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Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 1999

Early Life (1847-1870)

George Gunton was born in June of 1847 in the parish of Beatly, near the town of Grimston, in the County of Norfolk. Gunton was a carpenter and wheelright by trade, but he was not an Apprentice. He was a member of the Church of England. Prior to enlisting in the Army he was unmarried and had no prior military or naval service.

Enlistment and Training (1870-1871)

George Gunton’s trades made him a prime candidate for service in the Royal Engineers. He was recruited for enlistment at Westminster, in London, at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 5th of May 1870 by Sergeant Richard Griffiths, R.E. Gunton enlisted for a period of seven years for a bounty of two pounds and a free kit. He was one of the last recruits to receive a bounty for enlistment, as this practice was done away with later in the year 1870.

A Staff Surgeon Major completed Gunton’s Medical Certificate on Enlistment at London on the same day that he was recruited by Sergeant Griffiths. Two days later, George Gunton swore the Oath of Attestation before a Justice of the Peace. With Sergeant Griffiths acting as a witness, George Gunton was sworn in at the Westminster Police Court at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 7th of May 1870. From recruitment to attestation, Gunton’s enlistment took exactly 48 hours.

On his enlistment papers George Gunton is described as being 22 years and 11 months old. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 126 pounds, with a chest measurement of 32 inches. His pulse rate was 72 beats per minute and his respiration was measured at 18 inspirations per minute. Gunton was described as having grey eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion. His muscular development was described as good. Gunton showed no signs of having had smallpox and did have a mark indicating that he had been vaccinated against the disease in childhood. He had no other distinctive marks or scars on his body. George Gunton met all the physical requirements for enlistment in the Royal Engineers with the exception of minimum chest measurement. No explanation is provided in his papers to indicate why this minimum requirement was waived in his case.

On the 11th of May 1870 Gunton’s Medical Certificate on Approval was signed at Chatham, Kent by T.W. Fry, Surgeon, Royal Engineers. Doctor Fry considered him fit for service. Gunton was also revaccinated against smallpox on this date and the results of the vaccination were described as "modified."

Gunton’s enlistment was certified by the Assistant Adjutant General Royal Engineers at Chatham on the 18th of May 1870. He was assigned Regimental Number 10452 and the rank of Sapper. At this point he began his training as an engineer soldier at the School of Military Engineering at Brompton Barracks in Chatham. While at the School of Military Engineering, Gunton was also awarded a 4th Class Certificate of Education.

Home Service (1871-1875)

After a little over a year in training at Chatham, Gunton was assigned to Aldershot in Hampshire on the 2nd of September 1871. Unfortunately, his service papers do not indicate his unit of assignment while at Aldershot.

On the 14th of September 1871 Sapper Gunton was admitted to hospital at Aldershot with a case of primary syphilis. Although a common occurrence among soldiers, venereal disease in the Army at this time did not result in punishment of the soldier, even if he lost duty days because of confinement to hospital. In Gunton’s case, on this occasion he lost 11 days of duty and was released from hospital on the 24th of September 1871.

After his encountered with the local prostitutes in Aldershot, and the resulting affliction they presented him with, Sapper Gunton appears to have been on his best behavior. On the 7th of May 1872 he was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 1.d. per day. Sapper Gunton was reassigned from Aldershot back to Chatham on the 29th of September 1872.

George Gunton married Ellen Mary Jarvis in London on the 27th of January 1873 without the leave of his commanding officer. Following his marriage he reported to Chatham for his new assignment, which involved his attendance at a Diving course at the School of Military Engineering. He passed the class of instruction in 1873 with a rating of "Superior" and remained at Chatham until the end of 1875. During that period, his wife gave birth to their first child, Frederick George, who was born on the 12th of January 1874.

