The Lonely ANZAC of Peterborough

The man who was born in County Durham, lived in New South Wales and died in Cambridgeshire

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His story is one which epitomised the First World War as a truly global war. Born in County Durham in 1880, Thomas Hunter would switch his agricultural and coal mining life for a move to New South Wales, Australia.

The reasons for Hunter’s move down under are shrouded in mystery, but he did end up staying with family. He served in the local militia in Durham, and he would carry this on to Australia.

He worked in a heavy metal mine until the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Along with friends from the militia group, Thomas joined up and would set sail for Europe as part of the Australian Expeditionary Force.

August and September 1914 was spent being trained for combat until, on 20 October, they departed Adelaide. His ship was initially destined for England, but was diverted to Alexandria after it struck another ship.

Whilst in Egypt, Hunter and the rest of the AEF were combined with New Zealanders to create the Australian and New Zealand Army Core, or ANZACs.

In March 1915, the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli and faced fierce resistance from Ottoman forces. There were heavy casualties as the Allies were unable to break through. Hunter was injured in the fighting and returned to Alexandria for treatment. When he returned to the fighting, it is suggested he helped to dig trenches and dugouts, this was likely due to his mining experience.

Thomas’ battalion spent the rest of 1915 in Egypt before setting sail for France and the Western Front in March 1916. At the end of July the Australians were moved into position for an attack on the German-held village of Pozieres, part of the campaign that would be known to history as the Battle of the Somme.

The assault began with a week-long barrage of the German lines starting on 23 July. Two days later, during a German counter attack, Hunter suffered serious injury to his spine and legs.

He was moved behind the lines, but the severity of his injuries set him on a journey back to England. On a train to the military hospital in Halifax, Hunter’s injuries were worsened by the unsteady movement of the carriage. It was here that the decision was made to move him from the train at the next station, which was Peterborough.

Hunter was taken to Peterborough Infirmary but, on 31 July, passed away. Sympathy for the ‘lonely Anzac’ led to a civil funeral for Hunter on 2 August. The people of Peterborough lined the streets for the procession, at this point they only knew Hunter as an ANZAC soldier and nothing of his County Durham roots.

The people of the town had an attachment to Hunter, perhaps because he represented their own loved ones who were away fighting. This respect remains to the present day, with a service for Hunter taking place every 25 April, otherwise known as ANZAC day.

Thomas Hunter may not have died as far away from home as the people of Peterborough thought at the time, but he captured the hearts of a town which, like every other town in the UK, was yearning for their men to come home safe from the war.

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