Topic: William Thomas Bonner (1891-1918)

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Born in Tauranga, survey chainman William Thomas Bonner signed up to serve during World War I from Australia. He died of bronchial pneumonia in France on 15 November 1918 during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, just six days after his older brother and four days after Armistice Day. Story by Debbie McCauley.

William Thomas Bonner was born in Tauranga on 8 March 1891 (reg. 1891/1548). His parents were George David and Matilda Bonner (nee Murray) who married at Tauranga's Roman Catholic Church on 28 May 1878. Their marriage was reported in the Bay of Plenty Times:

BONNER - MURRAY On May 28th, at the Catholic Chapel, by the Rev Father Mahoney, George Bonner to Matilda Murray, both of Auckland. Auckland papers please copy (Bay of Plenty Times, 29 May 1878, p.2). 

Around the same time that he was married, George Bonner moved his boot and shoemaking business in Tauranga as reported in the Bay of Plenty Times:

Mr George Bonner, Boot and Shoemaker, notifies that he has removed to those central premises on The Strand, next door to the Bay of Plenty Times Office. Mr Bonner is an old and respected resident in Tauranga, and we wish him every success in his new place of business (29 May 1878).

William had several siblings, and was the youngest surviving son of George and Matilda:

  1. Monica Matilda Bonner (1878-1878). Born on 20 October 1878 (reg. 1878/15722). Monica died at seven months old. BONNER On the 7th inst, Monica Matilda, the beloved daughter of Matilda and George Bonner; aged 7 months (Bay of Plenty Times, 12 June 1879, p.2). 
  2. Elizabeth Bonner (1880-1923). Born in 1880 (reg. 1880/731). She married John Bevan in Jerilderie, New South Wales, Australia, in 1914. They lived at the Railway Gates in Culcairn. Elizabeth died in Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia, in 1923 (reg. 13922/1923).
  3. Florence Evelyn Bonner (1881-1969). Born in 1881 (reg. 1881/6222) [middle name recorded as Levinia]. She died on 12 February 1969 and was buried in O'Neills Point Cemetery in Auckland.
  4. George Frederick Bonner (1883-1901). Born in 1883 (reg. 1883/17364). George died at age 18 on 1 January 1901. He was a jockey and died after an accident at Whatawhata race meeting. George was buried in Tauranga Catholic Cemetery. BONNER The enjoyment of those who attended the Whatawhata race meeting on New Year’s Day was marred (writes our correspondent) by what subsequently proved to be a fatal accident to a jockey named George Bonner, who hails from Tauranga… (New Zealand Herald, 3 January 1901 & death notice and obituary in the Bay of Plenty Times 4 January 1901, p.2). 
  5. Charles Edward Bonner (1887-1962). Born in Tauranga on 17 August 1887 (reg. 1887/9296). On 23 November 1917 he married Josephine Louisa Greene (1890-1978) in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Charles died in Auckland on 5 September 1962 (reg. 1962/32998) at the age of 74 and was buried in Mangere Cemetery.
  6. John Buonaventura Mahoney Bonner (1889-1918). Born in Tauranga on 1 June 1889 (reg. 1889/7906). John died on 9 November 1918, likely during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. BONNER We regret to record the death of Mr John B Bonner, third son of Mr G D Bonner of Auckland, which occurred on Devonport on Saturday last, at the age of 28 [29] years. Deceased was born in Tauranga and resided here for many years. Subsequently he moved to Auckland where he was employed as an accountant. He possessed a most genial nature and was liked by all who knew him. The sympathy of a large number of friends in this district will be extended to the relatives of deceased in their great bereavement (Bay of Plenty Times, 15 November 1918, p. 2).
  7. William Thomas Bonner (1891-1918). Born in Tauranga on 8 March 1891 (reg. 1891/1548). See main story.
  8. Percy James Bonner (1892-1892). Born in Tauranga in 1892. Percy died at seven weeks old on 14 November 1892 and was buried in Tauranga Catholic Cemetery. BONNER We are sorry to learn that Mr and Mrs Bonner have suffered a severe bereavement in the loss of their infant son Percy, who died this morning after a 10 days’ illness. The funeral takes place tomorrow afternoon at the new cemetery (Bay of Plenty Times, 14 November 1892, p.2). 
  9. Kathleen Mary Bonner (1899-1982). Born in 1899 (reg. 1899/16701). She married Victor Roy McGregor. Kathleen died in Auckland on 27 April 1982.

