Stuart Orme: Remembering the Somme, 100 years on
Peterborough Cathedral has long been a venue for acts of remembrance for those who have been killed in conflict, central to which is the annual Remembrance Sunday service. The Holy Spirit Chapel in the Cathedral houses memorials to the fallen, including Books of Remembrance listing the names of those Peterborians killed in the two World Wars.
Recently, there have been specific acts of remembrance as centenaries from the First World War have been commemorated. This summer we remember those killed in the Battle of the Somme, including the Australian soldier Thomas Hunter.
Thomas Hunter was born in County Durham in 1880, but emigrated to Australia in 1910, settling in New South Wales where he worked as a coal miner. At the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted with the Australian army and served at Gallipoli, then in the misery of the trenches of France and Belgium. It was here, during the Somme offensive of the summer of 1916, that Sergeant Hunter was seriously wounded. Taken to a field hospital, his condition was judged to be such that more advanced medical facilities would be needed in order to operate on his injuries. As such he was shipped back to England for surgery.
On arrival in England, Hunter was placed on a hospital train bound for a military hospital in Yorkshire with other wounded. As the journey went on his condition worsened, leading to him being removed from the train at Peterborough and taken to hospital for emergency treatment. Hunter was rushed to the nearby infirmary (today Peterborough Museum), where sadly it was too late. He died there on July 31st 1916.
News of the story and death of Sergeant Hunter touched the hearts of Peterborians, who were moved by his plight because he represented their own young men who were away fighting in the war. A public subscription fund was set up to pay for a memorial to Sergeant Hunter. A public funeral was held in which the Mayor and civic dignitaries led the funeral cortège from the infirmary to his final resting place at the Broadway Cemetery, during which virtually the entire town came to a stop and came to pay their respects.
A granite monument was placed on Sergeant Hunter’s grave, and a brass memorial to his memory mounted in the chapel in the Cathedral. Today he is commemorated with an annual civic ceremony held at his graveside on April 25th, international ANZAC day.
Events are being held this year to remember this ‘Lonely ANZAC’, including those at the Museum and a commemorative textile art project. On July 31st, the centenary of Hunter’s death, there will be a ceremony at the Peterborough War Memorial on Bridge Street, and a two minute silence held in the Cathedral. If you are in the city centre on that day, do take a moment to remember Hunter and all those killed in the fields of Flanders a century ago.