Walter Saunders

Private Chris Saunders, c. 1916.

Gunditjmara man Walter Christopher George Saunders, known as Chris, was born in Warrnambool, Victoria. On 29 February 1916, at the age of 21, Chris volunteered to join the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and serve in the First World War. He was assigned to the 10th Machine Gun Company, and went on to fight on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

Chris set sail from Port Melbourne in early 1916 and was sent to Larkhill training camp in England. On 28 October he was taken on strength in the field with his unit. He proceeded to France the following month and served as a driver. In July the following year Chris was evacuated due to illness and spent the majority of the month in a rest camp before re-joining the 10th Machine Gun Company in France. After serving throughout the first half of 1918, Chris was granted a month of leave in June. After re-joining his unit, he continued regular duties until the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

After the war, Chris returned to England. His sister Lizzie wrote a letter to AIF Headquarters asking whether she would be the one to receive the Female Relatives' Badge for her brother's service. Their mother had passed away, leaving Elizabeth as his sole remaining female relative. She was granted this badge for Chris's service but was denied badges for her sons: Joseph, who was serving with the 8th Light Horse Regiment, and Kenneth, who was serving with the 58th Battalion.

After returning to Australia in 1919, Chris was discharged from the AIF. He soon started a family with his new wife, Mabel. Their first son was named Reginald after his uncle, William Reginald Rawlings, who had also served in the First World War. William Rawlings was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the heavy fighting along the Morlancourt Ridge in July 1918. He was killed in action the following month at the age of 27.

As a child, Reginald was inspired by his namesake and the stories of the war he heard from his father and his mates. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Reg and his younger brother, Harry, enlisted in the Australian Army.

Lieutenant Reg Saunders shaking hands with Lieutenant Thomas Derrick following their graduation from the Officer's Cadet Training Unit, Victoria, 1944. AWM 083166

Harry, who lied about his age in order to enlist, fought with the 2/14th Battalion, and was killed in action while serving in New Guinea.

 

9 Platoon, A Company, 2/14th Battalion on the Kokoda Trail, New Guinea, 1942. Fourth from the right in the front row is Private Harry Saunders. AWM 089220

Reg served throughout the war with the 2/7th Battalion and saw action in North Africa, Greece, and Crete. After returning to Australia he re-joined his battalion in New Guinea as a sergeant. In November 1944 he was commissioned an officer. Reg also fought with C Company, 3 Royal Australian Regiment in Korea, where he fought in some of the war's most significant battles, at Kapyong and Maryang San, before resigning from the regular army in 1954.

Chris Saunders' story gives insight into the service of one Aboriginal Australian family over three conflicts.

 

References

Darryl McIntyre, “Saunders, Reginald Walter (Reg) (1920–1990)”, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/saunders-reginald-walter-reg-15909 <accessed 11 February 2020>.
National Archives of Australia, service records, “Walter Christopher George Saunders”, B2455: https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=6942895 <accessed 11 February 2020>.