Charles Saunders – Eulogy Tuesday 23rd July at St Andrews Church Broadstairs
MY GOOD FRIEND CHARLES
Many of us here will have first met Charles, either through the Church or through music groups, orchestras and bands. Joining the ‘Friday Night Orchestra’, at Wellesley House school, was my first contact with Charles – and from then, when we realised that he was a widow with no close family nearby, he entered our lives. Charles became part of our family routine. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year, Easter, Birthdays and many Sunday lunches. We took him to Oostende for a day trip, where he became sea sick and blamed the milk in his coffee – never to have milk in his drinks again; to Normandy together with my Parents for a week enjoying the cider trail; a day trip to meet up with the wonderful Abrass family in Boulogne and later, to Poland to the site of Stalag VIIIB, which became the start of something quite significant. My two boys, now I look back, were so generous in spirit – gladly giving time to Charles, listening to him and helping to look after him.
Charles had so many wonderful stories to tell about his earlier life and we were held gripped by the prisoner of war stories and fascinated to gain glimpses of life in the early thirties, when Charles was a young man. His memory, vivid and sharp, was incredible, right until the very end. The stories were rarely repeated and there was always a new snippet of information to hear. How we might wish that we had recorded him for posterity! He was no push over. Charles certainly knew his mind and would take you by surprise from time to time with his viewpoint. I did not dare open a discussion about Brexit with him and spoil a good friendship!
Charles was always interested in young people and wanted to ‘help them out’. I think it was this attitude that kept him young and made him so popular. I asked him if he minded me bringing my Sixth Form Health and Social Care students to visit when he was in residential care, to give them the opportunity to practise talking to an elderly person they had not met before. He was so pleased to be able to help and performed the role with perfection, relating naturally to the age group, keen to answer their questions honestly and to encourage them to ‘do well in their studies’. It was in introducing the students to Charles, within the context of Health and Social Care that I realised that Charles had probably experienced some of the most significant traumas and sadness in his long life that anyone could suffer. But he didn’t let it show. ‘There was no such thing as counselling then’, he once said, ‘We just got on with it’. We all have witnessed this attitude in Charles, I am sure. He did indeed ‘get on with it’ and he made the most of what he had with great generosity and dignity.
I have heard so many of Charles’ stories over the decades and piecing them together, I have gleaned that Charles had a strict upbringing in the twenties – his Father deserted the family when he was a baby – his Mother had to go out to work and he was brought up by his Grandparents, with whom they lived. His Grandfather was very strict – too strict Charles said – ‘a real Victorian’. But, the one thing he did do was to teach Charles to play the violin and to learn the rudiments of music. Had there not been an economic Slump and Depression in the country, after the First World War, and then a Second World War, it is highly probable that Charles would have studied music at college or university and gained qualifications in music, but life was not so generous to that generation, and rather than study and establish himself as a professional musician or teacher of music, Charles spent four and a half years in Prisoner of War Camp. He used his skills as a player in the camp, somehow managing to acquire a violin, and set up a music group with other fellow prisoners, to entertain the men (and the German guards!) His personal demeanour enabled him to survive the ordeal, translating into German for the men who could not speak the language and helping colleagues out where he could. He was, to all intents and purposes, respected as a solid and faithful soldier – disciplined, and accepting of his situation – but with that slight rebellious streak – planting trees for the enemy and then, severing every other one at the roots with the spade, so it could not grow – just under the soil where it could not be seen – one for Hitler and one for the King!
Charles never bore a grudge against the Germans, however. He always said ‘They are our Cousins’. He was always polite and hospitable with my German friends and with students who stayed with him and with us. Charles was truly supportive of young people. He had a way of communicating with them. I used his story as a case study for the Health and Social Care students at Dane Court – an example of how one human being – having experienced one challenging situation after another in his life – could ‘pick himself up, brush himself down and start all over again’. Some of these students are sitting here today to remember Charles and I know that he would have been so pleased to know this. Thank you, girls, for taking the time to remember this incredible person.
