Veterans gathered at Ocean Terminal to pay tribute to Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter – the uncle of Scottish finance secretary John Swinney – who sacrificed himself to save British troops in battle in 1945 and was posthumously awarded the highest military decoration for valour.
A memorial to his bravery was first erected in 2002 but had to be removed almost three years ago ahead of planned tram works, when the line was originally set to run past the shopping centre. With the cancellation of that section of the route it was decided to reinstate the memorial now sited on Britannia Walk.
In April 1945, Corporal Hunter’s men were tasked with clearing enemy soldiers from positions in a series of buildings around Lake Comacchio in Italy. Realising the imminent threat to his soldiers, Hunter charged across 200 yards of open ground carrying a Bren light machine gun, drawing fire while clearing through the houses. His actions resulted in the surrender of six German soldiers and forced the remainder to fall back.
When his troops again came under fire as they marched across to his position, Mr Hunter offered himself as a target laying in full view on a heap of rubble, firing at the concrete pillboxes until he was himself killed by enemy gunfire.
King George VI later presented the VC to the parents of Mr Hunter – who attended Tynecastle High School – at a private ceremony in Holyrood House.
Colonel Graham Dunlop, president of the Royal Marines Association in Scotland, said the Edinburgh branch views the Thomas Hunter memorial as the most important in the city and hold an annual parade in his honour.
“Now that the memorial has been replaced and in a more suitable location, I feel that’s something we can build upon,” said Col Dunlop. “Thomas Hunter epitomised the finest set of standards you could expect of anyone.
“He gave his life to save his friends, and that’s certainly something that we should be highlighting to people. I hope that the public will join us for the parade next April and recognise his sacrifice.”
Representatives from the Royal Marines Association, the Royal Marines Reserves and the Royal Naval Regional Headquarters in Scotland attended the reinstatement of the memorial this week.
Veteran Tom Forrest, who helped establish the original memorial, said: “It’s important to preserve the memory of Thomas Hunter. We had help from Cllr Eric Milligan, who had gone to school with Hunter and he’d suggested Leith as a possible location.”