Bill Saunders, WWII veteran and staple of the Legion in St. John's, dies at 101

William 'Bill' Saunders served in the British Navy during the Second World War and was a mainstay of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1 in St. John's. He died last week at the age of 101. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
William 'Bill' Saunders served in the British Navy during the Second World War and was a mainstay of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 1 in St. John's. He died last week at the age of 101. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

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

Saunders was a gunner for the British Navy during World War II, and was notably at sea when the first Allied vessel arrived to liberate Hong Kong from the Japanese in August 1945. He died in St. John's last week 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 he was 98.

Branch 1 president Colin Patey said Tuesday he's remembering 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 with the legion and of course his military career," Patey told CBC News. "If you needed to know something, Bill was the one to go to because he had either seen it, done it or could tell you which direction to go in."

Patey said Saunders spent just about every day at the Legion and was always around for a chat or advice. His photo 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, treated to cake and well wishes as the Legion organized a party and motorcade in his driveway. He also received video messages of thanks and birthday wishes from Premier Andrew Furey, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and even Queen Elizabeth II.

"When he came through the door, everyone seemed to light up when they see him," Patey said.

"He sort of commanded that respect and the feeling of an honour when he came through the door. So that in itself will stand out in my mind, how everyone just gathered around him as a centre point."

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

The number of World War II veterans remaining in Newfoundland and Labrador has fallen in recent years, Patey said, which he says emphasizes the importance of connecting with and remembering veterans ahead of Remembrance Day.

"I think it's very important to hear the stories because of the things they went through, their trials and tribulations through life and through that whole era, for one thing. And the fact that they went out and were prepared to lay their lives down 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 is predeceased by his wife, Elizabeth, and leaves behind three children, three grandchildren, a sister and other family and friends.

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