Arthur William Jenkins Saunders was born on 16th October 1898, the eigth of the eleven children of Edward Saunders Although Edward had been born in Topsham, some earlier family members on his mother’s side had come from Winkleigh. Edward moved with his mother Eliza Jane and his step father Thomas to North Tawton where Thomas was a Stone Breaker but died between 1871 and 1881. As Edward was now the eldest in the family, the responsibility of looking after his mother and the family fell to him. It appears that Edward was quite an entrepreneur because the census shows that he went from being a wool carded to a clock maker by the time he was 25. Outside the big cities it was usual for the working parts of damaged long case clocks to be reassembled to form new clocks, and new cases were available from Germany quite cheaply. Shortly afterwards, Edward moved back to Winkleigh and set himself up as a photographer and cycle builder opposite the Seven Stars Inn. There was a growing demand for these professions as family picture postcards became the usual to pass on news of family and personal events, and cycle transport gained popularity. Arthur’s mother Eliza Jane came to live in Winkleigh with her father about the time his wife died. They lived in Rope Road which was the straight piece between Lower Town and Farmer Frank's Lane. Eliza married Edward Saunders after her father remarried.
Authur joined the Royal Navy on 27th September 1915 just before his 17th birthday as a Boy Cadet, nearly two years before his older brother Frederick was conscripted into the Navy. Arthur was described at this time as being 5ft 4in tall with dark brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion, his occupation had been a general labourer and he had signed on for a period of twelve years. Arthur was initially assigned to HMS Impregnable at Devonport. The name Impregnable was given to the vessel currently being used as a shore establishment at Devonport. The ship being used at this time had been HMS Black Prince, thus she became HMS Impregnable III from 1910 to 1922. The Black Prince had been the world’s second ocean-going, iron-hulled, armoured warship, and for a brief period the two Warrior-class ironclads were the most powerful warships in the world, being virtually impregnable to the naval guns of the time. Rapid advances in naval technology left Black Prince and her sister obsolete within a short time, with the Black Prince being used mainly for training. At the end of May 1916, Arthur was transferred to the shore establishment HMS Ganges at Plymouth, which can be identified by the well known landmark of a huge mast high in the grounds. HMS Ganges had been opened in 1905 and was specifically for Boy Cadets, not only providing training in seamanship but also giving further education. Ganges had the reputation of producing sailors of the highest standards, and ready to complete their specialist training for another six months before going to sea and being able to perform their duties. Arthur was posted back to Devonport for these six months and ultimately assigned to HMS Venerable on 10th October 1916 when he was promoted to Ordinary Seaman six days later.
HMS Venerable was a London class predreadnought battleship and had been on operations in the English Channel before going to the Dardenelles and providing support for Allied attacks at Suvla Bay. After a refit in Gibralter at the end of 1915, she was transferred to the Adriatic Sea to reinforce the Italian Navy against the Austro-Hungarian Navy. Soon after Arthur joined the Venerable she returned to Portsmouth by mid-December 1916. Presumably after spending Christmas at home Arthur was sent to Vivid, the shore establishment at Devonport, on 27th December for further training for a month. On 30th January, Arthur was assigned to HMS Hope.
HMS Hope was an Acorn Class destroyer with the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla. The Destroyers were always busy throughout the war, escorting convoys and on patrol generally, because although the Navy blockade of the Germann Navy and shipping remained generally effective, there was always the threat from German submarines. Six weeks after the Battle of Jutland at the end of May 1916, the Grand Fleet had left Scapa Flow again, but lost both HMS Nottingham and HMS Falmouth to torpedoes from submarines. From then on, the Grand Fleet also had the added protection of destroyers against submarine attack. The log of the Hope has not been referenced for specific incidents during the time Arthur was aboard which was for just over two years during the war. At the end of the first year Arthur had his annual assessment. For seamen, these were mostly limited to a judgement on Character and Ability, which were usually given as ‘Very Good’ and ‘Satisfactory’. Although this had been the case with Arthur, he now received ‘Superlative’ for Ability. As he continued to get this report for the rest of his Service Record (shown on the right, which runs up to 1928), one can suggest that his potential had been seen soon after he joined the Royal Navy and so was subsequently selected to go to HMS Ganges for further training rather than stay at Devonport. Arthur was promoted to Able Seaman 0n 12th February 1917 and continued in that post until the end of the War. During this time, the Hope was in the Dardanelles where she was in collision with the Arno in March 1918. The Hope went to the dry dock Leghorn (Livorno), Italy for repairs and Hope’s football team had a match against Italian naval students there. On 19 February 1919, Arthur returned to Vivid, the shore establishment at Devonport, on 19th February 1919 for further training before his next assignment to the destroyer HMS Sepoy on 1st July 1919. There followed subsequent postings to destroyers Seypoy, Seabear, Volunteer and Scythe with occasional periods back at Vivid in Devonport, as shown in the Service record up to 1928. During this time his eyes changed colour from grey to blue and then to hazel, and his hair eventually became fair.
Little is known of Arthur’s later life, except that he remained in the Royal Navy up to and through the second world war and served for a period on HMS Hood.
26 May 2012