Thomas George Hunt

Private Thomas George Hunt, d. 11th November 1917.

Thomas George Hunt was born on 26th June 1886 in Ashburton, South Rakaia, Christchurch, New Zealand. Thomas’s father, Wootton Bassett born William Hunt and his wife Lucy, née Angelinetta, had emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1886. They returned to Wiltshire the following year, 1887. In 1891 and 1901 Thomas and his family lived near Coped Hall, in the vicinity of Church Hill. The Meux catalogue of 1906 lists William Hunt renting an unnamed brick and tiled cottage, now demolished, on the corner of Swindon Road and Stoneover Lane, just opposite Rylands Farm, which is probably Thomas’s father. The cottage had four rooms, a washhouse, a stone built piggery, a wood shed, and a paddock stretching west along the Swindon Road behind the house. Thomas’s father worked firstly as a bricklayer’s labourer, and then as a domestic groom. By 1909 William and Lucy had moved to Church Street, Wootton Bassett, and William died there. Lucy remarried to Alfred Ringham in 1912. By 1916 she was living at 46 North Street, Swindon.

Thomas probably joined the Imperial Yeomanry as a volunteer at the age of 17, in about 1904. He served in the Yeomanry for five years. (The Regiment was renamed the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry (Prince of Wales’s Own Royal Regiment) in 1908).

Thomas worked for the Great Western Railway in 1905, firstly as an engine cleaner in Swindon, then from June 18th 1907 as a locomotive fireman engaged in shunting in Trowbridge.

Thomas married Ellen Selman in Wootton Bassett on August 24th 1907. It is not known where Thomas and Ellen lived while Thomas was working in Trowbridge. The newly-weds may have taken over the cottage at Church Hills from Thomas’s parents, or they may have lived with Thomas’s parents in Church Street, or they may have set up their own home elsewhere in Wootton Bassett. Thomas and Ellen’s first daughter, Constance Ellen May, was born in Wootton Bassett in May 1910. Soon after Constance was born Thomas and his family moved to Trowbridge and they lived there for a few months with Thomas’s widowed mother and his youngest sister, 14 year old Elizabeth.

On 15th April 1911 age 24 Thomas resigned from his job at the Great Western Railway to emigrate to Canada. Ellen followed him there with 11 month old Constance on October 11th 1911, on the ‘Royal George’. Thomas had already found work there and his occupation is recorded on the passenger list as “electric”. Their second daughter Kathleen Mabel Agnes Hunt was born in 1912 at 66 Dodds Avenue, Toronto, Canada. In 1913 Thomas is listed as a motorman in the Toronto City Directory, living with his family in rooms at 66 Dodds Avenue.

Most of Toronto’s men of service age, some 70,000 of them, flocked to join up between 1914 and 1918. A few women also pursued the opportunities open to them. Thomas attested with the 126th Overseas Peel Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (775920) on 3rd March 1916. He certified that he was working as a motorman and was living at 178 Lappin Avenue Toronto (there is a newer house on this site now). He was 5 feet 4½ inches tall and his chest measurement was 35½ inches. He had a fair complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair and no distinctive marks. He was a member of the Church of England. His wife is named as Helen, rather than Ellen. Her address is given as 178 Lappin Avenue at the time of attestation, but this is later crossed through and replaced with 5 North Street, Swindon.

Thomas embarked for England with his regiment from Halifax Nova Scotia, on the SS Empress of Britain, on August 14th 1916, and arrived in Liverpool ten days later. On October 15th he was transferred to the 116th Battalion in the Canadian camp at Bramshott in Hampshire. According to Ellen’s Ocean Arrivals form of 1920 she returned to England in November 1915 or 1916 and lived near Thomas’s mother in North Street, Swindon, specifically in order to be closer to her husband. Although the writing appears to say 1915, this does not fit with Thomas’s service record, and I believe the date must be 1916. This would have been her last opportunity to see Thomas before he went to the front. She appears to have moved from 5 to 8 North Street, then, as several sources confirm, by November 1917 she moved to 13 North Street.

