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Bill Saunders, World War II veteran and Legion mainstay in St. John’s, dies at 101

Bill Saunders, World War II veteran and Legion mainstay in St. John’s, dies at 101
Bill Saunders, World War II veteran and Legion mainstay in St. John’s, dies at 101

Emma Grunwald/CBC

Bill Saunders, a Newfoundland veteran of World War II and a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for over 70 years, has died.

Saunders was a gunner in the British Navy during World War II and was at sea when the first Allied ship arrived in August 1945 to liberate Hong Kong from the Japanese. He died last week in St. John’s at the age of 101.

Saunders joined the Royal Canadian Legion in 1949 and served as a member of Branch 1 in St. John’s until the age of 98.

Ward 1 Chairman Colin Patey said Tuesday he remembers Saunders as a quiet personality who loved reading, people and sharing his knowledge with others.

“He was a mentor to a lot of us here because of his long time in the legion and obviously his military career,” Patey told CBC News. “If you wanted to know something, Bill was the one to go to because he had seen it, done it or could tell you where to go.”

Patey said Saunders spent nearly every day at the Legion and was always around for a chat or advice. His picture hangs on the wall at the entrance to the Legion’s members’ lounge on Blackmarsh Road.

Saunders got the royal treatment for his 100th birthday in 2021, being treated to cake and well wishes when the Legion hosted a party and procession in his driveway. He also received video messages of thanks and birthday wishes from Prime Minister Andrew Furey, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and even Queen Elizabeth II.

“When he walked in, everyone seemed to light up when they saw him,” Patey said.

“He commanded a certain respect and a sense of honor when he walked through the door. That in itself will stay with me, how everyone gathered around him as the focal point.”

Emma Grunwald/CBC

Patey said the number of World War II veterans still living in Newfoundland and Labrador has declined in recent years, which he said underscores the importance of reaching out to and remembering veterans in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.

“I think it’s really important to hear the stories because of the things that they went through, their trials and tribulations in life and in that whole era, just to name a few. And the fact that they went out there and were willing to give their lives for the freedoms that we enjoy today. And sometimes I think we take those freedoms for granted,” he said.

“It was people like Bill … who gave us those freedoms.”

Saunders was preceded in death by his wife Elizabeth and is survived by three children, three grandchildren, a sister, and other relatives and friends.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador