SAUNDERS, Alfred. Lance Corporal (K/74697)
28th Armoured Regiment, British Columbia Regiment, Royal Canadian Armoured Corps.
Died 21 January 1945, aged 34.
Alfred's headstone in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery.
Photograph (12724820) by "Astrid" via findagrave.com
Alfred was born Q4 1910, the first of six children born to Alfred Harold Saunders and Lydia (née Dowling - they had married Q1 1910, registered in the Barnet District). Alfred junior's birth (and that of his five siblings, William, Robert, Avis, Betty and Lydia, between 1913 and 1922) was registered in the Edmonton District and probably happened at 7 South Road, New Southgate where 5 month old Alfred and his parents (30 year old Alfred and 25 year old Lydia) were recorded in the 1911 Census. Alfred senior ("Alfred Harold Hotspur" in full) is listed as an "Asylum Attendant", and almost certainly worked at the Friern Barnet Hospital which was just down the road.
By 1925 Alfred senior was listed (working) in the West Park Mental Hospital in the Horton polling district of Epsom. Between 1927 and 1945, he and his wife Lydia are recorded on the electoral rolls as living at 'Toronto', Ruxley Lane, West Ewell. (The burial on 13 October 1934 in grave K174 of Avis Mary Saunders, spinster, of the same address is recorded in the Epsom Cemetery records. Alfred senior, aged 82, following his death at Ewell Park Hospital on 17 August 1963 was buried in the same grave on 26 August 1963.) The 1939 Register records only Alfred's parents and sisters Betty (born 1920) and Lydia J. (born 1922) living in 'Toronto', Ruxley Lane, West Ewell.
The explanation of why Alfred junior's WW2 service was with the Canadian 28th Armoured Regiment, British Columbia Regiment begins with the record of the 24 year old "Fred Saunders" leaving Southampton on 21 April 1934 on the Aquitania. The ship's manifest records: his last UK address as 17 Henderson Road, Sunderland; his occupation as farming; and his intended "country of future permanent residence" as Canada.
On 27 January 1941, Alfred enlisted in Vancouver into the Canadian 28th Armoured Regiment, British Columbia Regiment. He gave his birth as 3 November 1910, his religion as Church of England and his last address as Lanning Apartments, Main Street, Vancouver. Alfred made his will out the following day leaving his estate to his brother, William Saunders of Jubilee Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia. William, also known as Bill, was noted as Alfred's next of kin but this was later changed on 22 January 1944 to their mother Lydia.
(Alfred's war records contain information that his brother Bill also enlisted into the same regiment and given the service number K38528. Should he die, William left all of his estate to his brother Alfred. However, a letter from their father records that William did survive the war but was badly wounded and burnt in France in 1944. He apparently received treatment in the Canadian Plastic Surgery Hospital in Basingstoke, Hampshire before returning to Canada.)
From September 1942, Alfred was stationed in the UK - certainly, in the latter stages, preparing for the invasion of France. The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own), affectionately known as 'The Dukes', arrived in Normandy on 26 & 27 July 1944. The unit's first major action, on 9 & 10 August, saw it practically wiped out in an heroic stand on Hill 140: in the course of a night move, the Dukes had become lost and ended up, along with two companies of the Algonquin Regiment, cut off behind enemy lines.
The unit was rebuilt and, following the Normandy campaign, fought on into Belgium, the Netherlands and, finally, Germany itself. It was during action in the Netherlands that Alfred was killed on 21 January 1945, aged 34.
Alfred's war records state he died accidentally of multiple injuries caused by an explosion of a mine. Two other servicemen were also killed and nine others injured. Witnesses reported that they had been assembled at the Direct Fire Tank Range to have a demonstration of Troop Tactics. Before this commenced, a group of soldiers including Alfred, lit a fire using some wooden crates and empty cardboard shell containers twenty yards to the rear of the last tank. Half-an-hour later, at 1315, a loud explosion was heard by Lieutenant D I Gilbert, the officer who was due to give the demonstration. He inspected the area and in his opinion said there had been either a buried explosive or mine under the sand where the fire had been lit. Other statements were taken from witnesses, all of whom were sure that there had been no live ammunition left in the containers. The findings of the Court were that the fire had been built on top of some sort of buried unexploded projectile.
There are several letters in Alfred's military file from his family in England, and from his brother Bill in Canada, who believed that it was only right that the Canada Government should pay the cost for an inscription to be added to the family headstone on grave K174 in Epsom Cemetery. (That was to no avail: the headstone still mentions only those buried there.) There are also letters from Alfred's father asking why his son's wrist watch was not amongst the other personal articles that were eventually returned them. There are no replies on record from the Canadian War Office but one can imagine that, due to the accident, the watch was not recovered.
Alfred is one of 1,008 WW2 casualties buried in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery in the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant, about 25 miles north-west of Antwerp (Belgium). His parents took the option of adding a personal inscription to his headstone on Grave 7.F.9,
"To Alf. Loved in life / honoured in death / treasured in memory / one of the best."
As noted above, Alfred's father died aged 82 in 1963. His mother, Lydia, died in 1974 aged 88, registered in the Sutton District.
Roger Morgan © 2018
Extended and updated by Hazeel Ballan 2018
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