Private Harry John Boniface

Regiment: 1st/4th (T.F.) Battalion Hampshire Regiment
Service No.: 281008 (also 2500)
Date and place of birth: 26 March 1897 at Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire
Date and place of death: 31 March 1917 (aged 20) Baghdad, Iraq.

Private Harry John Boniface was born in 1897 in Gosport, Hampshire the son of Kezia Boniface and grandson of Frederick Boniface who was born and lived in Chithurst. The boy lived with his grandparents in Chithurst for many years.  He enlisted into the Hampshire Regiment, was sent to Mesopotamia and died there on 31 March 1917, shortly after his 20th birthday.

Family background

Harry John Boniface was born on 26 March 1897 in Alverstoke, Gosport, Hampshire, the illegitimate son of Kezia Boniface, a domestic servant then aged about 23. However, by 1901 he was living with his grandparents, Frederick and Mary Boniface at Pincers Cottage, Chithurst together with three of their fourteen children and sundry other grandchildren. His grandfather was a road labourer and several of his sons also worked for the local authority on the roads. By 1911 the grandfather was a road foreman for the R.D.C. and Harry John, then known as John, was a “stone digger (learner) for DC” aged 14.

Kezia Boniface married William Whittington of Petworth in 1901 and in 1911 she was living with her husband and their five children in North Street, Petworth. She died in February 1936 and her death was registered in the Midhurst registration district.

Military service

Harry John Boniface enlisted at Petersfield into the Hampshire Regiment and served in the 1st/4th Battalion of the Territorial Force of that regiment. This was formed in August 1914 at Winchester and it sailed for India in October 1914 there to take the place of the regular units of the Hampshires which were being brought back to fight in France. If Harry John enlisted before the unit left, this means that he must only have been 17 at enlistment.

In March 1915, the unit landed at Basra as part of the 33rd Indian Brigade and it spent the rest of the war in Mesopotamia and Persia as the areas were then known.

Death and commemoration

The circumstances of the death of Private Boniface are not entirely clear but he was buried in the North Gate War Cemetery in Baghdad after his death on 31 March 1917. In the war diary of Corporal A.J. Foster a signaller for the 1st/4th Battalion, he mentions that when loading shells and bombs from the Turkish arsenal there was a serious accidental explosion at about this time which killed 13 men. It is possible that Private Boniface was involved in this incident. At least six men of this battalion were killed on the same day and are buried in this cemetery. The unit had also suffered significant losses from sickness and previous casualties.

The city of Baghdad fell to the Allies in mid-March 1917 but the position was not fully consolidated until the end of April. By this time the city was the advanced base of the Indian Expeditionary Force and had two fixed hospitals and three casualty clearing stations. This cemetery was begun in April 1917 and bodies were moved here for burial from the surrounding area.

Private Harry John Boniface is also commemorated on the War Memorial in Iping Church.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project