Unlike many of his contemporaries, Collegian Horace George Hunt did not serve in the military during the First World War. Instead he spent four and a half years interned in Germany as an enemy alien.
Hunt was one of at least 13 New Zealand civilians of military age who were interned in the Ruhleben Gefangenenlager or civilian internment camp. Fellow internees included champion sculler Tom Sullivan, electrical engineer George Squire of Timaru and Albert Jones, a teacher from Christchurch.1
Hunt was born in St Pancras, London in January 1886, the third child of Robert Leslie Hunt and his wife Annie Eliza (nee Pepprell).2 In 1891, Horace, aged 5, and his family were living at the Orphan Working School in Haverstock Hill where his father was a teacher and organist.3 Later that year, the Hunt family emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Parnell, Auckland. His father took up multiple positions, including organist and choir master at St Mary’s Cathedral, secretary of the Jubilee Institute for the Blind and visiting master at St John’s College, where he taught music, singing and drawing.4
Hunt was a student at St John’s College from 1898 to 1900.5 He then attended the School of Music at Auckland University College (AUC), gaining the Associate of Music diploma in 1903 and graduating Bachelor of Music (MusB) in 1907.6 The 1903 Practical Music exam results show Hunt was an able student, scoring 93 out of 100 possible marks and full marks for sight reading, style and expression. Seymour Phillips, who served with the New Zealand Divisional Entertainers, sat the exam at the same time.7
A popular performer, Hunt appeared in many recitals and musical evenings in Auckland and Wellington.8 He also composed music, taught piano and from March 1905 was the organist and choirmaster at the Terrace Congregational Church in Wellington.9 In 1906, he accompanied Māori opera singer Te Rangi Pai (Fanny Howie) on her New Zealand tour, appearing at performances in Dunedin, Christchurch and Whanganui.10 His talented elder sister Gertrude also performed on this tour, singing duets with Te Rangi Pai and playing the piano.11
‘I am trying (rather ambitiously perhaps) to dramatise one or two of Sir Geo Grey’s tales [and] get Hunt to train a choir to render Maori choruses and another friend to paint a series of ethnological pictures etc.’
Interned in Germany
In June 1913, Hunt, aged 27, left New Zealand to further his musical studies. He travelled first to London and then to Germany and was living in Berlin when war was declared on 4 August 1914.12 The outbreak of war caught many British citizens living in the city by surprise as most believed, even in late July, that war would be averted at all costs.13 Immediately, foreign nationals were prevented from leaving Berlin and required to register with the police. Hunt was arrested as an enemy alien on 24 September 1914 and taken to the Stadtvogtei Prison in the Alexander Platz. There, he and other civilian prisoners were held with the general prison population until late October when they were moved to the Ruhleben civilian internment camp near Spandau on the outskirts of Berlin. Hunt described the location of the camp, which was set up in the grounds of a racecourse, as the `Ellerslie of Berlin.’14
At its peak, Ruhleben held some 4,500 men, including a number of musicians, conductors and composers who had also been working or studying in Germany.15 These talented internees banded together, forming choirs, an orchestra and other ensembles. As early as Christmas 1914, a choir directed by British conductor Charles Adler performed excerpts from The Messiah and during the summer of 1915 the Ruhleben Musical Society organised a series of outdoor promenade concerts.16 Other concerts showcased original works composed within the camp.17
In a post-war interview, Hunt noted that being involved in such activities had preserved the sanity of many and ‘the stimulating contact of keen intellects’ provided some consolation for the physical hardships of camp life.18 Hunt is recorded in the first issue of the Ruhleben camp magazine as having presented a lecture on Grieg and performed and directed works by the composer at an Arts and Sciences Union musical evening.19 He also wrote the music for Hinemoa and Hawaiki, a play based on two Māori legends, produced by fellow New Zealander Albert Jones, at the Ruhleben Theatre in November 1916.20
