|Above: Theatrical in appearance - it look as it might have been taken on a Hollywood sound stage - this cabinet photograph depicts the ill-fated Armament Quarter Master Sergeant
William Henry Bonaker while on a bicycle excursion along a jungle path somewhere in India during the holiday season of 1910 -11.
William Henry Bonaker was born in 1873 at King’s Langley, Hertfordshire. William’s father John Bonaker was a saddler by trade and his mother Louisa was listed in the 1881 census
as a saddler’s apprentice as well as a wife and mother.
Given the circumstances of Bonaker’s military career his service records have not been found but based on his marriage registration he must have enlisted in the Royal Army
Ordnance Corps sometime after his marriage to Maud Mary Thwaites on 30 April, 1893 since at that time he was still living at his home in Luton, Hertfordshire.
After enlistment much of Bonakers’ service seems to have been in India. There is a mention the Queen’s South Africa Medal Roll of a civilian saddler W. Bonaker serving with the
Army Ordnance Corps and it is possible that this is William Henry Bonaker. If so he was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa Medal with the clasp “Orange Free State”. By the date
of the above photograph (1910) he was already in India and is mentioned as having been being initiated into the Masons (Ubique in the East Lodge No. 3338) at Kirkee, Bombay on 1
June, 1911 at which date he had also already been promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant.
With the outbreak of war in 1914 Bonaker found himself attached to the he 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army, under Major-General Charles Townshend in the failed British
invasion of Turkish occupied Mesopotamia in 1915. Outfought by the Turks at Ctesiphon, Townshend retreated south along the Tigris River to the town of Kut el Amara (Kut) about
100 miles south of Bagdad. Townshend seems to have decided on Kut as a defensive position for his British and Indian troops because the town was protected on three sides by a
horseshoe bend in the river in much the same way that Gordon’s Khartoum was by the Nile in the Sudan some 30 years before – and in the end it proved as much good for Townshend
and his men.
Townshend’s division – AQMS William Bonaker included – was soon surrounded and Kut besieged. The investment began on 15 December, 1915 and would come to an end on29
April, 1916. As previously mentioned, in many ways the siege and fall of Kut mirrored events at Khartoum in 1884-85 although with some marked differences. By all accounts
Townshend was (particularly based on his action after the surrender) not of the same stuff either professionally or personally that made up “Chinese” Gordon. Additionally while
Gordon had under his command some 7000 dispirited Egyptian troops, Townshend took over 11,000 British and Indian troops into Kut before it was cut off. It should also be mentioned
that Gordon died defending his city while Townshend spent the rest of the war living a relatively comfortable life as “guest” of the Ottoman Empire and becoming a pariah in post war
Britain as a result. His men did not fare so well.
|Above: The reverse side of the photograph sowing Bonaker's inscription to an unknown recipient which reads: "With my best wishes for the season 1910-11. Yours
affectionately W.H. Bonaker."
|Above: A detail of the photograph showing William
Henry Bonaker with his bicycle. His rank chevrons can be
clearly seen as can the quilted pattern fabric of the large
pith helmet that he holds in his right hand.