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William Alexander Hunter

Sergeant 7044 William Alexander Hunter, 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment

6 & 7 Stroud Green

6 &7 Stroud Green have replaced Hillman Cottages, the terrace of three cottages where the Hunters lived for many years.

William was born in Queensland, Australia in 1889, the eldest son, second child of William Irvine Hunter and his wife Sarah née Durbridge. He had an elder sister, Ellen (Helen) Elizabeth (born 1886).


Sarah returned to England before her third child Archibald (Archie) John was born in the summer of 1890; while it is probable that William Hunter was the father there is no sign of his return to England, Sarah consistently gives her status as ‘married’ in her census returns and, in 1911, states that the marriage had lasted 25 years and resulted in six children - the last three being Ralph Stuart (1896), Dora Stewart (1898) and Alec Stuart (1902).


Making conclusions based on so little evidence is always dangerous, but the use of variations of the name Stuart as the middle name for the last three is suggestive of the practice of naming the father of illegitimate children in this manner. So appearances are that Archie was probably the son of William Hunter and that Sarah travelled to England while pregnant leaving an estranged husband in Queensland. Once settled in Newbury a partner surnamed Stuart entered the picture and the three younger children arrived. This conjecture is supported by a form filled in following Archie’s death which lists the younger siblings as being ‘of the half-blood.’  The same form notes that William Hunter was his father and was of ‘address unknown.’

When the family arrived in Newbury they lived at New Cottages, Crookham; on census night in 1891 Sarah, 2 year-old William and Archibald aged 10 months were lodgers at 4 New Cottages while 4 year-old Ellen was next door at No 3 with her grandmother, Jane Durbridge and uncle William Durbridge. By 1898 the family had settled at 3 Hillman’s Cottages on the north side of Stroud Green (now part of Newbury).

William chose to join the army enlisting in the Wiltshire Regiment. His service number (7044) suggests that he joined in September/October 1904 and the odds are that he enlisted for 12 years on what were known as 7+5 terms. This meant that he would serve for seven years in uniform with one of the regiment’s two Regular battalions. After seven years he would have returned to civilian life while remaining a member of the Army Reserve for another five years, liable to immediate recall to the colours if needed.

When enlisted he was only 15 years old, which was too young, even drummer boys should be 16 – so William lied about his age, adding two years. Thus, in 1911, the census return for the 1st Battalion includes William, aged ‘24’. At that date the battalion was in South Africa having been sent there in 1908 after many years in India. A few months after the census was taken William’s seven years were up and he returned to England and civilian life.

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany and mobilised the Reserves – all of whom were ordered to report to their regimental depot.  Many of the troops of the British Expeditionary Force that crossed to France a matter of days later were reserves recalled in this manner, but William was not among the early arrivals; nor was he sent over during the darker days of 1914, when the BEF was desperate for reinforcements. According to the only surviving official records (medal rolls) he did not cross the Channel until 17 February 1915. However, his family told a different story – that he went to France in November/December 1914 and ‘returned to Weymouth Hospital at Christmas with an injured foot, caused by an accident whilst loading ammunition’ before returning to France after a few weeks (which would, presumably have been the February date). The military are usually pretty good at this sort of record, but they weren’t perfect - they may well have made a mistake.

When he went out in February he was not sent to his old battalion but to the 2nd Battalion, which had been recalled from Gibraltar in order to reinforce the BEF as part of the 7th Division which landed at Zeebrugge in October 1914. The battalion had been all but wiped out in a famous action at Reutel losing 780 officers and men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The remaining cadre was rebuilt with reinforcements sent out from England.

Wiltshire Regiment badge

The regimental badge of the Wiltshire Regiment, as used on CWGC headstones.

William probably arrived at the 2nd Battalion on 16 February, when the war diary records the arrival of a draft of 29 NCOs and men at their billets in Sailly. That same evening they relieved the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers (one of their fellow battalions in the 21st Brigade) in the trenches.


In the ensuing months the battalion saw action in several notable battles: Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Festubert.  After a hard time at Neuve Chapelle William was promoted to Sergeant.  Having survived the terrible dangers of these assaults on the German positions William and was with the battalion in trenches in the Neuve Chapelle area when he was killed by enemy shellfire on what was in all other respects a ‘quiet day’:

War Diary, 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment – 24 July 1915
D Company under heavy shell fire during the afternoon, quiet in the morning. D Company had a few casualties 2 killed and 4 wounded. Draft of 50 rank & file joined the battalion from Havre.

His death was announced in the local paper:

Newbury Weekly News, 12 August 1915 – Killed in Action
HUNTER – July 24, killed in action with the Expeditionary Force, France, Sergt W Hunter, 2nd Wilts Regt, late of Stroud Green, aged 27 years.

No more information was printed until the following month, by which time the family had more sad news to announce:

Newbury Weekly News, 16 September 1915 – Killed in Action
HUNTER – Killed in action in France on August 27th, 1915, Rifleman Archibald Hunter, second son of Mrs S Hunter, of Stroud Green, Newbury, aged 25.

