Can you help track down the family of a Second World War Royal Engineer who has links to Hemel Hempstead?

Dr Bruce Tocher, is part of the Operation Freshman Project, which is seeking to reconstruct the stories of 48 men involved in the operation

Friday, 9th April 2021, 9:21 am
Updated Friday, 9th April 2021, 9:24 am

A researcher is Norway is seeking relatives of Sapper Frank Bonner, a man with connections to Hemel Hempstead who was shot by the Gestapo in Norway in 1943.

Bonner had been captured while taking part in ‘Operation Freshman’, the first effort to destroy the Norsk Hydro plant which was producing ‘heavy water’ needed for the Nazi nuclear weapons programme.

Bonner was part of a specially-selected team of Royal Engineers who were taken to Norway on 19 November 1942 in Horsa gliders towed by Halifax bombers.

Grave 9, Trandum Wood, near Oslo, where Sapper Bonner was originally buried before reburial in the Commonwealth Grave in Oslo West Cemetery
Grave 9, Trandum Wood, near Oslo, where Sapper Bonner was originally buried before reburial in the Commonwealth Grave in Oslo West Cemetery

Bad weather caused the flights to turn back without being able to land the gliders, but the glider cables broke and the gliders crash-landed.

Bonner and some others survived but were captured. After interrogation, they were shot by the Gestapo two months later.

Plans are underway in Norway to commemorate the operation’s 80th anniversary in 2022, with a particular focus on the lives of the men involved and their relatives.

The Norwegian researcher, Dr Bruce Tocher, is part of the Operation Freshman Project, which is seeking to reconstruct the stories of 48 men involved in the operation.

Contact has been made with relatives of 32 of the 48 men, but among the 16 remaining is Frank Bonner.

The full extent of Bonner's Hemel Hempstead connections is unclear.

He was born in Sunderland, but is commemorated on Hemel’s main war memorial, and in July 1936, he married Phoebe Granville from Hemel Hempstead.

His army next-of-kin details record her as living at 75 Queens Street in the town.

A 2011 Special Forces Roll of Honour posting shows him as having two daughters, Maureen (Mawson) and Joan, but it has not been possible to locate either.

Dr Tocher contacted the ‘Hemel at War’ project for assistance. This has been run since 2008 by The Hemel Hempstead School with Goldsmiths, University of London.

One of the project’s founders, Prof. Richard Grayson, said: "People may be aware of attempts to destroy the Norsk Hydro plant from the 1965 Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris film, The Heroes of Telemark.

"But like me, probably nobody imagined that there was a Hemel connection among the brave men involved.

"It would be much appreciated if any relatives can get in touch to tell us more about Frank Bonner and the impact of his death on the people left behind."

Further details are on the Hemel at War website. Dr Tocher can be emailed at: [email protected]