The Victoria Cross of Sergeant Arthur Saunders
The Victoria Cross of Sergeant Arthur Saunders, 9th Battalion – one of only two awarded to the Regiment. He won it for acts of gallantry at the Battle of Loos on 26 September 1915. Now on public display for the first time!
Arthur Frederick Saunders was born in Ipswich in 1879. He trained first for the Merchant Navy and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15, serving for 15 years and reaching the rank of Petty Officer (2nd Class). On leaving the Navy he worked for Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies, the well-known engineering firm in the town. On 19 September 1914 he joined the Regular Army as a ‘duration only’ soldier, and was posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment. The Battalion went over to France on 30 August 1915: less than a month later they were involved in the Battle of Loos.
On 26 September 1915, 9th Suffolk were in support of an advance of the Cameron Highlanders. As the situation deteriorated, and Saunders found he had no officer left, he quickly took over command of the Platoon:
‘For most conspicuous bravery. When his officer had been wounded in the attack he took charge of two machine-guns and a few men, and, although severely wounded in the thigh, closely followed the last four charges of another battalion, and rendered every possible support. Later, when the remains of the battalion which he had been supporting had been forced to retire, he stuck to one of his guns, continued to give clear orders, and by continuous firing did his best to cover the retirement.’
He was recovered by stretcher bearers from the Scots Guards. Common belief states that the wounds to his leg meant that it was amputated when he reached an Advanced Dressing Station. However this is inaccurate. After medical attention and a period of convalescence his leg had become three inches shorter; he therefore wore a medical boot to aid his walking.
On his discharge from hospital he returned home to a civic reception in Ipswich. The townspeople and Croydons, a local jeweller, collected a sum of £350 for him in grateful recognition of his deeds. He and his wife wisely used the money to buy the house that they would live in for many years to come. He returned to Ransomes and rose to be Works foreman.
During the Second World War he became a Company Sergeant Major in the 11th Battalion (Ipswich) Home Guard. He died in 1947.
He was the first Suffolk Regiment soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
General Sir Philip Christison of the 6th Battalion the Cameron Highlanders (who was a 2nd Lieutenant in the battle of Loos) wrote the following about Arthur:
‘I saw the lines of the 24th Division moving forward and the Germans running back. The Suffolks came through where I was and seemed to be going well. Then they wavered, and to my horror I saw them and the troops on both sides of them doubling back and leaving me isolated again. But one stout fellow, Sergeant A F Saunders, refused to retire. He had a Lewis Gun he had picked up with a full drum on it. He crawled over to me and said he’d stay and fight. He made to crawl over to the next shell-hole and as he did so a shell landed and blew part of his left leg off about the knee. I crawled over and got him into the shell-hole, putting a tourniquet on his leg and giving him my water bottle, as his was empty. I crawled back to my hole and a few minutes later on looking over the top I saw a fresh wave of Germans advancing. I was wondering what to do – whether to lie doggo or open fire. There seemed no point in opening fire as there were perhaps a hundred and fifty enemy advancing rather diagonally across our front. To my amazement I heard short sharp bursts of Lewis Gunfire coming from the shell-hole on my right. This was Sergeant Saunders more or less minus a leg! The Germans were taken by surprise and bunched up, so I joined in and between us we took a heavy toll and the rest retired out of sight. I took down Sergeant Saunders’ number, name and regiment. Stretcher bearers from the RE got me and Sergeant Saunders on to stretchers but shells dropped close and we were abandoned. We were lucky, a stretcher bearer party from the Scots Guards picked us up and got us to an Advanced Dressing Station where emergency surgery was carried out. Sergeant Saunders, now without a leg, was awarded the VC, while I was given the MC.’