Thursday, 19 February 2015

A tale of two Arthurs: both from Coburg and both killed in action

3046 Sergeant Arthur Hunt, 59th Infantry Battalion and 692 Private Arthur Hunt, 57th Infantry Battalion, both lived in Coburg and both died in France.
Here follows the tale of these two Arthurs, both with very different backgrounds and very different experiences of war.
This blog entry tells the story of 32 year old Englishman Arthur Hunt, who had only lived in Australia for seven years at the time of his enlistment in June 1915.
Born in London in 1883, this Arthur Hunt was a jeweller by trade, census and shipping records recording his exact occupation as bracelet maker. From a young age he lived in Birmingham, where his father worked as a gold swivel maker and his brother Albert as a gold bracelet maker.
During the Boer War (often referred to now as the South African War) Arthur Hunt served as a Corporal and his Australian World War One service record notes that he had been a 3rd Lieutenant in the Staffordshire Army Service Corps for 3 years.
In April 1904 he married Edith Lily (known as Lily) Allen at All Saints, Birmingham and the couple had three children, Beatrice, Eva and Doris. In May 1911, the Hunt family left their home at South Yardley (in the Birmingham area) and sailed for Australia. They settled in Melbourne.

When war was declared the Hunts were living at 322 Sydney Road, Coburg and it was from this address that Arthur Hunt enlisted on 15 June 1915. He embarked with the 7th Battalion on 29 September 1915. His was not a long war. On 19 July 1916, he was wounded at Fromelles (a gun shot wound to his right knee) and sent to the 5th Northern General Hospital at Leicester where his right leg was amputated. Unfortunately, he died as a result of the operation on 8 August 1916. He is buried at the Welford Road Cemetery, the resting place of a number of other Australian servicemen and women.
After Arthur Hunt’s death, Lily Hunt and her three daughters were granted war pensions. By this time they were living at 26 Richard Street, Coburg.
Lily must have read about or been told about a newly established NSW scheme to house disabled soldiers or soldiers’ widows with dependants, a scheme run through the Voluntary Workers’ Association (VWA). The Association built  Voluntary Workers’ Cottages, promoted as ‘Homes for Heroes’. Local VWAs were established in suburban areas, including Vaucluse, Manly and Epping. The VWA raised money, provided unpaid labour (often working on weekends and holidays) and some Crown Land was made available through an Act of Parliament, although local newspaper reports show that some individuals donated land, too. The cost of materials was often donated or advanced by the bank. 

Image courtesy Woollahra Council. Image pf000\pf000122b
Members of the Vaucluse Voluntary Workers Association at Frenchs Forest, c1918.

In January 1916, an article in the Geelong Advertiser explained how the scheme worked. This article was repeated in many newspapers throughout Victoria, so it was well publicised. The houses were to be provided at a low rent (4 or 5 shillings a week) and after 20 years, the resident would own the house, although the land would continue to be leased.

For someone in Lily Hunt’s situation – newly arrived in the country, with no deep-rooted ties to the Coburg area and with three daughters to raise – such a scheme must have seemed a godsend. Her relief at being so securely housed is evident in the following snippet of a letter she wrote to the War Department in October 1921:

By that time she had been living in Sydney for three years. Her address was ‘Leicester’, 12 Edenlea Street, Epping. The house name recalls the death place of her husband Arthur, not long dead from wounds received at what many believe was Australia’s worst 24 hours of the First World War – the Battle of Fromelles. 

The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 6 April 1918, p.8. This article shows that the Voluntary Workers Cottage scheme, like all voluntary schemes, had its problems. It is tempting to believe that the house in question was Lily Hunt’s home.

Arthur Hunt was born in England in 1881, moved to Australia in 1911 when he was 30, returned to the northern hemisphere because of the war in 1915 and died in England not too far from his birthplace in 1916 aged 35. After his death, his wife and daughters moved to Epping in New South Wales. His wife, Lily, died there in the 1940s. Her daughters Beatrice and Eva did not marry. Beatrice died in 1976 and Eva in 2006. As Doris is not recorded in the electoral rolls, it seems she married and hopefully raised a family of her own who now carry on the family legacy in Australia.

In the next blog entry, you will hear the tale of another Arthur Hunt, an 18 year old, who, although he was not related to the Arthur Hunt of this blog entry, also had a Sydney Road address when he enlisted.


  1. Thank you. It was a very interesting story to research - but then so are all the stories!