At this time of year we approach the anniversary of one of the Royal Marines’ Victoria Cross (VC) winners – Thomas Peck Hunter. Tom Hunter won his VC only a month before the end of the Second World War in the Italian Campaign. Many people are unaware that in 1945 Britain was still fighting on two fronts in Europe, as well as the Far East.
Tom Hunter had joined the Royal Marines in 1942, as a ‘Hostilities Only’ Marine. He had grown up in Edinburgh and trained in Devon. Soon he was posted to one of the new Commando Units, 43 (RM) Commando. He’d done quite well in the Light Machine Gun shooting competition and by the time he found himself in Italy on 3 April 1945, he was in charge of a Bren Gun Group within the unit.
'C' Troop, 43 RM Commando at Putignano, Italy in October 1944. Corporal T.P. Hunter sits fourth from the righ, third row from the back.
The Bren was a Light Machine Gun and derived its’ name from the town of Brno in Czechoslovakia, where the design for the gun had originated. Bullets were fed into the gun from a 30 round box, which sat on the top. With a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute magazines needed to be changed very quickly once the gun was in use.
Tom Hunter’s troop were in open ground approaching a Canal and Germans began to fire on them. He then seized the Bren gun and ran towards some of the houses from where the Germans had been firing. As he charged forward he fired from the hip, changing magazines as he went. Having cleared the houses Hunter set up position on some rubble firing across the canal at the Germans on the other side, offering himself as a target and drawing the fire away from his comrades. Unfortunately he was killed at this point, having saved many of his comrades from German Machine Gun fire. He was buried in the War Cemetery nearby and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His sister donated his medals to the Museum 30 years later and they are now on display in the Museum Medal Room.
The Bren Gun that Tom Hunter used that day has been lost to history. Many of the Bren guns that were manufactured during the Second World War were Canadian-built. To help remember Tom Hunter’s actions and keep one of the Museum’s Bren guns, a Canadian example dating from 1943, in working condition. We will be demonstrating it as part of our ‘Fully Loaded’ event here on the 1 April for people able to join us that day, and commemorate in a small way Tom Hunter’s actions 67 years ago.
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