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About the hunter brothers

John Hunter was the eldest of 7 sons of Henry and Emily Hunter from Nanango, Queensland. Father Henry’s health was deteriorating and the boys needed to help out in the sawmill their father ran. 25-year-old Jim wanted to join the military to fight in Europe. He volunteered on 23rd October 1916. As older brother (and close friend) John thought it his duty to protect his younger brother and volunteered as well two days later. John and Jim left Sydney aboard HMAT Ayrshire on 24th January 1917. They were drafted to the 49th battalion, a unit that consisted of mostly Queenslanders. They sailed to Egypt to complete their training and were taken to France nearly a year later. Jim was quickly promoted to Lance Corporal, but was satisfied with the rank of Private if he could stay with his elder brother John.

49th Battalion was sent up to the front line for the Battle of Polygon Wood. At dawn they would attack, but just before the attack started, John was sent out to investigate a piece of shiny metal in no-man’s land. As John crawled out, he was thrown back by the explosion of an artillery shell and was severely wounded. He managed to crawl back to his own trenches, but died in his brother’s arms. Jim had to go in for the attack, but later brought the body of his elder brother John to a temporary cemetery at Westhoek and buried him with his own hands. He lovingly and carefully covered the body with a standard Army issue ground sheet, so it would preserve the body well. Jim promised to come back after the war and take the human remains of his elder brother John back to Australia. He did indeed return in 1918, only to see that the terrain was so badly destroyed by artillery shelling that he had no idea where the graves were, and he had no idea where to start digging for the body.

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Also Jim was wounded later on in the war, one of those wounds sustained in a gas attack. He managed to survive the hell, though, and returned to Australia. Back home he married Esme Margaret Bulter, with whom he had 6 children. When a dementing Jim drew his last breath, he called out the name of his brother who lay buried in a faraway place called Flanders Fields.

The name of John Hunter was listed on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in 1927, but through DNA research the body was identified in 2007. It was Mollie Millis, John’s niece, who provided the matching DNA. 90 years after his death John was reburied with full military honour at Buttes New British Cemetery in Polygon Wood, together with the other 4 soldiers that were exhumed by Johan Vandewalle and his team.

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