Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A tale of two Arthurs, continued …

Our second Arthur Hunt, 692 Private Arthur Hunt, 57th Infantry Battalion, was only 18 years old when he enlisted at Brunswick on 24 February 1917. Prior to enlistment he had served for several months in the Coburg Citizens Forces (the 59th Infantry) who were based at the Drill Hall in Reynard’s Road, Coburg. (The Hall was demolished in 1987.)

Coburg Drill Hall at the time of its demolition in 1987. 
Images courtesy Coburg Historical Society.

At the time of Arthur’s enlistment, his mother, Affra Jane Hunt, was living in Sydney Road, Coburg, but they were not long-term residents of the suburb. Arthur was born in Prahran in 1898 and went to school at Eastern Road State School in South Melbourne, yet when Affra Hunt filled out the Roll of Honour Circular after his death, she stated that he was chiefly connected with Coburg, the place where he had spent his youth. She did not remain in Coburg long. By the time Arthur had left for the Front, she had relocated to Monbulk, later still moving to Belgrave.

When Arthur Hunt embarked for the Front on 21 June 1917, he was serving with the 14th Machine Gun Company, but he later transferred to the 57th Battalion. He arrived in Liverpool on 26 August, was sent to France on 19 December and was killed at Villers-Bretonneux eight months later, on 8 August 1918 during the Battle of Amiens and is buried at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.

Click here to read an account of the Battle of Amiens.

The correspondence between the widowed Affra Hunt and the military authorities after Arthur’s death reveals a story that would otherwise not have come to light. Arthur was not Affra’s son at all, but her grandson. He was actually the illegitimate son of her daughter Isabel, but had been brought up by his grandmother and had no knowledge of the circumstances of his birth. The family had come originally from Tasmania, where his birth mother, now Isabel Jackson, was living with her husband John and their four children. Of this Arthur had no knowledge, although one of his grandmother’s letters reveals that she had intended to tell him the truth about his birth on his return from the war.

The agony of humiliation experienced by Affra Hunt at having to reveal this information to a faceless, implacable bureaucracy is evident in these extracts of letters written in June 1921, almost three years after Arthur’s death. Her references to the ‘humiliating questions’ she was being subjected to remind us of the stigma of illegitimacy at that time, a stigma that continued for many decades after. 

Affra Hunt comes across as a strong woman, who rose to the occasion when her daughter became pregnant by a married man and raised the child as her own. Arthur must have known that his ‘father’ Robert Hunt, Affra’s husband, was dead, but clearly he was unaware that his father/grandfather had actually died three years before he was born. And he probably didn’t realise that his mother/grandmother (Affra) was nearly 50 when he was born, making it highly unlikely, although not impossible, that she was his biological mother. He was brought up believing that his mother Isabel, the oldest child of the family, was his sister. I wonder whether he puzzled over why his ‘siblings’ were so much older than he: Isabel was 21 years older, Syd 18 years older, Alice 17 years older and Jean 14 years older.

Arthur Hunt's brother/uncle, Syd Hunt, born in Launceston in 1880, also served in the war. 

4348 Private Sydney Walter Hunt, 7th Battalion. Images courtesy Colin Rowley.

Syd Hunt enlisted on 30 September 1915 aged thirty-five. By then he was married to Alice Ashton and had two children – Affra and Harry. A third child, Walter, was born after his return from the war. Syd lived in Crown (later Donne) Street, West Coburg when he enlisted but relocated to Belgrave on his return, working as the postmaster until 1936 when he was transferred to the city. By the 1950s, he had lost his vision due to the effects of mustard gas during WW1 and his grandson recalls him ‘removing his glass eyes’. Syd died at his daughter’s home in Pascoe Vale in 1965 and is buried at Box Hill Cemetery.

Interestingly, through their mother/grandmother Affra (Murray) Hunt, Syd and Arthur Hunt could trace their ancestry back to Third Fleet convict Kennedy Murray, who was tried at Glasgow in 1786 and sentenced to 14 years transportation. He arrived in NSW in 1791 and from there was sent to Norfolk Island where his son Kennedy White Murray was born in 1799. When the settlement at Norfolk Island was evacuated, young Kennedy White Murray, aged 16, applied for and was granted farmland at Evandale in Tasmania’s north. (His parents and three brothers were then in NSW, the parents having been committed to an insane asylum and the boys having been admitted to the male Orphan School at Richmond.)

