, Private Dorward was another 11 AFW casualty but isn't on the photo.
The workshop deployed to the Western Desert in 1942 and Captain Bonsor was killed in fighting around El Amarya, Egypt. He was buried in the Heliopolis Cemetery.
I am grateful to Gus Myles from WW2Talk who kindly sent me the photo and most of the material for this page.Gus' father was split up from Capt Bonsor and was unaware that he was killed in the war.
Key to group picture (from Dundee unless stated)
Back row - C. Baserga, H. Healy, N. Davie, B. Gray (Aberdeen), N. Petrie, P. Easson, E. Byres, T. Airth (Forfar), R. Beattie, Payne, W. Easley, W. Reid (Tayport).