Charles is a shining example of a man of true Faith – a man who, despite the most private and innermost sadness and grief, could still present a positive outlook, which penetrated to the very depths of his being. He was a man who lived close to God. He believed that his Guardian Angel had been with him throughout many adventures. His deep love for Joan, his wife, whom he nursed and cared for as she suffered with Parkinson’s disease and Dementia, never ceased. He told me only in the last few months that he felt Joan’s arm around him as he lay in bed. He never complained or winged, even when he was placed in a less than desirable care home that has since closed. If he was fed up, he said so in the firm and certain way we all got to know. He had, as they say, ‘Retained all his marbles, right until the end’. The opportunity to spend his final years in Maurice House was a true gift that was richly deserved, and he was so grateful to the Welsh Guards for discovering him and bringing him home, into the care of the British Legion. Of the staff at Maurice House, Charles said: ‘These are my family now’. I know how fond the staff became of Charles and the tender and loving care they gave him as he faced death was second to none. On his behalf I would like to say thank you to these kind and dedicated people.
Music was a skill and a passion which remained with Charles for the rest of his life, and through this he met people, made friends, shared his knowledge and this gave him a passion and purpose in his later years. It helped him to fill his time when he lost his dearly beloved wife Joan and later, his adopted son Derek. Charles often told stories of being the Principal second violin player in an amateur, but prestigious orchestra in Birmingham in the 1930’s. He was truly a talented musician. He played in the Thanet Light Orchestra, the Thanet Training Orchestra and in the Broadstairs and St Peters Concert Band as well as several ensembles, one of which he hosted in his front room, providing coffee and his home-made cake. He did not suffer fools gladly when it came to music and I was often chastised by him for jerking my bow! At the age of 90 Charles was still playing with the Broadstairs and St Peters Concert Band, sitting on a high stool with double bass in hand, delighting audiences with his bass playing. Even when he collapsed once, fell from the stool and the bass came crashing down, he was back again at the next concert! He so loved the comradeship of these groups which rounded off his musical life.
I began this eulogy by saying ‘My good friend Charles’, but I should have said ‘Our Good Friend Charles’. Friend is the operative word – what Charles lacked in close family, he certainly gained in friendship. Charles was not a wealthy man, but he was a generous man. He was not rich in material terms, but he was rich beyond riches in integrity, honesty, Christian love and Faith. It was a privilege for those of us to be able to sit with him in the last hours of his long life.
He has one friend, who has known him longer than me and I would like to pay tribute to Sylvia, to whom Charles entrusted his affairs. Sylvia promised to do this for him, and she has fulfilled this promise. I tried to visit Charles as regularly as I could whilst he became infirm and later in care, but Sylvia visited him every week, bringing him his shopping, writing Birthday and Christmas cards for him and buying his clothes. This is the stuff real friends are made of and I think that all of us here today would like to thank Sylvia, on Charles’s behalf, for the time and care she has taken to ensure that he had an advocate. It is also fitting to mention that Charles had many cousins, some of whom live a long way away but have made the journey to be with him today. Charles was so passionate about family, who meant everything to him.
You may have read about Charles’s Prisoner of War experiences on the Lamsdorf website, which was set up by Philip Baker, who wrote this:
Some of you might not be aware that Charles has, for a long time, been known to people – relatives of former Prisoners of War – mostly – around the world. Thanks to the work about Prisoners of War, that Charles originally inspired, hundreds and (maybe thousands by now) have been helped to discover what happened to their loved ones during the war, and many have made the pilgrimage to the sites where the POWs were imprisoned. Many have followed the routes taken by these men in their awful forced march of January to May in 1945. All of this means a lot to many people, and without Charles none of this would have happened. Hundreds of people over the years, wanted to hear the story of Charles, his experiences with the Abrass family in Boulogne and how subsequently the band concert there took place, followed by the first trip to Poland that Charles requested, and how things developed thereafter. On our Facebook group there have been tributes to Charles from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, the USA and the UK. Charles features in a book ‘Captivity in British Uniforms’ published by the Polish Central Prisoner of War Museum, which is on the site of the POW camp, Stalag VIIIB/344 where Charles was. The book has been sold around the World. He never knew how famous he was, I think.
Charles was not interested in fame, though we his friends are keen to keep his story alive and marvel at it. The floral tributes and cards that have arrived at St Andrews are from such people, who wanted to mark the occasion and to acknowledge the part Charles played, undoubtedly unknowingly, in enabling them to discover more about the war time experiences of their loved ones.
Charles – such a character – a man who knew his own mind – so kind, so interesting, so honest and helpful. Charles offered his skills and took great pleasure in ‘Helping Someone Out’. His amusing expressions: ‘A couple or Three’; ‘I turned around’; ‘Sort of Business’, will remain with my family for years to come – as we take pleasure in remembering ‘Our Very Good Friend – Charles’.
Judith Baker 23rd July 2019