At 1 PM on January 20th 1915, we fell in to march to Tidworth. Pte. Bug Saunders (afterwards Lt. Col. Saunders, D.S.O. and bar, M.C. and bar) distinguished himself by getting into a fight and appearing on parade with one eye closed.
(A. H. J. Andrews, Diary, Jan 1915)
Alec Laurence Saunders was born on 28 September 1888 in Kingston, Ontario. In September 1914, the five-foot-three and a half Winnipeg clerk enlisted as a private with the 6th Battalion. Four years later, he was commanding officer of the 8th Battalion for the final Hundred Days of the war. Although initially viewed skeptical for his short stature, Saunders, nicknamed Bug, quickly distinguished himself in battle.
Wounded at St. Julien in April 1915, he recovered in England and was attached to a trench mortar company. He rejoined the 8th Battalion in February 1917 at the rank of captain. Saunders was awarded the Military Cross at Vimy Ridge for saving the lives of his men by withdrawing under heavy shellfire. At Hill 70 in August 1917, he received an M.C. Bar for taking command of a section after his superior officer was killed.
One year later, on 9 August 1918, the 8th Battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Raddall, was struck down at Amiens. His last words were reportedly, “Tell Bug I’m hit and take over command.” In recognition of his “personal courage and cheerful determination” in battle, Saunders received the Distinguished Service Order.
He remained in command of the battalion until demobilization. After the war, he relocated to Toronto to work as a stock broker. On a 1934 visit to Winnipeg he noted, “The friendships made at that time do not wane, the spirit of comradeship was one of the finest sides of the war. We are all particularly proud of the record of the 8th.”
He died in Toronto on 3 March 1939 after a long illness attributed to his service in France. The Winnipeg Tribune observed, “‘The Bug’ was a soldier whom Napoleon would have been honored to call comrade.”
Image: A. L. Saunders (Left)