In 1897 the premises of George David Bonner at Tauranga were broken into and items stolen. George was a keen cricketer, playing many games locally with the other married men.

William's mother, Matilda, died in Tauranga at the age of 45 on 23 April 1903 (reg. 1903/2668). She was buried in Tauranga Catholic Cemetery. Her obituary was published in the Bay of Plenty Times:

We regret exceedingly to have to chronical the death of Mrs G. D. Bonner, wife of Mr Bonner, bootmaker, of the Strand, Tauranga, which occurred at her residence, Cliff Road, yesterday afternoon after about a month’s illness, brought on apparently by a chill caught when returning from a visit to Rotorua, and which developed into pneumonia. Deceased was in her 45th year and had previously not known hardly a day’s illness in her life; she was well liked and respected by all who knew her and the greatest sympathy is felt for the bereaved husband and the family which consists of six, three boys and three girls, the youngest being but three years of age. The funeral will take place on Sunday in the new cemetery, leaving the house at 2.30pm (24 April 1903, p. 2).

In 1918 lawyers acting on behalf of Florence wrote that 'The Mother of the deceased died some 16 years ago leaving a family of six of whom the eldest was 21 years. After the Mother's death the father deserted his children and has not since contributed to their support or maintenance' (Reed Miller & Butler, 12 December 1918).

William was a good athlete. His elder brother and sister paid for him to become apprenticed to a surveyor in Australia. He left Auckland for Australia in June 1914 and worked as a survey chainman for three months before enlisting on 22 September 1914 to serve during World War I with the Australian Imperial Force from Rosehill in New South Wales, Australia.

William was with the 1st Australian Division, 13th Battalion, B Company (Service No. 127). His unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A38 Ulysses on 22 December 1914.

On 19 May 1915 William rejoined his unit after being ill and saw action at the Dardanelles in north-western Turkey. He was also in Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt. 

On 9 November 1918 William's older brother, John Buonaventura Mahoney Bonner, died in Devonport, Auckland at age 29 (reg. 1918/8963), likely as a result of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. 

The following day, on 10 November 1918, William was admitted to the 40th Stationary Hospital at Harfleur in Northern France suffering from influenza.

On 15 November 1918, six days after the death of his brother, Private William Thomas Bonner died of bronchial pneumonia (reg. 1918/27136), another victim of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. He was aged 27. His death was recorded as being 'due to exposure on ordinary military duties'. It was just four days following the end of World War I on 11 November 1918.

William was buried in Ste. Marie Cemetery (Div. 62, Plot II, Row L, Grave No. 2) at Havre in France.

William Thomas Bonner (1891-1914)

At the time of his death William was contributing to the maintenance of his younger sister Kathleen.

As William had recorded his father as his next-of-kin on his attestation sheet, his war medals and personal effects were sent to his father in New Zealand once the army was able to locate him.


Australian War Memorial: Roll of Honour.

Auckland War Memorial Museum: Cenotaph Record.

Bay of Plenty Deaths: 1872-1920 (A-D).

Bay of Plenty Times (1878, May 28): Marriage.

Bay of Plenty Times (1878, May 29).

Bay of Plenty Times (1892, November 14): Death.

Bay of Plenty Times (1903, April 24): Deaths.

Bay of Plenty Times (1903, 24 April, p. 2).

Births, Deaths & Marriages Online (New Zealand).

McLean, Healther (1992). Burial Records, Tauranga, New Zealand 1881-1992.

National Archives of Australia: Military Personnel File.

New Zealand Herald (1897, September 2): Law and Order.

Tauranga Cemetery Search Online.

The AIF Project: William Thomas Bonner.

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William Thomas Bonner (1891-1918)

Note:Service Number: 127
First Names:William Thomas
Last Name:Bonner
Date of Birth:8 March 1891
Place of Birth:Tauranga
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:15 November 1918
Place of death:40th Stationary Hospital, Harfleur, France
Place of burial:Ste. Marie Cemetery, Havre, France
Occupation:survey chainman
Fathers name:George David Bonner
Fathers date of birth:8 August 1855
Fathers place of birth:Onehunga, Auckland, New Zealand
Fathers date of death:22 October 1930
Fathers place of death:Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand
Mothers name:Matilda Murray
Mothers date of birth:c1858
Mothers date of death:23 April 1903
Mothers place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)