|Date of Birth||May 1, 1889|
|Place of Birth||Winnipeg, Manitoba|
|Next of Kin||William Saunders (father), Mervin, Saskatchewan|
|Trade / Calling||Farmer|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Semans, Saskatchewan|
|Address at Enlistment||Semans, Saskatchewan|
|Date of Enlistment||December 17, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||26|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Decorations and Medals||Military Medal|
|Date of Death||May 30, 1965|
|Age at Death||76|
|Buried At||Queen's Park Cemetery, Calgary, Alberta|
Lance Sergeant Thomas Saunders, MM, enlisted in December 1915 and served for three and a half years in Canada, the UK, France and Belgium. He was awarded the Military Medal in January 1918.
Thomas was the fifth of six sons of William Saunders and Fanny Huggins of Mervin, Saskatchewan. 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 north of Winnipeg in the community of St. Clements along their sons William, John (Jack), George and Thomas. Another boy, Frederick, had died in 1887, at age six months. Thomas was born in Winnipeg on 1 May 1889 and he was followed about three years later by the sixth and youngest son, James. By 1901 the 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. Thomas had moved to Semans, Saskatchewan by then and he was living with his oldest brother John. John and his wife Annie had a daughter Edna who was born in 1910 in Kenora.
The war started in 1914 and Thomas and his brother James Saunders both enlisted the following year. James was still living in Kenora but their parents had moved to Mervin, Saskatchewan. Thomas signed up in Semans on 17 December 1915, joining the 96th Battalion (Canadian Highlanders). He was a farmer, his residence was Semans and next of kin was his father in Mervin. After training in Canada for nine months he headed overseas with his unit in the fall of 1916, embarking from Halifax on 27 September on the SS Laconia and arriving in Liverpool, England about ten days later.
Thomas was transferred to the 92nd Battalion on 8 October. A month later he was drafted to a front line unit, the 13th Battalion, and sent to France, arriving there on 13 November. The 13th Battalion had been at the Somme Offensive that fall but by the time Thomas joined them they were in the Lens-Arras area, across from Vimy, where the Canadian Corps would spend the winter. The troops trained, had regular rotations in the front trenches and took part in raids on the enemy lines. On 18 March 1917 Thomas was admitted to a field ambulance with a shrapnel wound to his face. It wasn’t serious and he was sent to a rest station the following day and he was back with his battalion on 22 March.
In 1917 the Canadian Corps took part in the Battles of Vimy Ridge (April), Hill 70 (August) and Passchendaele (October-November). The winter of 1917-18 was spent in the Lens-Arras area again and in January 1918 Thomas was awarded the Military Medal. Late that spring the Canadians were given several weeks of intensive training in open warfare and in June Thomas was promoted to Corporal. The final period of the war started in August with the Battle of Amiens and the Canadians were heavily involved in operations in those last three months.
Thomas was wounded again around the end of September, possibly during the crossing of the Canal du Nord. On 2 October he was admitted to the Australian General Hospital in Rouen and two days later he was transferred to a convalescent depot in Boulogne. He rejoined the 13th Battalion near the end of October and was promoted to Lance Sergeant on 10 November, the day before the Armistice. On 13 November he was granted two weeks leave in the UK. Afterwards he became ill (vdg) and he was in No. 51 General Hospital in Etaples and the Canadian Special Hospital in Witley, England from 30 November 1918 to 12 February 1919.
When Thomas was discharged from the hospital he was transferred to the 20th Reserve Battalion and he served with them for six weeks. He embarked from Liverpool on 25 March on the SS Scotian and arrived in St. John, New Brunswick on 4 April. He was discharged on demobilization on 9 April in Saskatoon. He brother James was wounded twice and suffered shell shock. He returned to Canada in January 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 Thomas returned to the Mervin area where his parents were living. He still had relatives in Kenora and he was married there on 12 November 1925. His occupation at the time was farmer and his address was Mervin. His wife, Amy Constance Johnston (née Guernsey), was a widow with two young daughters, Thelma and Patricia. Amy was born in 1892 in the Stuartburn area in Manitoba. Her parents, William Robert Guernsey and Frances Fuller, were both from England and she was one of at least thirteen children. The family moved to Rat Portage in the 1890s and three of the boys served during the war. Amy’s first husband, Christian Martin Johnston, was a marine captain from Norway. He died in Kenora in 1923, at age 42.
Thomas and Amy made their home in Mervin, Saskatchewan at first and they had three sons: Elmer, Lawrence (Lorne) and Jack Mervin (1931-1990). In the late 1930s they moved to Calgary where Thomas worked as a mechanic. He was a member of the North Hill Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. He retired around 1962 and passed away at Colonel Belcher Hospital on 30 May 1965, at age 76. Amy died in 1970 and they are both buried in Queen’s Park Cemetery in Calgary.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of the three brothers courtesy of: Mervin Memories (Mervin Homecoming Committee, Mervin, Saskatchewan, 1982), page 60.
Grave marker photo courtesy of Emerson Dunlop, findagrave.com.