Interview with John Allbon Bonds


Interview with John Allbon Bonds


John Bonds was brought up in London and remembers bombs dropping near him. He joined the RAF as an engine mechanic and after training worked on Spitfires before being posted to bombers. He was injured in an accident in a hangar and spent some time in hospital before returning to work on engines once more, enjoying test flights with the pilots. After the war John returned to his trade as a successful bricklayer.







00:31:14 audio recording


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AC: The date is the 2nd of July 2018, it’s 10.40am, I’m Andrew Cowley on behalf of International Bomber Command Digital Archive. I’m interviewing John Allbon Bonds at his address in Petwood Kent. Also present it his wife Ruth. So John, tell me about your early life, your family life, where you went to school, and the jobs you did before you joined the RAF.
JB: Well I went to school in a place called Blackheath Hill, you know Blackheath Hill? Well there’s a school there, and it’s a child’s school I went to there and I became top of the class at drawing. Anyway, after that when it was time to go, I went and then we moved to Blackheath Hill, Days Lane I think it was called, Days Lane, it’s on the left going up Blackheath Hill and from there I spent most of my life you know, when I was a boy. Now then, [background voices] from there, oh yes, as I grew up there, I couldn’t tell you exact date of birth or how long, I must have been something about twelve, something like that, and my father wanted to move out of there, so we moved out of there. He got a barrow, a long barrow, which was pushed, just for pushing, so we loaded our stuff onto where we were at the time and we put all of, most of our gear, which we had, and put it on to a barrow, and then we moved over to Downham, Downham Way. We had to shove, that was long way that was, wasn’t it, anyway, it took us a few hours [interference] and when we got there we stayed, it was near the railway and a cemetery and there I grew up a bit. I’m not sure about school, I don’t think I went to school, I’m not sure. Anyway, it was started, the war, then and I suppose I was going out one day and the aeroplanes were flying over the top and I looked round and they was ‘plop, plop, plop; they were just dropping bombs, smoke bombs, anyway I turned round and went back home again. And there, [sigh] I grew up from there and then, oh, I joined the Air Force. Yes, the war came on then, I joined the Air Force, and from there I was, I became an engine mechanic and I had to go to Blackpool, that’s where you learnt, I was three months there to learn the trade as I didn’t have a clue about aircraft. Anyway I learnt me trade there, and I was still over at Blackpool, and, oh god, Days Lane and [pause] from there I was called up. And I joined the Air Force, and while I was there I learnt the, tried to learn, the engines, which I did, and while I was still living over at, Downham Way again and my family and I went out for a drink to celebrate, and while I was there, there was a young girl kept eyeing me up. And eventually, after a few years, we got married and that was that. We had a child, just one girl, one girl, and she grew up okay, but she was a bit of a devil at times. Anyway from then onwards, I, she moved away, to somewhere, not sure about that, but anyway, and that just left my, oh that girl that I married, yes, where we had the baby, which was the girl that we, just moved away, and from then onwards I joined the, not sure what that was, oh, the Air Force. I was in the Air Force, that was it, I was on the way. [Sirens] Oh yes going from there I was on a, taken to an airport near Biggin Hill, that’s an air place there, that’s Spitfires, and we went up there and we, I did the engines on Spitfires. Anyway I was there for a few months, or maybe a year, I’m not sure, and they took me off there to, [pause] oh dear, can’t remember the place I went to. Anyway it was Bomber Command then, and it was all bombers, and they were, I’m not sure of the bomb machines, there were several names several of them there, bombers called, can you remember, name of bombers what we had?
AC: Well there was Lancaster, Wellington, Hercules, Mosquitoes.
JB: Yes. Wellingtons I think they were, I know it was a rotary one. Rotary, four engined rotary bombers and every now and again we used to get the siren sounded and course we all dived down the shelter, and sometimes the bombers just went straight over, and then one particular day they didn’t and they came over and we all dived in the air raid shelter, no, forget that, I’ve got to go, must remember something else. Ah, no that’s right, carry on, and anyway from then onwards I was on Bomber Command see and we all run for the shelter when they came over and then. [Pause] [Creaking]
AC: Can you remember what stations you were at?
JB: I can probably tell you if I saw a map. Think it begin with C. C.
AC: Coningsby?