Hunt was released from Ruhleben in late 1918 but chose to spend a further three months in Berlin where, despite the political turmoil, the opera and orchestral season was in full swing.21 He returned to London in early 1919 and New Zealand a year later, arriving in Wellington in April 1920.22 He immediately resumed his career as a pianist, conductor and piano teacher, appearing with Australian soprano Miss Gertrude Johnson in Auckland in June.23 In 1921, Hunt married English actress Emily Nancy Pethybridge, also known as Nan Bevill.24 It is unclear how long their marriage lasted but Nan left New Zealand for San Francisco in December 1923 and later returned to England where she married British actor Alan Napier in September 1930.25
Hunt left New Zealand in October 1925 and settled in the United States where he worked as a choral conductor and teacher.26 During the late 1930s and 1940s, Hunt worked with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and took part in the Berkshire Symphonic Festival at Tanglewood near Stockbridge, Massachusetts.27 American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the 1941 festival and mentioned Hunt in her diary, noting that, ‘The Chorus of the Berkshire Musical Association, of which Horace Hunt is the conductor, sang [Mozart’s requiem] mass and the whole program was a most finished and beautiful performance.’ 28
In 1946, Hunt returned to New Zealand and spent two years based in Wellington. He moved to California in the 1950s and died in San Francisco in July 1981, aged 94.29
Katherine Pawley, Special Collections
- The Press, 21 Aug 1915, p.9. All newspapers accessed via Papers Past. New Zealand. High Commission (Great Britain), A short sketch of the work of the New Zealand Prisoners of War Department in London : and of other undertakings connected with the war, London, 1917, p.43.
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index,1937-1915, accessed via Ancestry.com; England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915, accessed via Ancestry.com.
- 1891 England Census, accessed via Ancestry.com.
- New Zealand Herald, 27 November 1923, p.8; The Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Auckland Provincial District, 1902, p.204, accessed via NZETC.
- Bruce Hamilton, O floret semper: the history of Kings College 1896-1995, Auckland, 1995, p.405.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1906, p.96; University of New Zealand, Roll of graduates, Auckland, 1964, p.170.
- Practical music exam results, 1903, University of Auckland administrative archives.
- Auckland Star, 9 October 1903, p.2; The Observer, 30 April 1910, p. 6.
- New Zealand Herald, 18 March 1905, p.6.
- North Otago Times, 17 April 1906, p.2; Press, 31 March1906, p.11.
- Waikato Times, 1 October 1906, p.2.
- New Zealand Herald, 10 June 1913, p.8; Wanganui Herald, 8 May 1920, p.11.
- Wanganui Herald, 8 May 1920, p.11.
- Lewis Foreman, ‘In Ruhleben camp’, First World War Studies, 2, 1, 2011, pp.27-40, accessed via Taylor & Francis online; Matthew Stibbe, ‘A community at war: British civilian internees at the Ruhleben Camp in Germany, 1914-1918,’ in Jenny Macleod and Pierre Purseigle, eds., Uncovered fields: Perspectives in First World War Studies, Leiden, 2003, p.79.
- Foreman, p.31.
- Auckland Star, 13 April 1920, p.4.
- Wanganui Herald, 8 May 1920, p.11.
- Ruhleben Camp Magazine, March 1916, p.36, accessed via The Ruhleben Story.
- Otago Daily Times, 13 March 1917, p.7; Jones family papers. MSS & Archives 2014/6, 1/8/16, 1/8/18, 1/9/1, Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.
- Dominion, 21 June 1919, p.4.
- New Zealand Herald, 21 April 1919, p.4; Dominion, 12 April 1920, p.4.
- Auckland Star, 26 May 1920, p.13.
- The Press, 20 June 1921, p.2.
- England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005, Vol. 1a, p.548, accessed via Ancestry.com.
- California, passenger and crew lists, 1882-1959, accessed via Ancestry.com; New Zealand Herald, 3 August 1981, p.2.
- New Zealand Herald, 3 August 1981, p.2.
- Eleanor Roosevelt, `My Day, August 9, 1941,’ The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Digital Edition, 2008, accessed via George Washington University.
- New Zealand Herald, 3 August 1981, p.2.