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Saturday, May 11, 2013

John Tognolini: Writing History & Brothers

George Campbell Hunt and his comrades wearing fezes in Alexandria before the 21st Battalion proceeded to Gallipoli in August 1915

I wrote this back in 2013. It still stands. John Tognolini 21-415

It says a lot about the digital and global age that we live in, since I posted the first part of Brothers, my historical novel on the World War One military campaign of Gallipoli on Jottify last year, that a lot of people have read it here in Australia. The picture of my uncle Stephen Tognolini and George  Hunt taken in France in 1918 just before the Battle of Hamel where George was killed. I thought that he was Aboriginal. Historian Philippa Scarlett  wrote on her blog Indigenous Histories that his father was from the West Indies:


 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 photograph 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.


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 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.”
In a further article she wrote.


Posted on April 19, 2013by Indigenous Histories

Michael Riley, great grandson of George Campbell Hunt, has provided more information about his great grand father who was one those members of the AIF who did not fit the profile of ‘White Australians fighting for a White Australia’.

The records located by Michael and others show his father also George Hunt was from Antigua in the West Indies and had arrived in New South Wales by 1877. Available photographs of George Campbell Hunt (decorated in 1917, the year before he was killed in action at Hamel), show him in a variety of lights – the debonair, in the photograph on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour– the stern and war hardened serviceman in a 21st Battalion group portrait taken in 1918 at Picardie and the relaxed soldier amongst mates in an informal photograph of George Hunt and friends provided by Michael. In this he and his comrades wear fezes. These and the children in the photograph suggest the photo was taken in Alexandria before the 21st Battalion proceeded to Gallipoli in August 1915. (Links to the former two photographs are in the 8 March posting WHAT WOULD CHARLES BEAN HAVE SAID ABOUT GEORGE CAMPELL HUNT AIF)”

I owe a debt to Philippa and as I finish the last part of Brothers. I also a debt to the historians Peter Stanley and David W. Cameron but also Charles Bean whose White Australia image of World One both Philippa and I challenge. Saying that Bean, for me despite his bigotry is the ultimate primary source historian of World War One. He is full of so many contradictions.

I had four uncles in World War One and another uncle and my father in World War Two. My mother was also WW2 veteran. I also had my cousin Michael killed in Vietnam. He was only 19. I’m named after my Uncle John/Jack who was either 16 or 17 when he killed in action France. Like his brother Stephen he was awarded the Military Medal for valor during the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres). His citation reads

At Broodseinde during the period 26/27th October 1917 No 3648 Pte John Tognolini did excellent work on the morning of the 26th October. He was one of a party of eight carrying two stretcher cases to the Regimental Aid Post when a shell burst and severely wounded three of the party. Although wounded himself he continued with his work and made two trips back to get the wounded they had left on the way. He then returned to line and on the morning of the 27th October when several men were wounded by shell fire and all the stretchers in use. He dressed one man and carried him on his back to the R.A.P. All this work was under very heavy shell fire.

He set a fine example of coolness and courage to the men of his company.

 Private Tognolini has on many occasions shown great courage and devotion to duty.
He was killed in action on 25-4-18 at the Battle of Villers Bretonneux.

This is the first volume of Brothers that will become a series of novellas is dedicated to my uncles and their comrades. It has fictional characters based on them. The events of course are real and I write showing the full horror of what they endured. I believe it is the obligation of a novelist to write historical fiction that has to be accurate and bring the past to life, and by doing that make it popular and accessible to people.

All romance of war was shattered by the first sight of the dead and dismembered. That’s why the poetry of Wilfred Owen bellows at us today of the horror of war. Brothers is a work of empathy with the poor bloody soldiers who endure such incredible hardships.

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