Kennedy White Murray became a prominent Tasmanian sheep breeder and one of Evandale’s earliest settlers. His son Thomas John Murray was Affra Hunt’s father. Another family member, Henry Murray, was involved in politics, serving as the Member for Latrobe (in Tasmania) from 1891 to 1909.

Syd and Arthur Hunt also share a common ancestor, Kennedy Murray, with Lt. Col. Henry William ‘Mad Harry’ Murray  VC, CMG, DSO (and Bar), DCM, reputed to be Australia’s most decorated soldier in WW1.

Image courtesy AWM. Image P02939.053. Studio portrait of Major (Maj) Henry William Murray VC DSO and bar DCM, 13th Battalion. Maj Murray was awarded the Victoria Cross as a Captain (Capt) for "most conspicuous bravery" on 4 - 5 February 1917 at Stormy Trench, France. Capt Murray led his company in an attack and quickly captured the enemy position, fighting back three heavy counter attacks by the enemy. He encouraged his men, led bombing and bayonet parties and carried wounded men to safety. He landed at Gallipoli as a Gunner on 25 April 1915 and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in June 1915. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his work at Mouquet Farm in August 1916, and in April 1917 received the bar to the DSO for his part in the battle at the Hindenburg Line. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in March 1918 and in May 1919 was created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. 

A final word on this tale of two Arthurs ...

In February 1918, a memorial service was held in Coburg to honour the fallen. One of the men remembered was Arthur Hunt. At that time, 18 year old Arthur Hunt was still alive, so it must have been the Englishman Arthur Hunt, who was the subject of my last blog entry.

In 1919, a Memorial Avenue of Trees was planted at Lake Reserve, Coburg. Tree number 49 was planted in memory of Arthur Hunt, but which Arthur? By then, both men had died. Both had lived in Coburg, if only briefly, and both had lived in Sydney Road. Before war's end, the wife of one had moved to NSW and the mother/grandmother of the other had moved to Monbulk.

So, which Arthur Hunt is remembered in the Memorial Avenue of Trees? I think it might be this Arthur, the 18 year old, because his family still had ties to the area and were still living in Victoria. I'm hoping that family members can confirm my hunch.


  1. What a great story Cheryl. I wonder why Affra decided to tell all? It didn't sound like the military authorities had any idea until she mentioned her daughter. Perhaps they had asked about Arthur's father as next of kin. I notice scribbled across the last letter in red that Mrs Hunt was to get the medals. She said she didn't want them but I'm sure she really did and was glad to have a momento of Arthur. I also wondered if Isabel's husband in Hobart knew about her child. Imagine if a parcel of medals arrived on her doorstep and he didn't know! No wonder that Affra was sick with worry.
    Really nice to see that the Major was trying his best to be respectful and reduce Affra's stress. He must have heard a lot worse than that!

    1. Yes, Jenny. I noticed how respectful the Major was, too. It must have been very hard for Affra Hunt to broach the subject. On Arthur's enlistment papers, she is noted as his mother, but after his death she says she is his grandmother (Roll of Honour circular and medals etc distribution). As she says, she brought the boy up from infancy and he knew no other mother. It seems like justice to me. But as she says, the things would go to her daughter eventually (I suppose she means after her own death) so she is also thinking of her daughter's loss, too.

  2. Very good article. A cousin is curious about the other Arthur Hunt. I am sure he is unrelated. Your point about which Arthur is supposed to be associated with tree #49 at Coburg Lake Reserve is a good one and I never pondered it before. As both men had no middle name, we may never know and perhaps, another tree should be planted in his honour? I doubt that will happen now. Sadly, tree #49 was removed years ago to make way for a path. I sent a copy of this article to another cousin in hobart. He is a direct descendant of Arthur's mother, Isabella, who moved there after she married in 1912. He is very interested in the story.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Colin. It's quite uncanny that two men who lived in the same street (admittedly a very long street!) with the same name should fight and die and be remembered in Coburg, but not be related in any way at all. For me, the greatest sadness is that we will probably never unravel the mystery of who is remembered at Lake Reserve. I've only been able to unearth a few letters to and from relatives and I'm afraid there are none that give us more information on the two Arthur Hunts. Such a shame.