Service in Malta (1875-1882)

Sapper Gunton, his wife, and young son, departed England on the 24th of November and arrived in Malta on the 12th of December 1875. Although his records do not indicate to which unit he was assigned, it is probable that Gunton was posted to a Submarine Mining Company. This assumption is based on his training as a Diver and the fact that Divers were normally assigned to these types of units. The purpose of the Submarine Mining Service of the Royal Engineers was to provide shore based defences for British naval bases both at home and abroad.

The only Submarine Mining unit at Malta in December of 1875 was the 2nd Section of the 33rd Company, Royal Engineers. This section had been in Malta since November of 1873 and was probably stationed at Valletta, the main harbour facility on the island. The 2nd Section was under the command of Lieutenant M.D. Whitmore, R.E. The 3rd Section of the 33rd Company arrived in Malta in May of 1876 and replaced the 2nd Section which departed for Cork, Ireland in July of that year. On the 30th of June 1876 the Gunton’s second child, Robert William Jarvis was born.

Since Sapper Gunton remained on Malta after the departure of the 2nd Section, it is likely that he transferred to the 3rd Section which was under the command of Lieutenant G.W. Addison, R.E. On the 2nd of April 1876 Sapper Gunton was admitted to hospital with a contusion suffered in an off-duty accident; no specific details being provided in his service papers. He remained in hospital for nine days and was released for duty on the 10th of April. On the 7th of May of that year he was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d. per day.

On the 8th of December 1876 Gunton was again admitted to hospital, this time with an ailment described as febricula. Gunton’s medical records indicate that the cause of the ailment was due to the climate. In all probability Gunton was suffering from the effects of heat exhaustion or maybe heat stroke. Although the word "febricula" was normally used to describe a low grade fever of short duration, Gunton was hospitalized for 25 days and was not able to spend Christmas of 1876 with his family. He was not released from hospital until the 2nd of January 1877.

In 1878 Lieutenant Addison was replaced by Lieutenant H.P. Knight, R.E. as commander of the 3rd Section, 33rd Company. On the 25th of May of that year the Gunton’s first daughter, Edith May, was born.

Headquarters of the 33rd Company arrived in Malta in September of 1880 under the command of Captain T.H. Anstey, R.E. In February of 1881 the 3rd Section of the company departed Malta. Sapper Gunton transferred to company headquarters and stayed on. On the 9th of June 1881 he re-engaged to complete 21 years of service with the Colours and on the 21st of October his second daughter, Ellen, was born.

Sapper Gunton was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d. per day on the 7th of May 1882. On the 13th of September 1882, the same day as the Battle of Tel el-Kebir, he left Malta for a short 7 day visit to Egypt. Specifics regarding his duties there are not available from his service papers, and official histories of the 1882 campaign in Egypt say nothing regarding the use of a detachment of Submarine Miners during the war. It is likely that he was involved with work in Alexandria harbour. His old commander from the 2nd Section, now Captain Whitmore, was in Egypt at the time. It is quite possible that any submarine mining work to be done there was done under Whitmore’s direction. Although Gunton had served in Egypt for a short period of time during the 1882 campaign, he was not authorized the Egypt 1882 medal.

Gunton returned to Malta on the 20th of September 1882 to spend almost another three years on the island. During this period, the Guntons had another son, M. George Arthur, born on the 19th of May 1884.

Home Service (1885-1892)

Headquarters of the 33rd Company was posted to Cork Harbour in Ireland, arriving there on the 17th of June 1885. Sapper Gunton went with the company to Ireland and then was reassigned to Chatham on the 20th of September 1885. The Headquarters and 2nd Section of the 22nd Company, Submarine Miners were stationed at Chatham at this time. The 22nd Company was commanded by Lieutenant O.E. Ruck, R.E. and the 2nd Section by Lieutenant F.R. Reynolds, R.E. On the 2nd of October 1885 Sapper Gunton and his unit proceeded to the Submarine Mining training area at Sheerness for a period of 5 months. He returned to Chatham on the 3rd of March 1886 where he attended a course of instruction at the School of Military Engineering, probably in "advanced" diving techniques. On the 12th of April he was admitted to hospital at Chatham with some serious injuries sustained as a result of an accident involving the overturning of a railway truck at Chatham. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder and a severe facial wound to his left cheek which probably left him badly scarred. On the 16th of April 1886 a Board of Enquiry was convened to investigate the circumstances surrounding Gunton’s injuries. Although no notes regarding the results of the Board are included in his service papers, it is clear that Gunton was not found negligent in any way for the accident or the injuries that he sustained. While in hospital, he was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d. per day on the 7th of May 1886.

