Thanks to writer John Tognolini I’ve recently located George Campbell Hunt of the 21st Battalion, AIF.
John was gathering information about his uncle Stephen Tognolini M.M when he discovered George Hunt in a group photo of the 21st Battalion taken in Picardie, Somme in June 1918. George Hunt fought at Gallipoli and later in France and rose to the rank of Company Sergeant Major.
George Hunt’s service record describes him as of ‘swarthy’ complexion with brown eyes and black curly hair. His photograph (reproduced by John Tognolini from the collection of the Australian War Memorial) clearly shows he is ‘not of substantial European origin’ – and so ineligible to become a member of the AIF. But like many others he was accepted by the military authorities and after serving for four years was killed in action on 6 July 1918 at Hamel, France. His name on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour is accompanied by a studio portrait.
In the previous year, following the second battle of Bullecourt (3–15 May 1917) Hunt was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
He led his battalion forward in an attack with great coolness and courage and although twice wounded assisted to evacuate the wounded, resuming his command after his own wounds had been dressed.
Fourth Supplement No. 30234 to the London Gazette dated 14 August 1917
His own description of the events of that day was published in the Maryborough & Dunolly Advertiser of 13 July 1917, p4.
DEED OF DISTINCTION, HOW SERGEANT HUNT WON D.C.M.
Some little time ago we announced that Sergeant G. C. Hunt, of Maryborough, had succeeded in winning the D.C.M. for valorous conduct on the field. In a letter to his wife, Mrs. Hunt, of Napier street, he describes the incident which gained him the distinction. The letter is dated May 10, and reads: “Well, here I am at last. Have not been able to write much before. In fact, I shall have to send this to friends in England, as I hear that no mail is to go to Australia for quite a few weeks. We have just got out after a big, terrible battle with Fritz. I thank God I got out alive, although I am walking about covered all over with bandages shrapnel wounds in head and hand, and a bomb wound in the leg. Three separate occasions during the day of the terrible battle I brought in a badly wounded captain, and also a corporal, never thinking of myself all the time. Shells, shrapnel, bombs, and machine gun fire all over No Man’s Land. I also got in to some very hot scrapes. At one place three Fritzs came at me all of a sudden with bombs, and I luckily got in first with my revolver. I actually kissed my revolver for saving my life. More good news: I would not go away when the doctor sent me, but said my place was with my men. I have been strongly recommended for the D.C.M. I guess you will be proud of me now. I am feeling O.K.
George Hunt may have been Aboriginal but it’s possible he could also have been of African or Indian heritage. Information in his service record says his father was also George Hunt and that although enlisting from Maryborough Victoria, he was born in NSW, in Newcastle in 1878. The birth of a George Hunt, son of George and Frances Hunt was registered in Newcastle in 1877. It is feasible that Hunt may not have stated his age accurately – he was already older than the average volunteer.
But whatever the facts of his heritage, it is clear that his enlistment and distinguished service is another example of the existence of men of non European origin in the AIF, challenging the popular perception of this band of men as white Australians.