JB: No. Not Cambridge is it? Is Cambridge round there? That’s probably where it was. Yes, there, that’s where one day I was working on the engines, and every now and again you had to take the sides off and then pull the propellers around to get, to make sure you had compression. Well anyway, I did this one one particular day and then suddenly bang! The engine went pop and it knocked me right up in the air, onto the floor. [Indecipherable] Lots of people came round to see what’s wrong and I said well, somebody must have switched the engine on! And we found out then that some silly so and so playing up in, it was an engine mechanic and there’s an engine [indecipherable] and something else, but they do all the, all the ins and outs, like well all things which the pilot uses, and anyway the stupid man there, he went, he pushed the wrong switch and it was on my bloody engine and it knocked me flying there. From then onwards I was in hospital and I was in there for about three weeks, and during that time the whole lot went abroad. They went to Egypt, where the war was, and from, after that I was back on the, when I was fit again I was on the aerodrome again, with the bombers and I was okay then. Then after that, if I remember correctly, very few people came back from Egypt, the ones that went, had to come there. That’s about it, that’s about all. I served me time on the, in the Air Force and that was it.
AC: You didn’t go to Egypt.
JB: No, cause I was in hospital, when they went, when they came back there was nobody on the aerodrome, well only a few people anyway. I was sent home and then I went just, I’m not sure I went to another aerodrome, I’m not sure, and I suppose I spent the rest of the time, my time just outside of Cambridge and I used to watch the bombers coming over and they used to come over to my aerodrome and try and bomb us [creaking] because we had bombers at that particular time. Yeah, they used to come over and our aerodrome was situated about twenty miles out and you see, when they came over to bomb London, I could see the flashes coming, from London, you know, where they dropped the bombs and from then onwards it was, and the war kept going on till it finished. Yes, and then I came out and that was it.
AC: What was your job before you joined the RAF?
JB: Nothing particular, I was just a normal.
RB: Builder.
JB: I had learned a trade, engines, that was in Blackpool. I didn’t have much of a trade, I was, ah, yes I did, I was a bricklayer, because when I left school I was a bricklayer and then I carried on after the war like, bricklaying.
AC: Did you have any choice as to what your trade would be in the RAF?
JB: No. Because they sent us to Blackpool, Blackpool was the centre of the particular bombers, I don’t know what it would be, because on engines then, not sure if they were rotary ones or just horizontal ones there, like the, our bomber. Er, gosh, makes you think doesn’t it, things you think of, things you don’t, can’t think of. Yes, and after that the war finished and I took up bricklaying again. I was good at it, I was one of the fastest and one of the neatest bricklayers going, I was wanted everywhere and they made me up as a foreman, and then I was, I just seemed to move around as a foreman and do bricklaying. Oh, there’s one particular one on the coast.
[Other]: Him and his partner built, were the ones, you know the Wembley Conference Centre. They were the head ones to do that, so then he sort of joined up with somebody on the same team and they became partners.
JB: Oh, Wembley Conference Centre, yes, we did, my partner and I, we did all the work inside and we were there a few, quite a few months, building up, and then they asked us to, when we finished they asked if we’d like to go abroad cause they were satisfied with our work, and we said yes, try it if you like and then we found out that it was the, was Dubai desert, right in the centre, and we stayed there working on, I’m not sure what it was, but we stayed there quite a few months and we had, when we went over there we took two or three people about what we knew, that we could, and we, the rest we used their people. They, supposed to go, every now and again, you know, their people would stop, go out, go ‘Allah, Allah’, hit the ground and anyway I used to go round and say get up you lazy sods! Anyway after that we came home, we finished the job, we came home, we were paid cause it was all you don’t know, no government takes any money off you, no and it was just the sheer money I got. From then onwards we, we got married and, three, three other, I mean first marriage, she died. Second marriage she died too, and then there’s Rose here.
AC: In, in your time in the RAF, can you remember things you did when you weren’t working? Where you went out, go to the pub?
JB: No, we were just walking round the fields, you know, and going on jobs. I can never remember going in the pubs or anything like that.
RB: No, he’s never drunk.
JB: And that was that.
AC: What about the living conditions on the aerodrome, what were they like: the food, that sort of thing?
JB: Oh, was quite good, quite good [creaking] specially trying to remember the airfield, yes, oh no, I can’t, but it’s the one, an airfield up -
AC: Is that in Lincolnshire?
JB: No. What’s the nearest airfield from here?
RB: Sorry? Cornwall? You never went to Cornwall.
JB: No, I said what’s the nearest airfield from here? Biggin Hill?
RB: Biggin Hill, you never went there. That’s just up the road. I really don’t know much more of his past life.
JB: I’m sure it was there.
RB: I think you were up country, you’ve always told me you were up country somewhere, but you never went to, you never came down to Biggin Hill. You never went to Cornwall. You did mention St Eval at one time, but I don’t know if that was just something, I don’t really know. I know my dad was at St Eval.
