Hunter, William James (No. 540459)

Hunter, William James (James)


No. 540459, Royal Air Force

Died as a result of enemy action on Saturday 12 September 1942 (aged 22)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Alamein Memorial, Egypt (Column 263)

Newtownards and District War Memorial


William James Hunter was born on 10 November 1919 in Lower Mary Street, Newtownards and he was a son of William and Agnes Hunter (nee McBride) who were married on 28 January 1917 in Newtownards Reformed Presbyterian Church.  William Hunter (aged 21), a Private serving in the 9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was a son of John Hunter, a soldier.  Agnes McBride (aged 19) from Lower Mary Street, Newtownards was a daughter of William J. McBride, a labourer (deceased).

William and Agnes Hunter (nee McBride) had at least two children:

Mary (born 3 August 1918 in Lower Mary Street, Newtownards when her father was being held as a Prisoner-of-War in Germany)

William James (born 10 November 1919 in Lower Mary Street, Newtownards; by then his father had been discharged from the Army and was working as a labourer)

Later the Hunter family lived at 8 James Street, Newtownards.

Corporal William James Hunter (No. 540459) died in what has come to be known as the Laconia Incident, about which much has been written.  Built by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and launched in 1921 this passenger liner was operated by the Cunard White Star Line.  In 1939 she was drafted in for war service and converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC).  On 12 September 1942 and on route from Cape Town to Freetown the RMS Laconia had a crew of about 460.  She was carrying some 80 civilians, around 280 British service personnel, about 1,800 Italian prisoners-of-war and more than 100 Polish service personnel.  In the evening, the ship was struck and sunk off the west coast of Africa by a torpedo fired from the German submarine U-156.  The U-boat commander, Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein and his crew immediately commenced rescue operations and were joined by the crews of other U-boats in the area. On 13 September 1942, the U-boats were attacked by a US Army B-24 Liberator bomber and it was after the sinking of RMS Laconia that German fleet commanders were ordered by Admiral Karl Donitz to stop trying to rescue civilian survivors.  Known as the Laconia Order this led to the introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare by the Kriegsmarine – the Nazi German Navy.

Corporal William James Hunter (No. 540459) was one of more than 1,000 people who died, he has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial in Egypt and on Newtownards and District War Memorial.