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Thomas Hunter (1880-1916)


'Lonely Anzac' from Medomsley, commemorated in Peterborough Cathedral


Ghost stories in Peterborough include the legend of the “Lonely Anzac” who allegedly walks up the staircase and along the first floor corridor of what is now Peterborough Museum but was once the Infirmary; where Thomas Hunter of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) died of his wounds in 1916. The townsfolk thought he was a long way from friends and family back in Australia and saw that he was buried with full military honours, not realising that he was actually British born and bred, with family still living in Medomsley, County Durham.

Thomas was born on 5 May 1880, in the village of Medomsley where his father, George Burton Hunter, was a miner. Thomas’ mother, Mary (nee Walton), died when he was just two years old, leaving him to be brought up primarily by his aunt, Isabella Hunter, on the farm where she and her husband were tenants.

Thomas attended the local Church of England school in Medomsley until he was 13. Lessons took place in the Medomsley Temperance Hall, a building classed as “unsuitable and overcrowded” by the school inspectors.

On leaving school, Thomas inevitably found work at the pit, whilst at the same time joining the local volunteer Durham Garrison Artillery which trained in Consett a couple of evenings a week.

In 1910, Thomas left for Australia, to work in the Hebburn Mine in Kurri Kurri, New South Wales (NSW). Again he joined the local militia and when war was declared in August 1914, he rushed with so many other young men to enlist in the regular army. He joined the 10th Battalion of the Australian Infantry in Adelaide on 24 August 1914.

As the young men marched away to war, they were waved off by cheering crowds. They embarked on the “Ascanius” on 20 October 1914, originally bound for Europe, only to be redeployed to the Dardanelles. En route to Egypt, the “Ascanuis” was in collision with HMS Shropshire. On arrival in Egypt, the troops faced further training in the desert before they joined forces with the New Zealand forces to become the ANZACS [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps].

At the beginning of March 1915, Thomas, in “C” Company of the 10th Battalion, left for Gallipoli, and landed at Anzac Cove on 25 April. Fighting was fierce and casualties high as the Anzac forces tried to establish and defend a beach-head.

Two months later, Thomas was wounded in action with a gunshot wound to the foot, and was evacuated to hospital in Alexandria. He returned to his battalion on 12 June 1915 where he spent much of his time helping to dig trenches close to the Turkish lines; until the Battalion was withdrawn on 23 November. By then, Thomas had been promoted to the rank of corporal, soon to become sergeant as the Battalion was sent to join the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in France.

The 10th Battalion entered the front line trenches for the first time on 6 June 1916, in the Somme Valley. Thomas was again injured by flying shrapnel but was able to return to his post within a few days.

The Australian attack on Pozieres began on 23 July 1916. The Germans counter-attacked the 10th Battalion mortar position in the early hours of 25 July and it was there that Thomas was badly wounded, with dreadful injuries to his back and legs.

He was evacuated by hospital train to Boulogne and, two days later, sent on to England. On 30 July, a Red Cross train was transferring him from London to a military hospital in Halifax, West Yorkshire, when Thomas began to deteriorate badly, with the jolting of the train causing him excruciating pain. Doctors accompanying the wounded men made the unusual request that the train stop at the next station (Peterborough North) and Thomas was taken to the local infirmary where he died later that night.

News of Thomas’s death reached the local Mayor who made an appeal for local people to subscribe to a memorial headstone for this young man who was thought to be Australian. Perhaps the idea of this young soldier, dying so far away from loved ones, touched a chord with so many families whose sons and brothers were also dying a long way from home. Enough money was raised to pay for a headstone; an 8 foot high (2.44 metres) Celtic cross. The townsfolk turned out in droves to honour the last journey of the “Lonely Anzac” as Thomas became known.

At that point, no one knew that Thomas came from County Durham and that he still had a grieving family in the north east. His father was suffering with mental health problems and had been admitted to the Lanchester Union House. The news of the death of his only child hit him hard and his health deteriorated. He never again left the workhouse and died there in 1924.

A brass plaque in Peterborough Cathedral is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Thomas Hunter of the AIF and every year on Anzac Day (24 April) a service of commemoration is held for the “Lonely Anzac”.

Further reading:

Peterborough in the Great War, Thomas Hunter:
https://www.peterboroughww1.co.uk/thomas-hunter-lonely-anzac/

Imperial War Museum website, description of memorial to Thomas Hunter at Peterborough Cathedral:
http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/8477

Civil Parish: Medomsley

Birth date: 05-May-1880

Death date: 31-Jul-1916

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Town Farm, Medomsley (ecclesiastical parish of St Mary Magdalene 1901 census)
Deakin Street, Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, Australia (1914 attestation papers)

Education: Medomsley Church of England School

Employment: Miner

Family: Parents: George Burton Hunter (1848-1924), Mary Hunter (nee Walton 1846-1882)

Military service:

Pre-war Service: volunteer Durham Garrison Artillery, Consett
Local Militia, Kurri Kurri, NSW
Service Number 505
Private
C Company, 10th Battalion, AIF 24-Aug-1914
Promoted Lance Corporal 25-Aug-1915
Corporal 17-Oct-1915
Sergeant 01-Mar-1916
Wounded in action at Gallipoli and on Somme. Died of wounds received at battle of Pozieres

Medal(s): 1914/15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal

Memorial(s): 8′ Celtic Cross and headstone in Peterborough
A brass plaque in Peterborough Cathedral is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Thomas Hunter of the AIF and every year on Anzac Day (24 April) a service of commemoration is held for the “Lonely Anzac”.

Gender: Male

Contributed by Kelloe Visitor, Trimdon Station

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