Ernest Saunders was born on 26 November 1894 at Tadley, probably near the ‘Fox and Hounds’, Mulfords Hill. The address for next of kin on his enlistment was ‘South View’, Mulfords Hill. However the 1911 Tadley Census entry for the family says ‘Fir Tree Cottage’, Mulfords Hill.
His parents were Henry and Mary Ann Saunders (née West). Henry’s first wife, Elizabeth, had died in 1890, six years after they were married.
He was the eldest of six children: Ernest, Rose, Annie, Fred, Francis and Dora.
In the 1901 Tadley Census Ernest was aged 6 years and living near the ‘Fox and Hounds’ public house with his parents and sister, Annie. Rose had died in 1897 aged only 15 days. In 1911, aged 16 years, he was still living with his parents and four siblings at Mulfords Hill. Like his father, his occupation was that of ‘General Labourer.’
On 13 November 1918, three weeks after Ernest died, his father also died aged 58.
Ernest was unmarried.
Ernest enlisted in Basingstoke in the Hampshire Regiment (service number 38707). At some point he joined the 18th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) where he served as a private (service number 116024).
The Machine Gun Corps is probably one of the most difficult units to research. It was one of the few ‘war raised’ units, having not existed prior to the conflict, and suffering the ignominy of being entirely disbanded in the years immediately following.
The 18th Machine Gun Battalion was formed in1918 from the Machine Gun Companies of 18th (Eastern) Division. It saw action during the Second Battle of Bapaume (21 August – 3 September), the Battles of Epehy (18 September), St Quentin Canal (29 September – 10 October) and Selle (17-26 October).
It is likely that Ernest died during the Battle of Selle (17 – 26 October 1918), in the course of what is known as The Hundred Days Offensive.
The Hundred Days Offensive (8 August to 11 November 1918) ended World War I. The Allies conducted offensives against the Central Powers on the Western Front, beginning with the Battle of Amiens (8–12 August). The offensives pushed the Germans out of France, forcing them to retreat beyond the Hindenburg Line and culminated in the Armistice of 11 November 1918. The term ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ does not refer to a battle or strategy, rather the rapid series of Allied victories against which the German armies had no reply.
Besides Ernest, amongst those remembered on Tadley War Memorial is Walter Cripps who also served with the Machine Gun Corps.
Ernest was killed in action on Monday 21 October 1918, aged 23.
He was buried in Highland Cemetery [I A 9], Le Cateau, Nord, France; the inscription on his headstone reads ‘Not gone from memory, Not from love, But gone to our Father’s home above’.
He is also remembered on Tadley War Memorial and the Tadley United Reformed Church Roll of Honour.
Ernest was awarded the Victory medal and British War medal. These would have been sent to his family.