Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthAugust 1, 1892 (or possibly 1893)
Place of BirthWinnipeg, Manitoba
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinWilliam Saunders (father), Mervin, Saskatchewan
Trade / CallingButcher
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439115
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentApril 9, 1915
Age at Enlistment22
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJuly 7, 1955
Age at Death62
Buried AtMervin Cemetery, Mervin, Saskatchewan

Saunders, James

Corporal James Saunders enlisted in April 1915 and he was wounded twice, at the Battle of Mount Sorrel and at the Vimy front. He also suffered shell shock at the Somme but he survived the war and returned to Canada in January 1919.

James was the youngest of six sons of William Saunders and Fanny Huggins. William was a farmer and he and his wife were both born in England. They were married in June 1882 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the time of the 1891 census they were living in the community of St. Clements, north of Winnipeg, with their children: William, John (Jack), George and Thomas. Another son, Frederick, had died in 1887 at age 6 months. James was born in Winnipeg on 1 August 1892 (or possibly 1893) and by 1901 his family had moved to Rat Portage (now called Kenora) in northwestern Ontario. When the next census was taken in 1911 they were living in Jaffray Township, on the outskirts of the town. James was 18 years old by then and working as a butcher.

The war started in 1914 and James and his brother Thomas Saunders both enlisted the following year. James was still living in Kenora but his parents had moved to Mervin, Saskatchewan. James enlisted in Kenora on 9 April 1915, signing up with the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion. He was 22 years old, his occupation was butcher and next of kin was his father in Mervin. The 52nd Battalion was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora recruits were sent there in June to train with the rest of the unit. In the fall they left for the east coast where they embarked for England on 23 November on the SS California. They trained in the UK for a few more months and on 16 February 1916 James was promoted to Lance Corporal. Four days later his unit was sent to France and they joined the Canadian Corps, becoming part of the 9th Brigade in the 3rd Canadian Division.

Early in March the 52nd Battalion went into the trenches for orientation and training. 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 moved into the area on 1 April. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on 2 June with an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. James was one of the casualties on 4 June, suffering a gunshot or shrapnel wound to his back. He was sent to a field ambulance then to No. 1 Canadian General Hospital in Etaples. A week later he was transferred to a convalescent depot and by the end of the month he was back with his unit. On 20 July he was promoted to Corporal.

The Somme Offensive began later that summer and the first major battle for the Canadians was Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September). The 52nd Battalion boarded trains on 7 September and a few days later they were in the Somme area. On 16 September they took part in the attack near the village of Courcelette. During the advance the men faced heavy machine gun and rifle fire and they suffered over 200 casualties while crossing open ground to reach their objective. James was sent to a rest station on 18 September, suffering from shell shock, and he stayed there for two weeks. When he rejoined his unit they had been moved north to a quieter sector across from Vimy. The Canadian Corps spent the winter there and in December James was out of action for a few days due to trench fever.

Early in 1917 the Canadians began preparing for the assault on Vimy Ridge, which would start on 9 April. On 1 April the 52nd Battalion went into the trenches for a six day rotation. Their positions in the front line were shelled and James suffered a wound to his arm. He was evacuated to a field ambulance then sent to St. John’s Ambulance Brigade Hospital on 4 April. He spent five days at St. John’s followed by two weeks in No. 1 Canadian General Hospital and four days at a convalescent depot. He rejoined his unit in early May and he took a leave of absence for the last two weeks of the month.

In October 1917 the Canadians were back in the Ypres Salient, this time for the assault on Passchendaele Ridge. The battle ended on 10 November and a few days later James injured his ribs. He was treated for a month at No. 1 Canadian General Hospital then sent to England on 20 December. He spent about six weeks at two hospitals in Liverpool. On 6 February 1918 he was transferred to the convalescent centre at Epsom and on 18 March he was discharged to duty. James spent the remainder of the war in the UK, serving with the Manitoba Regiment Depot and the 18th Reserve Battalion. He embarked for Canada in early January 1919 on the SS Olympic, arriving in Halifax on 18 January. He was discharged on demobilization on 10 February in Regina. He was entitled to wear three gold (wound) stripes and four service chevrons. His brother Thomas survived the war and returned to Canada in April 1919. Three of their cousins also served: William, Ralph and Cyril Huggins. They were all born in the Kenora area where their father William Huggins was a steamboat captain.

After the war James joined his parents in Mervin, Saskatchewan and took up farming with his father. He was married on 17 November 1928 to Helen Mary Burroughs. Helen was born in 1909 in Hallowell Township, Prince Edward County, Ontario, the daughter of Walter Robert Burroughs and Charlotte Anne Ogilvy. She had three brothers and three sisters. Walter was a farmer and the family had moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan around 1912.

James and his wife settled on his parents’ farm in Mervin and they raised three children: Cauline, Calvin and Ervin. James passed away on 7 July 1955, at age 62, and he’s buried in Mervin Cemetery. The family farm was sold the following year and Helen later moved to Flin Flon. She died in 1998.

By Becky Johnson

52nd-1915-06-16 52nd-1915-06-19 52nd-1915-12-08 Saunders-James-90 Saunders-James-91 Saunders-James-92

Photo courtesy of: Mervin Memories (Mervin Homecoming Committee, Mervin, Saskatchewan, 1982), page 60.

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