On November 28th Thomas was transferred to Witley to join the 18th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (keeping the same Regimental Number, 775920) and was sent out to France, arriving on the 29th of November. He joined his new unit in the field on December 3rd 1916 and remained with them for nearly a year. The battalion went into the front line near Potijze on the 8th October 1917 (Operation Order 167). The War Diary of the 18th Battalion on 9th November 1917 tells us of the conditions in the front line.

Owing to bad weather and the continual shelling by the enemy, the front line and supports were in poor condition, the mud and water in many places being waist deep.

The War Diary merges the reports for the 9th to 12th November 1917 into one report. This tells us of the action taking place in the last days of Thomas’s life:

During the whole of this tour, the officers and men held this post of the line under the most severe conditions possible. Great difficulty was experienced in the evacuating of casualties from the front line to Regimental Aid Posts and dressing stations. Front line trenches were subjected to frequent barrages and the rear country was also heavily shelled and bombed. The supports on this front were reached by a series of tracks, being trench mat walks, and rations had to be carried by mules up these tracks. Each track being subjected to continual shellfire, the transport and ration parties were fortunate in escaping with the loss of 3 men killed and 1 mule which fell off the duck-board track and owing to the depth of the mud, had to be shot. Splendid work was done by the Battalion stretcher bearers in tending and evacuating the wounded […] The total casualties for this tour approximately being:- Killed in action: 45 other ranks; Wounded: 6 Officers, 60 other ranks; Gassed: 1 Officer, 25 other ranks.

The Canadian War Graves Register tells us that Thomas was killed in action by the explosion of a shell about 150 yards to the left of the Passchendaele Church on the night of 11th November 1917. He was 31 years old. Of the 70,000 soldiers and nursing sisters of Toronto who joined up to serve in the Great War, Thomas was among the 13,000 who never returned. The North Wilts Herald of 30th November 1917 reports:

Mrs Ellen Hunt, of 13, North Street, Swindon, has received the sad news of the death of her husband, Pte. Thomas George Hunt, of the Canadians, who was killed in action on November 11th. The deceased soldier was a native of Wootton Bassett, but went to Canada about six years ago, and was employed by the Toronto Street Railway Company. At the outbreak of the war he enlisted with the Canadian Forces and has been serving in France 18 months.

The Herald printed a copy of a letter received by his wife from his Lieutenant:

It is with extreme regret that I have to report to you of the death of 775920 Pte. T. G. Hunt, who was killed in action on November 11th, 1917. He was hit by a shell and killed instantly, so suffered no pain. Our battalion has left the vicinity. Particulars of his place of burial, I expect, will be sent to you later by the authorities. As his platoon commander, kindly accept my sincerest condolence in your sad bereavement, as I feel the loss of a good, dependable man who always did his share and was liked by all his comrades. He died manfully and fearlessly doing his duty under intense shell fire. Therefore I cannot but say that I feel his loss keenly.

Thomas’s first burial place, in the field

Thomas was originally buried in a field beside Klijtgatstraat, in Klien-Zillebeke, Ypres, Belgium (28.NE.D.6.D.2.7). He was later exhumed, identified by his identity disc, and reburied at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery, grave reference VI C 9.

Thomas was not eligible for a British medal. His Canadian medal, plaque and scroll were sent to his widow Ellen, and a Memorial Cross was sent to both Ellen and his mother Lucy. He left no property, but his personal estate was left to his wife, Ellen. He is commemorated on a plaque to members of the Toronto Street Railway Employees Union at Toronto Old City Hall on Queen Street.

Ellen was granted a widow’s pension on April 1st 1918. She returned to Canada in May 1920 with the intention of getting married, and settled at 87 Frejama Avenue (now Greendale Avenue), Mount Dennis, Toronto, Ontario. In 1921 the Toronto census lists that she had a lodger here, William Henry Cam, who was a former Corporal in the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was born in Badminton, Gloucestershire. They married in 1922.

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