Capt. George Hunt and the officers of HMS Forte [3rd row, 3rd from left]

Royal Navy Capt. George Percy Edward HUNT D.S.O. 1863-1917

Commemorated on Almeley’s WW1 War Memorial and laid to rest at St Mary’s churchyard Almeley


Researched and written by Hilary Challis

George was born in Sholing, on the outskirts of Southampton in Hampshire, the son of a wealthy farmer. George and his younger brother Osbourne’s mother died and his father remarried before George was seven.  Among other younger half-siblings, the boys had a half-brother Alexander who also became a naval commander.


George began his own career in 1878, aged 15, with a four-year Merchant Navy Apprenticeship.  It may be events at home which influenced his life. In a widely-reported case, that same year his father with others were remanded on trial alleged to have conspired to defraud a bank for large sums of money. The bank manager absconded and one defendant was sentenced to a year’s hard labour. There’s no record if his father was similarly sentenced, but young George maybe felt subsequently driven to prove himself beyond question.  


George spent another two years on board HMS Conway, a training school ship instigated by the Mercantile Marine Service Association.  In the mid-19th century, the demand for a reliable standard of merchant navy officers was such that ship owners had decided to set up this organisation, to train and educate them properly.



Beginning his life at sea on square-rigged sailing ships, George qualified as a Merchant Navy Master in 1886.  In 1891 as a sub-Lieutenant with the RNR he was posted to HMS EXCELLENT for a short course on gunnery, repeated the following year with torpedo instruction when he became an Acting Lieutenant.


George entered the Royal Navy as a “supplementary” Lieutenant in 1895 aboard the cruiser HMS SYBILLE.  During 1899-1900 as Lieutenant on HMS FORTE, with the Natal Naval Brigade, he served with distinction in South Africa (the 2nd Boer War) and was involved in the placement and employment of naval guns at Ladysmith. 


George was awarded the Queen’s South Africa (QSA) medal, with clasps awarded for (military actions) at Transvaal, Tugela Heights, the Relief of Ladysmith, Laing’s Nek and Orange Free State. 


HMS Forte’s captain noted in his despatch, “[George] has acted as brigade-major, quartermaster and chief of my staff all rolled into one, as well as commanding a 4.7in gun, often being the greater part of the night with paper work after long fatiguing days.  His service has been invaluable to me… his ability in a tight place, energy and hard work are beyond all praise”.


In all George was mentioned in despatches three times


In 1900 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for services during the Boer war.  Sailing from South Africa, by the early months of 1901 George was participating in the 1901 Gambia expedition to the Gambia river, with three companies of the 3rd Battalion West India Regiment aboard HMS Forte. In July, his DSO  Insignia, Warrant and Statutes were sent to the Admiralty, and presented on board HMS Forte by the Governor of the Gambia. 


This same year, he took command of a Naval Brigade landed at Attwaboe, West Africa, for the purpose of capturing 150 mutineers of the West African Regiment.


George was awarded the Africa General Service Medal, with probably the clasp for Gambia.


Sadly, later that year while George was at sea, in South Africa Osbourne his younger brother by one year, a Lieutenant serving with the South African Field Force’s Imperial Yeomanry 9th Battalion, died of disease in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, leaving his small estate to George.


George was promoted to commander in 1902 and in 1904 commanded the pre-dreadnought class battleship HMS Barfleur. In the build-up of global tensions before World War One broke out a decade later, in 1904 George undertook a “War Course” examination earning a 1st Class attainment.


The next year in 1905 as her new commander, while the HMS Empress of India was “recommissioned in reserve” at Devonport, George presumably had some shore leave.  Aged 42, he married Cecilia.


Cecilia was a daughter of the Right Honourable, Sir Cecil Clementi-Smith GCMG., a [famous] governor and commander-in-chief of the Straits Settlements [nowadays part of Malaya and Borneo] and Hon. Col. of the Singapore Volunteer Artillery, “held in such high regard by the local community… as a forceful and efficient administrator, [who] paralysed the power of secret societies that were a menace in Singapore.  He also established the Queen’s Scholarship to assist and fund bright local students to further their studies in British universities”  His papers are now kept at the Bodleian Library.


