Robert Benjamin Saunders GC MB ChB (EM exchanger)

b. 07/04/1904 Oudtshoorn, Cape Province, South Africa. d. 14/09/1981 Salisbury (now Harare), Zimbabwe.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 04-05/01/1937 Salisbury (now Harare), Zimbabwe

Robert Benjamin Saunders (1904-1981) was born on 7th April 1904, the son of Frederick and Johanna Saunders (nee Robertson). He attended Oudtshoorn Boys High School, where he excelled in all spheres – academic, sporting, culture and leadership. He enjoyed the outdoor life with his father, and he became a skilled hunter. When he was 16, he and a young boy aged 8 were on a large ostrich farm near their home town of Oudtshoorn when a cock ostrich went for them. Realising the danger they were in, Robert jumped on its back and, though injured by a sharp kick, was able to twist the bird’s neck until it fell unconscious. The younger boy was able to make his escape.

Robert B Saunders GC

Robert studied medicine at the University of Cape Town, graduating BA, MB ChB in December 1928. While at Cape Town he served on the House Committee of College House and then the founder House Committee of Smuts Hall. He was Secretary of the UCT Rugby Club and Captain of the Hockey XI and represented Western Province in the South African inter-provincial hockey tournament. He was also a keen member of the Mountain Club, and revelled in mountaineering.

He served his internship at the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town, and while he was there, Dr Donaldson, a Scottish GP from Selukwe in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) (the only doctor in town) visited Professor Charles Saint in Cape Town, seeking to appoint an assistant for his practice. Charles Saint recommended Robert, who leapt at the offer of working in a rural area. Robert arrived in Selukwe to start work in 1930. Soon afterwards, he met and married Karin May Musgrave in November 1933. Her father was the Consulting Engineer and Manager of Rhodesia Chrome Mines. They went on to have three sons, Colin, John and Michael.

He became heavily involved in community life and captained the local rugby and hockey teams, and played for Rhodesia. He also became a fine golfer and the local golf course is now named Saunders Park.

On the 4th January 1937, Robert was working in Selukwe when there was an accident in the Tebekwe Mine. Howard Sheasby was trapped underground by a fall of rock ans was completely buried. Dr Saunders arrived on the scene at 3.30pm, by which time a rescue party had succeeded in recovering most of the spillage from around Sheasby’s body. It was found, however, that his left hand was trapped and he remained there until 12.30pm the next day. During this time, Dr Saunders remained underground rendering medical assistance under very difficult circumstances. After 16 hours, he had to make the decision to amputate Sheasby’s arm, and he had to carry out the operation by telling a left handed volunteer how to perform it, as it was impossible for a right hander to do it. Sheasby went on to make a full recovery.

Robert was awarded the Edward Medal in Bronze on 8th October 1937, and was presented with his medal on 13th January 1938, when the Governor of Southern Rhodesia, Sir Herbert Stanley, GCMG, travelled to Selukwe. Following the award, Robert continued to work as the local doctor in Selukwe, owned shares in two local mines, and was Chairman of the local School Council. The sports pavilion at Selukwe School is named The Doc Saunders Pavilion in his honour.

When the Royal Warrant changed in 1971, allowing recipients of the Albert and Edward Medals to exchange for a George Cross, Robert was initially unaware of it. It was his son Colin, who read about the exchanges in the Illustrated London News. Robert was initially reluctant to pursue the matter, and it needed a lot of persuasion from his sons to contact the authorities. He was unable to travel to London due to ill health, and with a ceremony in Rhodesia out of the question, he and his wife travelled to Cape Town, where he received his GC from the British High Commissioner Sir David Scott.

Followjng his retirement, he travelled widely, and happily lived in a house overlooking the golf course bearing his name. In 1979, he was invested with Membership of The Order of The Legion of Merit (MLM) by the President of Rhodesia. Shortly afterwards, Robert was struck down by a stroke, and passed away on 14th September 1981 in Harare. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Garden of Remembrance at St Athanasius Church, Shurugwi (where he and his wife married). His GC, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal and MLM are proudly held by the Saunders family.