Former Prisoner of War Celebrates 100th Birthday at Legion’s Maurice House

Charles Saunders was held as a prisoner of war from 1940-1945. On 23 December 2017 he celebrated his 100th birthday with a special party at Maurice House, one of The Legion’s care homes for serving and ex-Service people and their dependants.

Charles joined the Army at the beginning of the Second World War and was soon assigned to the Welsh Guards.

“I’d grown up in Birmingham, only a stone’s throw from Wales, and we often went over the border so I was glad to join the regiment. In spite of what was to come, I enjoyed the experience very much, especially singing with the Welsh lads.

“I’d been a violinist since I was five so when we were in the training battalion I bought one for half a crown. I used to play while we were cleaning the digs and the others would sing. I never had to do any cleaning because they didn’t want me to stop playing!”

Captured in France

In early 1940, Charles was sent to France. Around the time of the Dunkirk evacuation, he found himself trying to evade the advancing German troops in Boulogne.

"We tried to run out the back but soldiers were waiting"

"We were waiting to board a ship when an incendiary bomb blew up a nearby cargo train. The skipper cast off and we were left stranded on the coast. We had to drive off the Germans and hold our position for nearly 48 hours. It was hard fighting and many of us didn’t make it out from there.

"Myself and three others escaped and found an abandoned house. We hid there for about 10 days, living off some sugar and wine that we found.

"We lit a fire and some French locals turned up to tell us that we should put it out because people could see the smoke. They gave us some civilian clothes and took us away to hide in an old lady’s house. We were there for several weeks. Most of the time we would hide inside but sometimes we’d walk on the beach, looking for a boat to sail back to England.

"One day, I looked out of the window and saw a German car pulling up. The woman’s niece had dobbed us in to get some money. We tried to run out the back but soldiers were waiting so we went and hid in the roof for about two hours before they found us."

Charles and his friends were sent to one of the major camps in Poland, where he was forced to do labour as a prisoner of war until 1945. Life in the camps was brutal, but Charles tried to keep up morale by forming a band to keep the other prisoners entertained.

After the war was over, Charles struggled to set up an orchestra in Birmingham, where many of his old friends had never come home. By 1952, he and his wife had decided to move down to Broadstairs in Kent, where he has lived ever since.

The French family who had hidden Charles and his comrades got in touch with him via the War Office and they remained in contact for many years. He would visit them each year and even put on a concert for the locals, most of whom had helped to feed him during his stay.

Moving to Maurice House

In recent years, Charles found himself at a care home in Broadstairs. In 2017, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) judged that the home was below the necessary standards and it was soon shut down.

Fortunately, a CQC worker had put Charles back in touch with the Welsh Guards Association who brought him to the attention of Maurice House, one of the Legion’s care homes. He moved in at the beginning of November 2017.

"They’re lovely people here; they do all they can to help you"

"I’d actually been here some years ago to play music for the residents. I just hadn’t realised that I could ask to move, but I’m very glad I’m here now. This is a palace compared to the last place I was in – they’ve shut that one down now.

"I’m in a good, safe place here. I’ve got a nice view out my window of the trees and my room is twice the size of the old one. It’s good as I’ve got a dislocated hip and need a wheelchair to get around. I have enough space for the hoist now.

"They’re lovely people here; they do all they can to help you. I arrived just in time for Remembrance Day and they wrapped me up in blankets and took me down for the service. I very often think of the lads we left behind, including many of the prisoners of war."

Centenary Celebrations

To celebrate his centenary care home staff arranged a party for Charles, inviting guests from the Welsh Guards, as well as a violinist.

"I suppose it is something to reach 100 years. I shall have to find somewhere to put my letter from the Queen. I think I’ll put it next to the photo of my regiment.

Tracy Tremble, Manager of Maurice House, is pleased to have finally offered a proper home to the WW2 veteran:

"We were delighted to welcome Charles in time for this year’s Remembrance Day. He has settled in extremely well and is enjoying his renewed ties with the Armed Forces community. Maurice House is part of The Royal British Legion and is home to 47 veterans and spouses so that’s a big part of our ethos.

"We were excited to share this special birthday with Charles and are proud to offer quality care to a veteran who gave so much for his country. For me, it’s a pleasure to know that he spent this Christmas surrounded by new friends."

Christmas in a Care Home

Christmas is a time for family and creating special memories. Find out how we give our residents and their families a Christmas to remember.

A Festive Day at Galanos House in Pictures

Related Stories