WWII veteran celebrates 100th birthday in St. John's with motorcade, well wishes

·2 min read
Bill Saunders, seated, enjoys the company of family, friends and fellow veterans on the occasion of his 100th birthday. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
Bill Saunders, seated, enjoys the company of family, friends and fellow veterans on the occasion of his 100th birthday. (Emma Grunwald/CBC - image credit)
Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

A Second World War veteran in St. John's was given the royal treatment for his 100th birthday Saturday.

Bill Saunders was treated to cake and well wishes as a small crowd gathered in his driveway and a motorcade passed down his street.

"He downplays it, but I think, secretly, he's really excited," said Jenna Fitzpatrick, Saunders's granddaughter.

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

Saunders was a gunner with the Royal British Navy during the war. He was onboard when the first Allied vessel arrived to liberate Hong Kong from the Japanese in August 1945.

"He always spoke to me when I was a child very fondly about that," his daughter said. "And I think he was very proud."

Saunders joined Branch 1 of the Royal Canadian Legion on Blackmarsh Road in 1949, going on to become its longest-serving member.

As part of his volunteer work, he helped draw attention to the needs of veterans confined to their homes and was instrumental in bringing educational programming around remembrance to schools.

Saunders also received a special birthday greeting from Queen Elizabeth II.

It was a gesture Fitzpatrick said the family found "very, very touching," as Saunders's wife was a war bride who came across the pond from Wales.

"It's something that's very close to the family and definitely something we're going to treasure forever," Fitzpatrick said of the royal wish.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Andrew Furey and Lieutenant Governor Judy Foote were also among those who sent in their well wishes. Mayor Danny Breen attended the event in person.

Fitzpatrick was heartened to see dozens of friends and family turn out for the event as well.

Saunders, whose health is "absolutely fantastic" according to his granddaughter, addressed the crowd personally on Saturday, offering up a little wisdom, and a lot of laughs.

Emma Grunwald/CBC
Emma Grunwald/CBC

Asked how it felt to turn 100 years old, Saunders' answered, "I don't feel any different than I did yesterday."

He later quipped that he doesn't have any big plans for next year: "I don't look forward to tomorrow, let alone 101."

And how can others follow his example and live to be 100?

"Live long enough, that's all," Saunders said.

Though he lives alone, Saunders still gets out to the legion every now and then, his granddaughter said. His three kids take turns visiting him in the evenings. Often, one of his three grandchildren will come along.

Still, Fitzpatrick said celebrations like Saturday's are important to Saunders, even if he doesn't say so himself.

"He's just really happy today," she said, "to have all this fuss made over him."

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