Private Joseph Clarence Hunt, known as Clarence, was born in Wootton Bassett in 1897. His father, Alfred Hunt, was a bricklayer and mason. His mother Mary died in July 1910, when Clarence was 13. Clarence had two older brothers, Alfred Reginald, known as Reginald, and Arthur Henry. His younger sister, Beatrice Mabel, was born in 1900. By 1911 the family were living at 1 Victory Row. Reginald had left home, Arthur was working as a miller for F Armstrong on the High Street, and 14 year old Clarence was working as a baker’s lad for G J Watts’ bakery, now The Croft, in Church Street. That summer, Clarence’s father married his housekeeper, Eliza Matilda Sainsbury. She was already pregnant – Clarence’s baby half brother, Edwin, arrived in October 1911.
Clarence was one of the first from Wootton Bassett to volunteer. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Wiltshire Regiment (3/172) in Devizes on August 14th, 1914, age 17. He trained at Weymouth, and left for France on March 16th 1915, the day after his 18th birthday. When he arrived in France the 2nd Wilts had just been given a few days rest after the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. They soon returned to trench warfare at Laventie, and in May 1915 Clarence probably took part in the battle of Festubert, where his battalion suffered heavy losses, 158 casualties for only a mile of ground gained. They rested in the Bethune area, and took on reinforcements. In June they were one of the leading battalions in the attack at Givenchy. This was followed by several months of trench warfare. In August 1915 Clarence became sick, and returned briefly to England.
Clarence was sent back to the front in November 1915 and rejoined his regiment, which was in a period of rest and reorganisation. Before long they were back in action, by turns relieving units in the trenches and undergoing training. Clarence probably enjoyed a few days of rest, parades, cleaning and training at St Pierre a Gouy in ‘very good billets’, then on 18th July the Battalion took a train from Ailly-sur-Somme to Maricourt, and marched to billets at Morlancourt. They spent the next day in training. On the 20th they bivouced at Mansel Copse south of Mametz and undertook more training the following day. They moved into action on the 22nd July, north of Trônes Wood. The War Diary for July 22nd reads:
Battalion moves to Alt Trench near Glatz Redoubt in the evening, and is intermittently shelled with hostile heavies. At 9.30pm the Battalion moves by the Maricourt Montauban Road to the space between Bernafay and Trones Woods, and is heavily shelled all the way, losing 45 men. No 12 platoon of ‘C’ company under 2/Lt Trench was completely knocked out but for himself and 3 men, owing to passing a lorry full of explosives at the moment when it was blown up by a shell. The Battalion on arrival “dug in” between Bernafay and Trones with the 19th Manchesters in front and the 2nd Yorkshires on the left.
On the 23rd it continues:
France, between Bernafay/Trones Wood
At 4.30am the 19th Manchester Regiment make an attack on Guillemont, the 2nd Yorks at the same time attack the trenches on the left of the village from Waterlot Farm. Our ‘A’ coy goes in support of the Manchesters but gets no further than the eastern face of Trones Wood owing to the attack proving a failure. In the evening the Battalion is relieved by troops of the 35th Division.
On the 24th July the Battalion withdrew, but not without incident:
France, between Bernafay/Trones Wood
The Battalion makes its way by companies to Happy Valley arriving complete about 6.30am. On the way whilst passing the Talus Boise a shell landed in front of ‘B’ company, wounding Capt Whiting and CSM Groves. The casualties during the action were: Killed – 4 Other Ranks. Wounded – Capt FC Whiting and 73 Other Ranks. Missing – 9 Other Ranks.
Clarence was probably one of the 73 Other Ranks wounded in this three day action, and it is reasonable to assume that he was taken to No.21 Casualty Clearing Station, about 30 kilometers to the West. He died on the 23rd July 1916, aged 19. He was buried at La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie, which served the Casualty Clearing Station. His grave reference is I D 37. Clarence was awarded the Victory Medal, the British War Medal, and the 1914-1915 Star.
Clarence’s legatee was his father Alfred. He chose the inscription “He gave his life for us”, for Clarence’s headstone. A note on the medal roll records that his father wrote to request his medals.
Clarence is remembered on the brass memorial tablet in St Bartholomew’s Church, Wootton Bassett, and on the Wootton Bassett Scouts 1914-1918 Roll of Honour.
Clarence’s brother Reginald died of wounds sustained in battle the following year.