AC: But working on the engines, how did you find that? Did you take to it easily?
JB: Yes, yes. Not sure now.
AC: Did you get to know any of the aircrew?
JB: No.
RB: Yes you did, cause you said one was going to take you up! You used to go up after you’d done -
JB: On bombers yes.
RB: The pilots used to, after he was, worked on them, some of the pilots took him up.
JB: Yes. Some of them, just for safety’s sake for them [emphasis], they used to say well, do you want a trip? And I used [indecipherable] to sit by the pilot because then he felt happy because I, if it wasn’t for me and the plane crashed I’d go with him, wouldn’t I, that was the idea anyway! I’m sure it was Biggin Hill I was on for a while, there I packed up.
AC: So the flights you went on, were they just local or did you go on raids?
JB: Oh just all local, just trying the bombers out, they often used to do that – they would just “jump in,” just going to [indecipherable] then come down again.
AC: How did you find that?
JB: Oh, I loved it, yes, I loved that out there. Sit by the pilot, watching the pilot, seeing what he was up to, yeah.
AC: Can you remember what planes you went up in?
JB: They were bombers, I’m not sure exactly, they were English bombers, [clap sound] god help us. They were round engines. No, I just can’t go any further than that.
AC: Did you have to work on any planes that were damaged, in raids?
JB: No, no. I’m sure that we stayed on the bombers until I retired. They sent me, told me that I could go home then, and then I came home. I got something somewhere, I just can’t remember.
AC: Can you remember any of the people you used to work with?
JB: Well, the one that I did, when I was in hospital, he never came back, and that was about the only fellow that I knew, or used to talk about one another, you know, he was the only one I knew properly, as I say, never saw him again.
AC: What were your injuries you were in hospital for?
JB: Head. Head and shoulders. Yes, I think I was in there two, two, three weeks, something like that. It’s a bloomin’ job to remember.
AC: Was that a local hospital, or a RAF Hospital?
JB: I’m not sure, I don’t know, I’m not sure. It must have been a normal hospital, I remember a few people there which they had normal dressings on you know, like walking about. Apart from that just, my mind’s a blank. Except that I got married, [indecipherable] died, poor woman died, I got married again, and same thing happened, she went to hospital, didn’t come out. And the next one, she was a pest! [Laughter] No, she’s wonderful!
RB: [Laugh] Your coffee’s there, otherwise I won’t make you no more!
JB: Yes. She’s a real darling, she still is to me. Does everything I need.
AC: When you joined the RAF, did you volunteer?
JB: No, I was called up: twenty one. Yes, I was called up when I was twenty one. That’s when I chose the Air Force. I didn’t choose the type of aircraft, they told me I had to go, would I want to go on the working side, like engines, or airframes, well I said engines, cause it was happy work, it was good thing to remember when you came out. Anyway, as I say I had to go to Blackpool and learn the engines for about three months, and that was it, after that I had to, was put on to an airfield [cough] and went on Spitfires. After a time they took me off Spitfires and then put me on to the bombers, which I finally ended up.
AC: Were you working outdoors? Can you remember?
JB: On the airfield, when I was on the Air Force? Working there were houses which all the people --
RB: Hangars.
JB: Or hangars if you like, we used to sleep anywhere, mostly we slept on a bed, you know, empty hangar, you know, and that was that.
AC: Must have been a bit cold!
JB: Sometimes. No, you were well dressed, well warm, had plenty of stuff to put round you. It’s just that part I just can’t remember a lot of.
AC: Can you remember the names of any of the engines you worked on?
JB: No, if you knew any of the names I could probably tell you, but it’s such a long time.
AC: Do you still have any contact with anybody from the RAF?
JB: No, no.
JB: You can remember your call up number, can you?
JB: Something’s in my mind 1388217, but whatever that is I don’t know.
RB: Well it’s nothing I know of!
JB: 1388217, if that was, it might have been my number, I don’t know. Yeah, 1388217.
AC: Did you ever have any thoughts about what was happening when the bombers took off and went on raids?
JB: We just sat around waiting for them to come back again. Yeah, that was at the, main Air Force airfield just outside of Cambridge. That’s about all I can say really, just can’t think of anything else. It’s a long time ago to remember isn’t it. [Chuckle]
AC: Is there anything else you can think of that you believe we might be interested in about your time in the RAF?
RB: There’s something he’s talked about. Is there anything you remember that stands out, any particular time. Any particular time? Things you’d done when you were in the Air Force? You know, you were in there two years, it’s a long time. Places you went, things you done?
JB: No, just a normal LAC!
RB: He’s got quite a hold. Don’t upset that coffee.
JB: Well okay, right.
AC: Okay John, well it’s been interesting talking to you and thank you.
JB:L Sorry I can’t help you but it’s a long time ago.
AC: Of course. I understand.



Andrew Cowley, “Interview with John Allbon Bonds,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 16, 2024,

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