b. 24/04/1878 Ipswich, Suffolk. d. 30/07/1947 Ipswich, Suffolk.
Arthur Frederick Saunders (1878-1947) was born at Cauldhall Road, Ipswich on 24th April 1878. His father was Thomas, a saddle and harness maker. His mother was Anne Victoria nee Clarke, and they married in 1856 in Ipswich. They had a large family, having eleven children in total, with Arthur one of six brothers and five sisters.
Arthur was educated at St John’s Church of England Primary and California Schools in Ipswich. He trained for the Merchant Navy on the former HMS Warspite, the Marine Society training ship from November 1893 to February 1894, before enlisting in the Royal Navy as a Boy on 25th February 1894. Training was carried out on the hulk Boscawen. He later served on HMS Pembroke and at HMS Vernon, the torpedo training school as a petty officer Class II. He was discharged on 21st April 1908 from HMS Pembroke.
He married Edith Muriel Everitt on 6th December 1908. Arthur and Edith went on to have three children: Thomas Everitt Frederick Saunders (born 1909), Edward Stanley Charles Saunders (born 1912) and Nina Madge Saunders (born 1922). Arthur was employed as an engine fitter’s assistant by Ransomes, Sims and Jeffries Ltd, an engineering firm in Ipswich. He enlisted on 19th September 1914 from the Special Reserve and was promoted Sergeant within a month. He went to France with 9th Battalion on 30th August 1915.
On 26th September 1915, during the Battle of Loos, Sergeant Saunders took charge of two machine-guns and a few men and, although severely wounded in the thigh, closely followed the last four charges of another battalion, giving them all possible support. Later, when the remains of the battalion which he had been supporting was forced to retire, he stuck to one of his guns and in spite of his wound, continued to give clear orders and by continuous firing did his best to cover the retirement.
He was the first VC awarded to the Suffolk Regiment when gazetted on 30th March 1916. Wounded in the action, he was evacuated to Beaulieu Hospital, Harrogate, Yorkshire and was also treated at St Thomas’s Hospital, London and St George’s Hospital, Harrogate for long periods. His leg was severely damaged, but it was saved from amputation, although he suffered the effects for the rest of his life.
He received a public welcome on 22nd June 1916 at Ipswich Town Hall, where he was met by the Mayor and Corporation, officers of the Suffolk Regiment and his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bretell. He was later presented with £365 from the residents of Ipswich and his Regiment, which he used to purchase a house in Foxhall Road, where he lived for the rest of his life with his family.
The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 27th June 1916. He was discharged on 13th November and returned to Ransomes, where he worked until retirement as a storekeeper. He was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Ipswich in April 1920. He was appointed Justice of the Peace for Ipswich in January 1923. When the Prince of Wales visited HMS Warspite at Greenhithe that July, he was presented to him as a “old boy”. He met the Prince again on 4th July 1934, when he formed part of the Guard of Honour at the Royal Show.
He served as a Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant in the Home Guard from 1940-1944.
On 15th February 1947, he was invited to Glasgow by Lieutenant-General Sir AFP Christison KBE CB DSO MC, GOC Scottish Command, who was with him during his VC action, to attend a gathering of the survivors of 6th Cameron Highlanders who were at Loos in September 1915. Arthur was made a member of the Battalion. Sadly, Arthur died of acute retention of urine and prostatic hyperplasia at Ipswich Borough Hospital on 30th July 1947 and was cremated at Ipswich Borough Crematorium. His ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest in the New Cemetery, and is commemorated on Panel 64 at the Temple of Remembrance.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. His widow presented the medals to the Suffolk Regiment on her 99th birthday on 11th February 1989 at Howard House Retirement Home. They are held by the Suffolk Regimental Museum, Bury St Edmunds.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SUFFOLK RGT MUSEUM, BURY ST EDMUNDS, SUFFOLK.
BURIAL PLACE: IPSWICH BOROUGH CREMATORIUM, IPSWICH, SUFFOLK.
Arthur Saunders' VC courtesy of the Suffolk Regimental Museum, Bury St Edmonds
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Christchurch Park, Ipswich
War Illustrated, 22nd April 1916
Replica medals at Moyses Hall Museum, Bury St Edmonds (Memorials to Valour)