Gunton was released from hospital on the 11th of May 1886 after losing 30 days of duty time as a result of the accident. He completed his diving course with a rating of "Very Superior" and on the 24th of May 1886 was assigned to Tynemouth. This new assignment put him under the control of the Commander Royal Engineer (C.R.E.) at Newcastle. Tynemouth is a town on the North Sea at the mouth of the River Tyne. Although Gunton’s specific unit of assignment is not indicated on his service papers, he was most likely assigned to submarine mining duties in the area. A detachment of the 34th Company, Royal Engineers (Submarine Miners) was stationed at Newcastle from November 1884 to February 1885. Records do not show, however, what specific submarine mining unit may have been stationed in the area at the time of Gunton’s arrival there.

While at Tynemouth, Gunton was appointed a Lance Corporal on the 20th of July 1886. This was his first promotion in the 16 years since his enlistment in 1870. On the 15th of September of that same year he was awarded a 3rd Class Certificate of Education. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Corporal on the 1st of January 1888 and on the 4th of May 1888 he completed 18 years of service with the Colours. He was now eligible to receive the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. The medal was finally authorized to him on the 1st of July 1888. His name appears as number 806 on the Adjutant General’s List No. 259 for the years 1888-9.

On the 29th of September 1888 Gunton was finally placed on the married establishment of the Royal Engineers. His wife and family were now entitled to the benefits of his marriage being recognized by the Army. Shortly after this happy event, Gunton was promoted to the rank of Corporal on the 15th of November 1888.

Corporal Gunton was granted permission to continue in the service beyond 21 years on the 1st of April 1891. He completed 21 years with the Colours on the 4th of May 1891 and became eligible for Good Conduct Pay at 5.d. per day on the 7th of May 1891. He served for about another year and then applied for discharge. From the Medical History Sheet in his service papers, completed near the time of his discharge, it can be noted that his medical history was verified by H. Bramwell, M.D., Surgeon Captain. Bramwell was an officer of the Volunteer Medical Staff who was serving with the Western Division Royal Artillery at Tynemouth at this time.

Gunton was discharged from the Army at Tynemouth on the 10th of May 1892.

Closing Remarks

Corporal Gunton’s service is summarized in the following table:




Total Time


7 May 1870

23 November 1875

5 years and 201 days


24 November 1875

12 September 1882

6 years and 293 days


13 September 1882

19 September 1882

7 days


20 September 1882

13 June 1885

2 years and 267 days


14 June 1885

10 May 1892

6 years and 331 days


Total Service

22 years and 4 days

All of Corporal Gunton’s 22 years and 4 days of service counted towards his pension. His service papers do not credit him with any campaign service and he was authorized no medal other than the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. Gunton’s service papers provide no information with regard to his intended place of residence after leaving the Army and nothing is known of his life after 1892.

A check of Army Lists from the year 1895 into the period of the Great War of 1914 to 1918 produced negative results in a search for George Gunton’s sons. The table below shows the ages of his sons at significant times during the periods that they would have been of age to serve:

Son’s Name and Year of Birth

Age in 1899 at the Start of the Boer War

Age in 1914 at the Start of the Great War

Frederick George, 1874

25 years

40 years

Robert William Jarvis, 1876

23 years

38 years

M. George Arthur

15 years

30 years

Although none of George Gunton’s sons appear to have been commissioned, it is quite possible that any of them could have served in the ranks.

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