George Hunter was born in Stockton and before the war worked at Port Clarence’s Anderson’s Foundry. An industrial accident caused him mental and short term memory difficulties but following the outbreak of war he signed up to the 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the DLI and, in 1915, left for France, leaving his wife and two toddler children behind.
Details of his service are limited but he spent the second half of 1915 in the trenches of Belgium. His mental health issues returned, compounded by shellshock and the death and destruction all around him, and it seems that on Christmas Eve, George deliberately tried to escape from the carnage by raising his hand above the trench. Shot by a German sniper George hoped his injuries would see him returned to England.
When he was simply patched up and returned to the front line, George decided he could take no more and decided to run away, managing to make his way back to England and his family.
He was however arrested and returned to Ypres. By this time British losses were increasing and efforts that could be seen to undermine morale were stamped on.
George’s commanding officer Major General Ross said: There has been a prevalence of desertion and I consider that an example is necessary."
At first light on July 2nd 1916, Private George Hunter was led into a yard to face an eleven strong during squad. A piece of cloth was pinned to his heart in order that his fellow soldiers had something other than his face to focus on. He would have been offered a hood to cover his head and then, after a brief statement of his ‘crime’ he was tied to a simple wooden post.
The firing party were ordered to fire and George Hunter, the 25 year old Stockton man, husband and father was killed by a round of bullets to the heart.
He left behind a wife and children aged one and five. Facing public disgrace of George's actions, the family were hounded and the children taken from their mother.
In 2007, George, along with all 306 British soldiers who suffered the same fate for their supposed 'cowardice; or 'desertion' received a posthumous pardon.
In 2018, Mike McGrother and friends Ian McCallan and Mick Riley walked the 362 miles from the scene of George's arrest, Easingwold in North Yorkshire, to his final resting place, Esquelbecq in Northern France.
Sunflowers, presented to Mike at the start of the journey by Stockton's mayor Maurice Perry, were laid at George's grave.
You can read more about their epic journey here.
As part of Stockton's commemorations of the centenary of the ending of World War One, young people with links to care services in the town researched George's life and created an artistic installation as part of the Point Me To The Skies event.
Among the many visitors moved by the installation was George's granddaughter, Beryl Buttle. See more photographs of the installation here.