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In Memoriam – 100 years ago this week

As the centenary of the First World War continues to be marked in many ways, it is fitting to draw attention to a Past Master of the Brewers’ Company who lost his life on active service towards the end of that war.

Captain Malcolm Cosmo Bonsor came from a family of brewers with strong  Brewers’ Company links. His father, Henry Cosmo Orme Bonsor, ran the Stag Brewery in Pimlico and was a partner in the firm of Combe & Co., as well as  sitting in Parliament as Conservative MP for Wimbledon from 1885-1900. Somehow he also found time to be Master of the Brewers’ Company for 1881-82. Malcolm’s uncle and grandfather were Masters, too.

Malcolm, born at Tandridge in Surrey in 1878, was made a Freeman of the Brewers’ Company in 1901. He was elected Master, in his turn, at the extraordinarily young age of 30, in 1908. It seems likely that he is the youngest Master the Company has ever had.

During the First World War, Malcolm became a Captain in the Norfolk Yeomanry, and served in one of the lesser-known theatres of that war: Palestine. The Ottoman Empire, of which Palestine was a part, sided with Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI, hence the Allies’ attempts to capture this territory – which had strategic significance, particularly in relation to the Suez Canal and the sea route it afforded to India and other parts of the Empire.

General Allenby famously led British forces into Jerusalem at the end of 1917, but fierce fighting continued in the general vicinity during the first part of 1918. It was at this time that Captain Malcolm Bonsor was killed, on 10 March 1918, at the age of 39. His body is buried in the Jerusalem War Cemetery. His death was reported with sorrow and regret at Brewers’ Hall shortly afterwards, and condolences were sent to his family, including his young widow, Sybil.

Sadly, no photograph or portrait of Malcolm has survived, even within the Bonsor family. It is likely that one hung on the walls of Brewers’ Hall between the wars, but that it perished along with many other portraits of Past Masters when the Hall was bombed by the Luftwaffe in 1940.

Malcolm’s younger brother Arthur, a director of Watney, Combe, Reid & Co., became Master of the Brewers’ Company in 1926.  Malcolm’s nephew, Sir Bryan Bonsor, served on the Court until 1977, at which time the Bonsor family link with the Brewers’ Company appears to have ceased.  The current baronet, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, is Malcolm’s great-nephew, and has continued the family tradition of involvement in politics, sitting in Parliament as Conservative MP (for Nantwich, and then Upminster) between 1979 and 1997. He was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs from 1995 to 1997.

The Brewers’ Company is most unusual, perhaps unique, among Livery Companies in having a Past Master who was killed on active service in the First World War. We remember his name with pride.

In memory of Past Master Captain Malcolm Cosmo Bonsor, who gave his life in the service of his country during the First World War.