Staff Sergeant John W Bonome

John Bonome originally enlisted into the Royal Corps of Signals on the 9 December 1940. [1]

Sometime in 1942 he volunteered for the Glider Pilot Regiment, and after completing all of his flying training he was sent out to North Africa in May 1943, to join the rest of the 1st Airborne Division. He was not involved with either of the airborne operations in Sicily, but did take part in Operation ‘Slapstick’, the seaborne landings at the Italian port of Taranto in September 1943, before returning to England.

On return to England he was based at RAF Tarrant Rushton, with the rest of ‘C’ Squadron, The Glider Pilot Regiment, where he trained to fly the larger Hamilcar glider.

After many cancelled operations, he was finally briefed for Operation ‘Market-Garden’:

“Arnhem, 17 – 26 September 1944.

Sunday, 17 September.

Flight from Tarrant Rushton to LZ ‘Z’, Wolfheze (1st Lift).

Glider: Hamilcar LN688. Chalk No. 317.

Towing A/C, Halifax V. No. LI350. 644 Squadron, RAF Pilot. F/O. W Archibald.

Glider Pilots:      1st – S/Sgt. JWR Bonome.

                                2nd – Sgt. G Higgins.

‘C’ Squadron, The Glider Pilot Regiment.

Load: 17-pounder anti-tank gun & towing vehicle with 8 man crew.

[NOTE: This was Sergeant. Thomas Neary, and P-2 Gun of ‘P’ Troop, 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, RA.]

On the morning of Sunday, 17 September, we took off in third position, and almost from the start we had problems with the tug A/C, which needed the full length of the runway to get airborne, due to oil pressure problems. The pilot eventually regained our correct station in the main stream as we approached the East Anglian coast by an increase of speed, with the consequential stress on the tow rope, which resulted in loss of communication between the gun crew and tug A/C, as well as the Glider Pilots.

During the flight over the North Sea, the fighter escort was much in evidence and as we neared the landing zone we encountered no sign of opposition. Still in third position, we released ourselves from our tug and followed the other two Hamilcars in – one of which turned over on landing. I managed to reduce our landing distance by bouncing down hard before the trees at the top of the LZ clipping a wing in the process.

All went well however, and the gun and crew emerged unscathed – still no opposition to speak of. We Glider Pilots were instructed to remain with our gun crew until such time as we were relieved to be flown back to the UK

As we moved with the other 17-pdr gun crews to the assembly area, we met a number of Dutch people, some of whom were offering us fruit and drinks. We finally took up defensive position at the southern edge of the LZ to await the arrival of the second lift, next day.

Monday, 18, while awaiting the expected second lift, we received a visit from the Luftwaffe, who seemed to look upon us as a target, as the bursts of machine-gun fire came very close, but fortunately causing us no damage. They left, and then the second lift arrived, but this time they were heavily opposed, as has been reported elsewhere.

No sign of Sgt. Higgins and myself being relieved, so we remained with the gun and crew, who were now ordered to proceed towards Arnhem. We had difficulty in getting the gun over an embankment, but eventually managed to join the line of vehicles heading into Arnhem. I remember passing the German Staff car which had been shot up earlier, on the way.

Eventually we reached our allocated position on the corner of Hoofdlaan and the Arnhem/Utrecht road, and set up the gun facing towards Utrecht, with our Bren gun position on the other side of the main road. Having dug ourselves in, we awaited what may befall us. It seemed that we were to defend the Divisional H.Q. in the Hartenstein Hotel, about 200 yards away and there we remained until the evacuation.

Time and dates are very hazy, but one rather amazing event occurred, when, during a lull in the German bombardment of our positions, two trucks of about the size of our own 3-tonners drove right past our positions in the direction of Arnhem, at speed, when, too late, we saw that they were filled with Germans! I don’t know what became of them after that!

We had several casualties, including one of the Bren Gun team [Gunner. Leslie Larkin. KIA: 21/09/44] and the Sergeant [wounded] in charge of the 17-pdr. Geoff Higgins, my 2nd Pilot, marched a couple of young ‘Dutch’ men to the Div H.Q. with one of the Germans, as we were suspicious of them. News was passed to us by an Artillery Officer [NOTE: This was likely to be Capt. Norman McLeod, from the 1st Airlanding Anti-Tank Battery, R.A.], of events in other parts – not very encouraging, but at least we didn’t feel isolated – very rarely did we see others of the Division, nor the Germans. I was however joined by another S/Sgt Glider Pilot, who I knew and had been separated from his unit. Some members of the Polish Brigade passed by.

One rather amusing incident occurred when I was on a search for apples, when I became aware of another person doing the same on the other side of the field – a German! We both took shelter and beat a hasty retreat to our own lines without a single shot being fire!

