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  • Christina Drummond

Corporal Thomas Hunter V.C. of 43 Commando

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1945, Corporal Thomas Hunter V.C. of 43 Commando was killed in action at Lake Comacchio in Italy. He was the only Royal Marine to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the second world war. He had attended Tynecastle High School in Edinburgh, the same school at which the war poet Wilfred Owen had taught during his recuperation in the Great War, and had been an apprentice stationer before serving in the Home Guard at the beginning of the war.

At the age of eighteen he enlisted as a hostilities-only marine in 1942. His V.C. citation reads: “The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross for valour to Corporal Thomas Hunter, attached Special Service Troops, 43rd Royal Marine Commando, During the advance by the Commando to its final objective, Corporal Hunter observed the enemy were holding a group of houses South of the canal.

Realising that his Troop were in the open, he seized the Bren gun and charged alone across two hundred yards of open ground. Three Spandaus from the houses, and at least six from the North bank of the canal opened fire and at the same time the enemy mortars started to fire at the Troop. Corporal Hunter attracted most of the fire, and so determined was his charge and his firing from the hip that the enemy in the houses became demoralised.

Showing complete disregard for the intense enemy fire, he ran through the houses, changing magazines as he ran, and alone cleared them. Six Germans surrendered to him and the remainder fled. Again, offering himself as a target, he lay in full view of the enemy and drew most of the fire, but by now the greater part of the Troop had made for safety. During this period he shouted encouragement to the remainder, and called for more Bren magazines. Firing with great accuracy up to the last, Corporal Hunter was finally hit in the head by a burst of Spandau fire and killed instantly.

There can be no doubt that he offered himself as a target in order to save his Troop, and only the speed of his movement prevented him being hit earlier. The skill and accuracy with which he used his Bren gun is proved by the way he demoralised the enemy, and later did definitely silence many of the Spandaus firing on his Troop as they crossed open ground, so much so that under his covering fire elements of the Troop made their final objective before he was killed.

Throughout the operation his magnificent courage, leadership and cheerfulness had been an inspiration to his comrades.” A number of buildings, memorials and organisations are named after him; pictured is a section of the memorial in Edinburgh. Thomas, who was born in Aldershot but lived most of his life in Edinburgh, was 21 years old.

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