Military Naval History: The Last Battle of CPO 1st Class George Palmer Saunders


Offshore where sea and skyline blend
In rain, the daylight dies;
The sullen, shouldering swells attend
Night and our sacrifice

The Destroyers, by Rudyard Kipling

In 1988 I was invited to give a lecture on AIDS and surgery in the city of Örebro, Sweden. I knew that my grandfather, Chief Petty Officer 1st Class George Palmer Saunders, had been buried in the Norwegian city of Egersund soon after his body washed ashore following the Battle of Jutland that raged between May 31 and June 1, 1916.

After the meeting, I took a few days off and flew to Norway to find his grave. I eventually landed in Stavenger on the southwest coast, rented a car and drove for about three hours through beautiful countryside to Egersund.

It was a Sunday morning. I made inquiries and was directed to a church. Fortunately, the deacon was working in the graveyard and spoke excellent English. When I explained the situation, he asked my grandfather’s name.

When I replied, “Saunders,” he lit up and said, “G.P.”

He took me straight to the grave. Standing with a skullcap, I found myself in the curious position of reciting Kaddish over a grave bearing a cross 72 years after his death in the frigid waters of the North Sea.

Who was he? No member of my generation seems to know much about him. He was born on Oct. 20, 1876 and lived in Wandsworth in southwest London. Information obtained by my cousin Peggy Adam indicates that he held the rank of “boy 2nd class” in the Royal Navy in 1892, at the age of 16.

My mother said he had been a hard-hat diver in the Royal Navy during the Boer War from 1899 to 1902. In fact, he held the rating of “diver” in 1897 and remained in the Royal Navy until 1906, when he was discharged as medically unfit.

He married my grandmother Jane Elizabeth Welsh in 1904 at the St. Thomas a Becket Catholic Church in Wandsworth.

My grandfather re-enlisted after the 1914 assassination of Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Principe in Sarajavo — the spark that ignited World War I.

Read the Remainder at War is Boring

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