All the time, we were subjected to mortar fire and snipers bullets – especially as it seemed, we were a prime target with the 17-pdr, and on one particular occasion we lost our towing vehicle to a direct hit, which caught fire, setting off our ammunition store. Soon after that a mortar bomb burst near the edge of my slit-trench burying me – Geoff tells me he dug me out and got me to the Aid Post, where I was sedated and I don’t remember a lot after that. I didn’t even know Geoff when he visited me some time later. I seemed to suffer from the blast, but otherwise unhurt.

Sometime afterwards I received news that the remnants of the Division were returning to the other side of the Rhine and any wounded able to get away were to go. I was given a party of walking wounded to lead out. We eventually joined those already on the river bank, having almost been ambushed, and fired upon by machine-guns. Discipline was amazing, troops queueing as if for a bus, waiting for their turn to be ferried across by the Canadians.

I managed to reach the other side and was hauled up the bank to safety. Eventually we returned to the U.K. by kind permission of Major-General Urquhart, with several other Glider Pilots, in his Dakota aircraft. Unfortunately, Geoff Higgins, was taken P.O.W. What became of the other gun crew members, I have no idea.” [2]

John wrote a response to some further queries of the previous letter:

“I landed our Hamilcar just short of the line of trees, where one Hamilcar had overturned; the 1st Pilot was S/Sgt. J. Shaw, who was unhurt, but his 2nd Pilot was killed by the load, which fell on him. There was, I believe, another Hamilcar which overturned on landing, but I don’t know the names of the crew, nor what became of them.

[MY NOTE: S/Sgt. Shaw was the 1st Pilot of Chalk No. 319, which overturned just short of the railway line. The Hamilcar glider John Bonome saw must have been Chalk No. 318, and he landed just beyond it, as is indicated by his description of being near the Asylum]

Actually we landed quite near to the Asylum and met quite a number of patients. We then moved to the extreme southern edge of the L.Z., where we set up the gun in a defensive position, to await the second lift, due the next day. As usual, someone prepared a ‘brew up’ of tea! Nothing else of importance, although we could hear small arms fire in the distance. So, having worked out a rota for guard duty, the rest of us relaxed as much as possible.

On Monday morning we were surprised to receive a visit from the Luftwaffe, who shot up the gliders on the L.Z. and seemed to be aiming at us, even though we had partly concealed our gun with tree branches, etc. Certainly their shots were near!

After the second attack in our vicinity, they disappeared and roughly two hours later, the sky became crowded, as the 2nd Airborne lift arrived, and this time they encountered some heavy opposition.

Reverting back to the Sunday (1st Day), I can only tell you that we crossed some heathland and dug-in under some trees in very sandy land. Other units were about, but I don’t know which, there was so much activity, as all around us units were gathering in preparation for the long trek to Arnhem Bridge.

I do seem to recall some buildings we passed, and people were offering us drinks and fruit, but this may have been on the Monday, as we proceeded to join the long column of vehicles and guns, etc. It was about then that we passed the wrecked German Staff car, with its dead occupants lying about it.

The only photos that I have are those of our return to U.K. and which appeared in newspapers – these I have photo-copied for you, together with a colour print showing myself with Geoff Higgins (my co-pilot on that occasion) standing beside what we believe is ‘our’ 17-pdr, outside the Airborne Museum, taken during a recent visit – I am on the left, Geoff is the one holding the gun up!!

By the way, the incident ref search for apples I mentioned in my previous letter, must have been in a garden or small orchard – not, as said in a field!” [3]

On his return to England he was involved in training replacement glider pilots:

“On my return to U.K. I had the task of converting RAF. Pilots, seconded to the Glider Pilot Regt! Quite a lot were ‘anti’, as they thought it beneath them – but they soon changed their minds and distinguished themselves during the Rhine Crossing Operation in March 1945.

On this Operation, I again was 1st Pilot of a Hamilcar, with Sgt. J. Hulse as 2nd Pilot, with a similar load. This time, however, we weren’t so lucky. We were hit in flight during our landing approach and crashed trying to avoid overhead cables – Jack Hulse was taken P.O.W. while I managed to avoid capture, possibly because I had passed out – my left knee severely wounded by shrapnel – but managed to eventually join up with some other Airborne types and again took charge of a party of wounded and injured to find an FAP., which we did.

Later, I was evacuated to U.K. and spent some months in hospital, etc. Finally I was posted to ‘G’ Squadron, with which I served until ‘demob’ in Palestine.

This, in brief gives an account of my time with the Glider Pilot Regt, from Arnhem until demob, leaving out the training, etc, etc, prior to 17 September 1944.” [4]

He was discharged to the Z/T Reserves on the 8 October 1946. [1]


[1] Transfer and Enlistment Book. The Glider Pilot Regiment.

[2] Account of John Bonome. January 1996.

[3] Follow-up account of John Bonome. February 1996.

[4] Letter from John Bonome to Bob Hilton. 14 July 1997.

Created with information kindly created by R Hilton

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