An appeal is being made for people to send flowers or attend the funeral of a former prisoner of war and Maurice House resident who has died aged 101.
Charles Saunders died in his sleep on July 4. His funeral will be held on Tuesday, July 23 at St Andrew’s Church in Broadstairs.
But the war veteran, who spent more than four years in Stalag VIIIB/344 Lamsdorf prisoner of war camp, has no surviving family.
An appeal is being made through the Online Museum of Prisoners of War which was created because of Charles by his friend Philip Baker.
Birmingham-born Charles was just 21 when he enlisted into the Welsh Guards. He served from December 1939 until January 1946, and from 1940 – 1945 was a prisoner-of-war at Poland’s Stalag VIIIB/344 Lamsdorf.
Charles was part of the 2nd Battalion in Boulogne in May 1940 that was sent to evacuate the British headquarters staff.
When Charles and his comrades landed in Boulogne they found the staff had already left. The company established a temporary headquarters and were told they would be taken by boat back to Britain as soon as it could be arranged. However, there was only room on the boat for 800 men: 1,200 were left behind in Boulogne.
The men marched away from Boulogne but soon found they were marching towards a German machine gun post. They had to escape and hide.
He and three of his comrades, William, Richard and Arthur, were hiding in a building near the harbour. After a few days they were discovered by a French man, Jean Abrass, who took them to his mother’s house where he lived with his wife and children. The Abrass family sheltered Charles and his comrades (a fifth man joined them later) and the family and other local people contributed food from their rations to support the British soldiers; but in August 1940 they were discovered by the Germans. The family were sent to a labour camp in Germany until the end of the war, and Charles and his comrades were sent to Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf. Charles was eventually sent to Working Party E149 Buchenlust (Rachowice) to do forestry work.
Many years after the war Charles was a musician in The Broadstairs and St Peter’s Concert Band.
In 2001 Philip was working for Saga Holidays when he was approached by the leader of the band because they wanted to perform a concert in Boulogne to say “thank you” to the citizens who had helped British soldiers, including Charles, during the war.
Unfortunately they did not have enough money to pay for a trip to France, and asked Philip whether Saga Holidays, would sponsor it. Saga Holidays agreed to do this and appointed Philip as the organiser of the trip. The concert took place in Boulogne in June 2001 and was a great success.
Before the trip, Saga Holidays asked Philip to advertise to try to find Charles’ comrades who were with him in Boulogne, and if they were found, to invite them to join the trip.
They were not found but Philip received hundreds of letters from former POWs who had been at Lamsdorf, or people whose fathers, grandfathers or other relatives were there. As well as letters, people sent photographs, diaries, note books, written accounts of their time as POWs, and many other items.
Eventually Philip decided to create a website to make everything available to people interested in the subject, and also as a memorial to the Lamsdorf POWs.
Charles got in touch with the Abrass family after the war and remained in contact with them until his death.
The funeral for Charles will be held on Tuesday, July 23 at 10am at St Andrews Church, Reading Street, Broadstairs, and afterwards at Thanet Crematorium.
Philip said: “If you can, please help them to make sure that Charles receives the honour he deserves as an heroic soldier who fought and suffered for the freedom of us all. Maybe you can attend the funeral service, if you live near enough. Otherwise, perhaps you can send a floral tribute or card”
The address for flowers and cards -to arrive on July 22 – is St. Andrew’s Church, Reading Street, Broadstairs, Kent, CT10 3AZ,. Please make sure that his name: Charles Saunders, is with the flowers and/or on the card.
Find Charles’ story in his own words here
Find the Online Museum for Prisoners of War here