Peterborough pays tribute to the Lonely ANZAC 100 years after his death

The service for the Lonely ANZAC in Peterborough
The service for the Lonely ANZAC in Peterborough
Have your say

“Amongst the destroying music, he must have hoped for a lullaby when he landed in the Somme.”

With hindsight we know these words to be tragically mistaken, but 100 years ago Sergeant Thomas Hunter could hardly have realised that by escaping the battlefields of Gallipoli, fate would deliver him another horrid hand in northern France.

Sgt Hunter, a miner in New South Wales, Australia, enlisted with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in 1914, but having survived the bloody Gallipoli landings he was shot in the spine at Pozieres during the Battle of the Somme.

Brought back to Blighty, he was on his way to Halifax when his condition deteriorated and the train he was on stopped at Peterborough where he was taken to the hospital, only to die.

His story touched the hearts of many in the city, and 100 years on from the day of his death Peterborough continued to pay tribute to one of the many millions of heroes of the First World War who gave up their today for our tomorrow.

Much time may have passed since the Lonely ANZAC’s passing, and the hospital in Priestgate may now be a museum, but Peterborough’s affection and reverence for Sgt Hunter remains firmly in tact.

A service held in the city centre today (Sunday, July 31) was attended by grateful representatives from Australia (both military and civilian) who were extremely touched that one of their sons continues to be honoured in such fine fashion.

Major-General Neil Wilson, representing the 10th Battalion AIF Association, flew in from Australia for the service.

He said: “This is quite a remarkable story. We are very appreciative of the support of the local community.

“The story is not very well known at all in Australia, but I will do my best to rectify that. It’s certainly well known by the 10th Battalion Association.”

Hugh Burnham moved from Australia to Peterborough in December 2012 when he married Karen, and has been to the annual ANZAC ceremonies held in April.

He said: “I thought I would come along and pay my respects. It’s quite amazing that 100 years ago when he passed away the city took him into their hearts.

“It’s touching that no-one knew him but they still paid their respects to him.”

Squadron Leader Peter Mole, representing the Australian High Commissioner (ambassador) to the UK, said: “It was moving to see so many people involved, particularly for an Australian soldier.”

The service began at 12.15pm with a procession from the Town Hall in Bridge Street to Peterborough Cathedral where a two minute silence was held and prayers read out next to wreaths which had been laid out.

A service was then held at 1pm at the war memorial with speeches from the Mayor of Peterborough Councillor David Sanders and Peterborough City Council chief executive Gillian Beasley.

Mrs Beasley said: “The story of the Lonely ANZAC is poignant and moving, but his death and the response to it in this city, then and now, symbolises a world that we all want to live in, unified, compassionate and respectful.”

The poem ‘The Lonely Anzac’ by Keeley Mills, from which the intro to this article was taken from, was read out by Charron Pugsley-Hill and Eve Marshall.

The pair then laid out a blanket of poppies at the memorial where they were followed by dignitaries and members of the public who placed flowers, before further prayers were read out by Royal British Legion Padre, Reverend George Rogers, and Canon Ian Black.

Sgt Hunter, who was born in Newcastle but emigrated to Australia at the age of 30, was a member of the 10th Battalion of the 10th Division of the Australian army.

He was buried with full military honours at the Broadway Cemetery, and his story had so touched the people of Peterborough that a public subscription was raised to place a memorial at his graveside - an eight foot high Celtic cross which remains now.

Ron Warden met Sgt Hunter’s closest descendants back in 2010 after making contact with his great nephew. He said: “He was the first Australian soldier who died and was buried in England I believe.

“Apparently he still haunts the museum.”

Ron heard about Sgt Hunter from a book written by John Harvey called ‘The Lonely Annzac - a True Son of Empire’ which has now been re-issued.

He described the enthusiasm and generosity of the people of Peterborough as inspiring.

Cllr Sanders said: “It was a good turnout. What I like about it is 100 years on we have still got a lot of people to pay their respects to the Lonely ANZAC who had nobody.

“Peterborough should be really proud.”

Words were read out after the service on behalf of Sgt Thomas’s family who had cancelled a planned trip to Peterborough due to illness.

They expressed their gratitude for the service.