Ken’s five-year quest to find out about WW1 ‘pathfinder’ uncle

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A PENSIONER is hoping for help in his five- year quest to find out more about his hero uncle.

Former Hartlepool Ken Wray, 82, now of Melrose Avenue in Billingham, would love to fill in the missing pieces in the puzzle on his uncle John Hunter.

Ken's mum Nora and uncle George, the siblings who lost their brother John Hunter in 1915

Ken's mum Nora and uncle George, the siblings who lost their brother John Hunter in 1915

He knows that Private Hunter died on March 9, 1915 - hours before the famous Battle of Neuves Chapelle which saw 7,000 British soldiers lost.

But what did happen to Private Hunter, a mere lad of 22 from Throston Street in hartlepool, who perished while serving with the 1st Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment.

Records merely indicate that he “died in action”. Further investigations by dad-of-six and grandad-of-nine Ken showed Private Hunter could have been a pathfinder.

The job of a pathfinder was to go out the night before a battle and recce the enemy. Then, they would report back to their own regiment and pass on information which would pinpoint where the German machine gun nests were, before thousands of men went “over the top” hours later.

THE Victory Medal

THE Victory Medal

But was Private Hunter gunned down as he tried to get vital information on the Germans?

Ken said: “I think he must have been killed in the middle of the night.”

So much mystery surrounds Private Hunter that the two medals to which he is entitled - the 15th Star and the Victory Medal - are nowhere to be seen.

And neither is his name on a war memorial, said Ken, a former shipyard plater. Nor do any photographs exist of him, as far as Ken is aware.

THE 1914-1915 Star

THE 1914-1915 Star

What he does know is that Private Hunter had a miserable time of it in the war.

He enlisted as a 17 year old and may have told an untruth or two to join the Army. His father, Anthony Hunter, was a ship’s carpenter and would probably have got his son into the same industry.

But when he signed his enlisting papers, Private Hunter told the military he was a labourer. Was it a ruse to join the war effort?

Then, he was posted with the 1st Battalion to India where the British trained the population to fight. When world war broke out, they were transferred to the western front in 1914 - in the coldest winter records had known.

The battalion arrived in Europe on December 23, 1914 - just days after Hartlepool had suffered its terrible Bombardment.

Ken would love to know if Private Hunter got a chance to visit his hometown one last time before going to the front.

What he does know is that his uncle died on March 9, 1915, the day before the Battle of Neuves Chapelle in which the first Victoria Cross of the war was awarded.

It went to Rifleman Gabbar Singh Negi, of the 2nd / 39th Garhwal Rifles who was one of a bayonet party with bombs who went into the main German trench and drove them back until they surrendered. He was killed during the action.

The whole battle was bloody and the Battalion never fought in the western front again. They were retired first to Egypt and then Greece where they died from disease and sickness.

It was a sad end to a tragedy which started with Private Hunter’s death.

But can anyone help with the details that Ken would love. How did he die, and why has his name not appeared on a war memorial. If anyone can help, get in touch.

lContact Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377 or email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk.