One of things about my Fridays at Woking is the sheer volume of misery I’m researching. A few times today I was faced with the prospect of researching young men of 18 sent to the front to just die. It’s all well and good saying they were fighting for this and that and the big picture is more important than the individual, etc, etc. This argument has been used to justify the mass slaughter of people forever.
But these people, these children, were human beings. They had mothers, fathers, siblings. They felt things. They laughed and cried. They believed in a better world. And then they just died. For no reason other than a couple of people with more power than feelings.
Today was particularly strewn with the bodies of youth. It’s difficult giving their lives much flesh because their lives were not very long, however, in the midst of this gloom and upset strode Major Henry Griffith Boone DSO.
Henry’s father was Colonel Frederick Brown Boone of the British Army and, I guess, it was only natural that his son would follow him, joining up as soon as possible. And so he did. Having attended Wellington College in Berkshire. The school has two mottoes, one of which is Fortune Favours the Brave which very much describes Henry.
After College, Henry went straight to the Royal Military Academy, leaving as a 2nd Lieutenant in January 1900 and ready to face the world. His first assignment was in India at a Mountain Battery where he remained posted for the next six years.
Henry had been born in India so the posting would have been like coming home. His father had been posted in India taking part in the 3rd Burmese War (1885-87) and serving in the Madras Staff Corps, among other things.
During this time, in 1903, Henry took part in the Tibet Expedition. This was also called the Tibet Invasion and was, in part, an effort to stop the Russians from invading the north of the country. (Isn’t it amazing how things just never change?) The invasion lasted for almost a year at which time Henry (and, I assume, the rest of his troop) were sent back to India then, eventually, back to the UK.
I can imagine Henry sitting around being bored. Not he the life of indolence and knitting. By 1907, he needed to get out and do something adventurous, something that would put him in danger. He decided, for reasons unknown at this later date, that he wanted to learn Chinese.
From here in the 21st century we probably think that learning Chinese is not all that dangerous (difficult but hardly dangerous) except that in order to learn the language, Henry had to actually go to China to do it. Which he did. And he did it so well that upon his return he became an Official Army Interpreter.
He was back in the UK in 1908, cooling his heels before the Great War started. And so, uniform freshly laundered and buttons replaced, he went to war. His was one of the first companies to head out in the first Expeditionary Force to France and Flanders.
Major Boone managed to remain unscathed until late in 1915 when he was wounded and shipped back to the UK in order to recuperate. That took a year. It must have been a year of great impatience for the Major as he was soon back on the continent fighting alongside his fellows in 1916.
Wounded once more, Henry was sent back to the UK for some much required medical attention. He was soon back in action, sword held high, eager to defeat the enemy. I can almost hear his cries as he was hit by a German shell; those same cries cut off as he instantly died.
Henry was married but it’s not clear how much he actually saw his wife, Margaret Gertrude Josephine given he was away so much. She managed to live until 1954, moving from Kent to Hertfordshire at some stage.
Henry was 36 when he died and while this is young, at least his life had been full of adventure and excitement.
NB: The other motto of Wellington College is Sons of Heroes.