Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthFebruary 13, 1880
Place of BirthPaisley, Ontario
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinEdward Saunders (father), 65 Chestnut Park Road, Rosedale, Toronto
Trade / CallingAccountant
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental NumberNA
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Address at EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentMarch 30, 1915
Age at Enlistment35
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarNo
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 10, 1916
Age at Death36
Buried AtLijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium
PlotIX. A. 13.

Saunders, Austin Lyman

Captain Austin Lyman Saunders of Winnipeg arrived in France in February 1916 with the 52nd Battalion. He was killed five months later when a large artillery shell landed on his dugout.

Austin was the son of Edward Saunders and Agnes Jane Hay Porteous of Toronto, Ontario. Edward and Agnes were both born in Ontario, called Canada West at the time, and they were married in 1876 in Paisley, a small town near Lake Huron. They had three sons, all born in Paisley: Percy Whittington (1877), Austin Lyman (13 February 1880) and Robert Porteous (1887). Edward was a banker and by the spring of 1891 he had moved his family from Paisley to Toronto, where he became an inspector and manager of a loan company. He and his wife lived in the affluent neighbourhood of Rosedale. When the 1901 census was taken Austin was listed as a lodger living in the town of Dundas, near the western end of Lake Ontario. He was 21 years old and employed as a bank clerk. He later spent some time living in or near Ottawa and in 1911 he and his mother went on a trip to England, probably to visit his brother Percy.

The war started in August 1914 and Austin enlisted with the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion in Winnipeg on 30 March 1915, ten days after the unit was mobilized. He was living in Winnipeg at the time and working as an accountant. He’d already served with the 100th Winnipeg Grenadiers, a local militia unit, and he joined the 52nd as a Captain. The battalion was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. A newspaper article said Austin spent the winter of 1914-15 living in Kenora as the officer in charge of recruiting. About 150 Kenora and Keewatin men enlisted with the unit and they left town on the morning of 17 June 1915, headed to the camp in Port Arthur. A large crowd gathered at the train station to see them on their way and the citizen’s band was there playing patriotic songs.

The battalion trained in Port Arthur for five months. Austin signed his Officers’ Declaration on 31 October 1915 and four days later they left for St. John, New Brunswick, on the first leg of their journey overseas. On the way through Ottawa the men were inspected by the Governor-General of Canada, the Duke of Connaught. The battalion embarked from St. John on 23 November on the SS California and arrived in Plymouth, England ten days later. After a further two months of training they were sent to France on 20 February 1916. The men spent the next night in tents in a snowstorm and they were moved to Belgium by train the following day.

In the first week of March the battalion went into the trenches for orientation and they had their first combat fatality on the night of 11-12 March. Later that month the Canadian Corps took up positions in the south part of the Ypres Salient, between St. Eloi and Hooge, and the 52nd Battalion was moved into the area on 1 April. Although there were no major battles at the time the men faced daily rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. The 52nd did several rotations in the front trenches, including a long one from 23 May to 1 June when their positions were heavily shelled. From the War Diary of the 52nd Battalion, 31 May 1916, ‘Men becoming in critical condition owing to prolonged period under constant and heavy shell fire and relief very much needed. 8 day tour under these conditions very much too trying.’

The exhausted men were relieved on 1 June and went into reserve trenches then on to the town of Poperinge the next day, but their rest was a very short one. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June wtih an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. Trenches and equipment were destroyed and some companies were almost wiped out. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack was planned for 3 June and additional units were brought in, including all four companies of the 52nd Battalion. The men left Ypres around midnight and even before they arrived at their positions in Sanctuary Wood, just after dawn on 3 June, they faced severe rifle, machine gun and artillery fire. The 52nd was relieved on 5 June for two days of rest. They had suffered about 200 casualties in three days.

On 7 June the battalion went back into the front trenches, in the area between Maple Copse and Sanctuary Wood. They spent the next six days there with only one day of rest and the men endured cold weather, rain, a shortage of food and water and constant shelling. They were finally relieved at 11:30 pm on 13 June, the final day of the battle. After a period in reserve they were sent back to the trenches on the night of 4 July. The front and support lines were heavily shelled by the Germans almost daily and Austin was killed by a large artillery shell on 10 July.

From the Circumstances of Death record for Austin: Killed instantly when a minnenwerfer shell made a direct hit on his dugout. The enemy had subjected the area to a continued and heavy bombardment for a considerable time, but Capt. Saunders coolly remained at his post where he had done excellent duty for a period of six days.

From the War Diary of the 52nd Battalion, 10 July 1916: Our front line and Culvert heavily shelled all day, several casualties resulting. Capt. A.L. Saunders killed at Culvert by a direct hit on dugout.

Austin was originally buried in Menin Road (South) Military Cemetery but after the war he was re-interred in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near the town of Poperinge, Belgium. Lijssenthoek is the second largest Commonwealth cemetery in Belgium, with almost 10,000 First World War burials. Austin is commemorated on the Next of Kin Monument in Winnipeg and on a memorial plaque at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Aylmer, Quebec. The plaque honours members who gave their lives in the Great War.

Austin’s older brother Percy became a doctor and moved to England in 1904. At the time of the 1911 British census he was a medical practitioner at a hospital in London. He apparently had a distinguished career and his dedicated service during the Spanish flu epidemic may have contributed to his early death in 1923. Austin’s younger brother Robert became a lawyer. He enlisted in the spring of 1915, three weeks after Austin, joining the 19th (Central Ontario) Battalion. He attained the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. He survived the war.

Austin’s father died in Toronto in 1930 and his mother in 1943. They are both buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

By Becky Johnson

Photo at the top is the Next of Kin Monument in Winnipeg.

52nd-1915-06-16 52nd-1915-06-19 52nd-1915-12-08 Saunders-Austin-90 Saunders-Austin-91 Saunders-Austin-93 NOK-Wpg2-image Saunders-Austin-92

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