The death of William’s brother, Archie, prompted a lengthy report telling the stories of William, Archie and their brother Ralph:

Newbury Weekly News, 16 September 1915 – Local War Notes
Mrs S Hunter of Stroud Green, who has had the misfortune to lose her eldest son in the war, has now received the sad tidings of the death in action of her second son, Rifleman A Hunter, a strapping young fellow of twenty-five. Yet another son is engaged in the struggle for freedom, namely Gunner Ralph Hunter, RFA, as the appended military biographies indicate. Sergt William Hunter, or private as he was then, enlisted in the 2nd Wilts when only 16 years of age. He had seen seven years of military service when the European War broke out, five of which had been spent in India. In November 1914, he rejoined his old regiment, and a fortnight later left for France. He returned to Weymouth Hospital at Christmas with an injured foot, caused by an accident whilst loading ammunition. After a fortnight’s stay in hospital, he recovered sufficiently to return home, where he enjoyed three weeks rest.

Returning about the beginning of February to France, Sergt Hunter was quickly sent into the firing line. At the time of the struggle for Neuve Chappelle, he spent three long days and nights without quitting the trenches, and when he finally got away from the scene of action he was covered from head to foot with blood and mire. About the middle of June he received promotion to the rank of Sergt, and the next time news was received of him it was the fatal document saying he was killed in action on July 24th. An officer of his company, writing to Stroud Green, said that Sergt W Hunter was killed instantly, a shell bursting in the trench on Saturday afternoon, July 24th. He was much respected by his comrades, and was always willing to do his duty, however hard the task may have been.

Rifleman Archibald Hunter served for seven years in Cyprus, Egypt, India, and England, with the 4th Rifle Brigade previous to being recalled to the colours. He was out in India when war broke out, but returned immediately, arriving on the shores of his native country in November, 1914. He remained at Winchester until December 20th, then left for the front. At the end of January he was back in England again suffering from frost-bitten feet. With a week in hospital in Birmingham, a fortnight at Kineton, Warwickshire, and a fortnight at home, he returned to France via Winchester and Sheerness, crossing the channel on Good Friday. The Brigade were needed, so to the fore they went, and during this visit Rifleman Hunter experienced a taste of the German gas Later he formed one of the noted 80th Infantry Brigade, 27th Division, who for holding a position for three weeks, received the compliments of Sir John French.

At this time he was constantly in the trenches, and later was appointed a bomb-thrower, his duty being to creep towards the German trenches in the depth of the night and hurl bombs into their midst – a dangerous and difficult task. On August 27th, however, his end came, a shell killing him instantly. A close chum of his wrote Mrs Hunter the day after his death, saying that he was just about to be laid to rest, and expressing the hope that he would himself be spared that he might visit his comrade’s grave daily. Gunner Ralph Hunter, the third son, enlisted on August 10th, 1914, at Newbury, being only just then turned eighteen. He volunteered for foreign service, and was sent to France in June last. A letter home received last Monday morning, stated that he is at present behind the firing zone, and faring well. Mrs Hunter has also a nephew, Signaller William Durbridge, in the Royal Berks, who left for the battlefield a month ago.


Name on Newbury War Memorial

William's name on Newbury War Memorial.

(middle - above his brother Archie)

William was buried in plot I. G. 3 at the St. Vaast Post Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l'Avoue. Locally he is remembered on tablet 3 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.


In the years following their deaths William and Archie were publicly remembered by their mother in the family announcements column of the local paper:

Newbury Weekly News, 26 July 1917 – In Memoriam
In loving memory of Sergt William Hunter, 2nd Wilts Regt, who was killed in action on July 24thy, 1915, Somewhere in France, also of Archie, brother of the above, who was killed in action on August 27th, 1915, of the 4th Rifle Brigade. “To memory ever dear.”

Newbury Weekly News, 25 July 1918 – In Memoriam
In loving memory of our darling boys, Sergt W Hunter, who was killed in action on July 24th, 1915; also of Archie, brother of the above, who was killed on the 27th August, 1915, in France. – To memory ever dear. From Mother and all at home.

For more information about Archie please see his story here.

Ralph Stuart Hunter was a half-brother of William and Archie, the son of an unknown man, probably a Mr Stuart and their mother Sarah Hunter. The couple had two more children, Dora and Alec.  Alec, born in 1902, was too young to serve during the war.  Ralph was 17 when war was declared and volunteered to serve with the Royal Artillery before the war was a week old. After training he went across to France, landing there on 20 May 1915 with the 153 Battery, 47th Brigade, an element of the 14th (Light) Division that was deployed overseas at that time.  At some stage he was transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), but this transfer is not recorded in his medal roll entries.  While medal rolls often record multiple units for a solder they were awarded for service in a theatre of war they tend to only include reference to such service. The inference is, therefore, that Ralph’s service in the RGA was in the UK. Such a transfer might indicate a loss of fitness, perhaps he was wounded, sick or suffered from shell shock?  Ralph survived the war and returned to Newbury; when he died at Newbury Hospital on 24 October 1962 his home address was 2 Alexandria Cottages, Donnington.



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 Died this day:
01 December 1917
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