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.

Cabinet Photograph
Unknown Photographer
India
1910-1911


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.
Details of the Siege of Kut will not be gone into here. In the end it was a lack of food and supplies that brought upon
the Anglo-Indian capitulation. At some point during the siege Bonaker found himself Mentioned in Despatches with
the mention appearing in the 19 October, 1916 edition of the
London Gazette. The mention would ultimately be
upgraded to the Distinguished Conduct Medal posthumously in the
London Gazette on 23 October, 1919. The
circumstances of Bonaker’s specific award are not listed in the Gazette but the War office statement for all of the D.C.
M.s awarded that day reads in part:
“…for gallantry and distinguished service rendered in connection with the
defense of Kut-al-Amarah.”

British attempts to ransom the Kut garrison with an offer to the Turks of £2 million came to nothing and on 6 may,
1916 the remnants of the Kut garrison began a nightmarish 1,200 march into captivity. The Turkish and Arab guards,
treated with brutality and contempt by their own officers passed this on to the captives in kind who were forced on with
whip and rifle butt and provided with little water and less food. Over 2500 British soldiers began the trek along with
almost 7000 Indian troops and around 3000 Indian followers and non-combatants. Along the way those troops who
became too weak to go on where simply left behind to die or be robbed of what little they had and the killed by locals.

Armament Quarter Master Sergeant William Henry Bonaker, D.C.M. was one of those who survived the death
march and found himself interred at Afion Karahissa, a town in the hills of central Turkey.  British officers along with
their French and Russian counterparts captured in other campaigns were housed in the upper camp and enlisted men
– Bonaker included – were confined in a lower camp. When the British POWs arrived they were greeted by some
10,000 Armenians who had been held their by the Turks since 1915.

The POWs were allowed to live the town’s houses and this offered them protection of the inclement weather of the
region although supplies of food and medicine where in short supply or non-existent. The supply problem was
exasperated by the fact that the Turks were totally ill-prepared to care for a large number of POWs. Offers by the
American YMCA (The U.S. was still neutral at this time) to supply the POWs with necessities were rejected by
Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha even after the plan was endorsed by the Ottoman’s own German allies.

Eventually supplies for the Red Cross began to arrive but it was not until 1918 that there began to be enough food and
clothing for all the men. This did William Bonaker little good as he died at Afion Karahissa on 30 December, 1916.
At the end of the war the final British report on the matter stated the almost 3,330 British and Indian soldiers
captured at Kut el Amara had died in captivity while some 2,200 were simply never seen again after the surrender.

William Henry Bonaker was initially buried at Afion Karahissa but after the war his body was moved to the British
Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery. Imperial War Graves Commission records show that his widow Maud Mary
requested the simplest of epitaphs be engraved on her husband’s headstone: “
A Kut Hero”.

In addition to the Distinguished Conduct Medal T/184 Armament Quarter Master Sergeant William Henry Bonaker
was entitled to the 1914-15 Star and the British War and War and Victory Medals. It is unknown of Bonaker saw any
active service in India prior to World War One.
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.