Promoted to captain in 1907, in February 1908 George received a letter of commendation from the Lords of the Admiralty for the good result obtained by HMS PRINCE GEORGE in 1907’s Annual Test of Gun-layers.  


Sailing from Malta late in 1910, by census night (April 1911) George was Captain of HMS NEWCASTLE at Hong Kong in command of over 360 men.  Cecilia, of course was living alone, with two maids, in Gloucestershire. Eighteen or so later, according to newspaper reports, George and the Newcastle were still cruising in the seas off Hong Kong and China.  In October 1912, newspapers now reported the Admiralty intended to keep the Newcastle on the China station for another two years.


So, in July 1913, at his own request, George retired. He was fifty years of age and had been serving abroad and at sea almost continually for the past three and half decades.  His last post-WW1 service was apparently on HMS VIVID, actually an iron screw yacht which served as the Devonport base and flagship. It was also used as the yacht for the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.  It was sold in 1912, later being wrecked in 1913.


Any retirement plans were short-lived with the outbreak of World War One, just twelve months later in July 1914


Immediately after the outbreak of World War One, George was fitting out armed merchant cruisers at Tilbury – with his naval record noting “High appreciation expressed”.  In 1916 he was involved in salvage operations in the Scilly Isles, of the Admiralty auxiliary supply ship S.S. Broadfield which went ashore at the Giant’s Castle, St Mary’s.  For this and other naval salvage incidents, his record was noted as “excellent salvage work”.  However, he was probably unable to have attended the happy family gathering at his half-brother (a Lt-Cdr (RNR) Nigerian Marine seconded to the Royal Navy), Alexander’s Liverpool wedding in 1916. 


For his World War One service George received the British Medal WW1 and Victory Medal.

1917 – A slave to duty

At the time of his death on 22nd August, George was Assistant Captain, back at the the Devonport Royal Naval dockyards,

At the inquest into his death, the Rear Admiral in charge at Devonport stated that George’s duties were of an arduous description, with two officers to assist.  He had never complained and when questioned always said he could manage the work himself.  He was a slave to duty… his work more than satisfactory. 


George’s assistant said the last time he’d seen him – Wednesday midday – he’d appeared shaky, tired and overworked.  George asked his assistant about a report he’d drafted on Sunday – a very busy day – and which he’d asked the assistant to type up. The assistant told him the report wasn’t ready

“Whereupon, he said, George left the office.”


George went straight home to his temporary house at Devonport and wrote a letter to Cecilia. Then he went up to their bedroom and shot himself in the head.

At the inquest, after reviewing the evidence and hearing from witnesses, who’d noticed George was very tired of late, the coroner said he might have imagined he was not doing his work properly. A verdict was returned of “Suicide during temporary insanity” and a vote of sympathy with Cecilia was passed.


A man who had given so much indefatigable and almost four decades of service to his country – had tragically mentally snapped while overwhelmed with worry that he was the one not doing his job properly?


George’s death is counted as a WW1 casualty. Posthumously of course, Cecilia would have received his  “DEATH PENNY”, the Memorial Death Plaque of WW1.

Aged 54, George was laid to rest three days later in the churchyard and was joined there twelve years later in 1929, by Cecilia who died also aged 54. Together at last.

RIP George Percy Edward HUNT D.S.O. 1863-1917

Thank you, sir. For an incredible life of devotion to duty and decades of unimpeachable service to your country.


HMS Forte officers with George HUNT in 3rd row.
Left to right: Back row: Sub-Lt Maryatt, Asst Engineer Begg. 2nd Row: Clerk Brown, Torpedo Gunner Holland, Carpenter Deacon, Gunner Oliver, Lt P Johnson, Asst Paymaster Charles, Rev Tod, Lt J M Steel.
3rd Row: Surgeon Bunton, Lt Massy Dawson;  Lt George P E HUNT, Capt. R C Sparkes, Chief Engineer Affs, Lt. Barber, Paymaster Petch. Front row: Boatswain Steel, Engineer Brown and Surgeon Bean
© IWM Wiki Commons
c1900 – HMS Forte leaving Simonstown, South Africa

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