1895 – 1918
“He was a 1914’s man”
Service Number: 164 Australian Army Medical Corps.
Date of death: 20 May, 1918
Unit: 1st & 14th Field Ambulance Cemetery Extension, Somme, France
Cemetery: Daours Communal
Joseph Saunders was the son of Mary Mann and stepson of Ronald Mann, living at ‘Mascot’, Freshwater, Manly. Joe had an older brother Frank, and three younger half siblings, Ronald, Rita, and Grace.
Joe, as he was called, was one of the first to join up on the 24 August, 1914. Previously he had spent 6 months in the Irish Rifles in 1913. However, his stated profession was as an attendant at Sydney Hospital. He was a tall, slender sandy haired fellow, aged 19 at the time of enlistment.
When war was declared Joe and his brother Frank both went down to Randwick to enlist, however they knocked Frank back as he was an engineer on the Railways, so was considered essential service. While enlisting Joe insisted that he would never carry a gun and did not want to shoot another human, no matter if they were the enemy. No worries, the army signed him up as a stretcher bearer, as he already had experience in that field from his work at Sydney Hospital.
‘Iodine’ Joe, as he was later known, landed at ANZAC Cove Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 where he was one of the many stretcher bearers attending to the wounded and dead.
He was a first day lander and would have been tending to the injured and dying immediately upon arrival, including the body of his neighbour Fred Reynolds lying dead at water’s edge. Given that Fred was one of Joe’s mates, it was likely that Joe and one of his fellow stretcher bearers carried him off the beach and buried him under a wooden cross nearby.
Freshwater boy, Fred Reynolds, was a Sapper with the 1st Field Company Engineers, Australian Army, and was possibly the very first to die that fateful day, however there would be thousands after him. Before too long there would be many other familiar faces from Freshwater that needed Joe’s care. Some made it, many didn’t.
L – stretcher-bearers Gallipoli
His caring nature and happy disposition made Joe a much-loved figure as he picked his way around the hundreds of dead, wounded and dying. He was the first responder before they were taken to the hospital tent.
Even though he did not fight with a gun, he nevertheless ‘went over the top’ with his mates, just with his tin hat on and his weapons of war ‘iodine, lint and cotton wool’ to dress their wounds.
With no way to defend himself, miraculously, he was able to save the lives of many soldiers before they succumbed with neglect to their injuries. He gave care and hope where there was none.
He was eventually one of the last to be evacuated.
To his close friends he was affectionally known as “Joss”, but to everyone else he was “Iodine Joe”.
On many occasions he would pull a well-worn mouth organ out of his pocket and play all the popular tunes of the day. Sometimes to cheer the soul, sometimes to mourn - always to give comfort. At night he would play everyone to sleep. Even the Turks were quiet when he played.
When a soldier was being buried, Joe would play a requiem as they shovelled in the grave dirt.
When we think of Joe, this song sums up his philosophy on life. If you shut your eyes you can hear the soldiers sing along when Joe played
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,
And smile, smile, smile,
While you've a lucifer to light your fag,
Smile, boys, that's the style.
What's the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile, so
Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,
And smile, smile, smile.
After Gallipoli he went onto the Western Front in Europe where he sustained a gunshot wound to the leg on the 22nd July, 1916 and was gassed in October 1917 both of which entailed hospitalisation. He also managed to get himself in plenty of strife with AWOL’s. Unfortunately, fate caught up with him.
While billeting in a former convent in a Chateau in Bussy les Daours at 9.30pm on the night of the 20th May 1918, he had just gone inside the door when a German war plane flew overhead and dropped a couple of bombs which exploded outside the door, hitting Joe on the head.
He didn’t regain consciousness and died within minutes.
Joe was buried the day after he died with a funeral officiated by the Roman Catholic Chaplain.
(Left) Because of the high esteem held for Joe by his fellow soldiers, this special cross was made by his unit with great care and attention. It was put on his grave by Sergeant Shepherd.
Joe is buried in the Daours Communal Cemetery, Extension, Plot 3, Row C, Grave 2. France.
His red cross files quote an informant: “Saunders was a most popular chap”.
Only the day before he was hit, Joe had sent a letter to his mother to fatten up a couple of chooks. After four years serving overseas in the army, he was just longing for one of his mother’s Sunday chicken roasts, and now he was finally about to go home the next day. His mother Mary Mann received his letter well before she was advised of his death and had the fattened chooks ready. When the letter edged in black came from the army advising her that Joe had died, Mary, distraught with grief, let the chooks escape to run free through Freshwater.
The shock of his loss was almost unbearable and his stepfather Ronald died shortly after hearing of his death, leaving his mother Mary left caring for his younger siblings.
His brother Frank, who had stayed in Australian as an essential worker, married and had 10 children. Unfortunately, Frank’s wife died suddenly, leaving Frank with some of his younger children still needing care, so he moved back to Harbord (now Freshwater) to be near his mother and sisters. Some of Frank’s children later served in the 2nd world war and were members of the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club.
On Soldiers Avenue Commemoration Day 18th April, 2015, Eddie Saunders, Frank’s youngest child, laid a wreath at Joe’s tree.
He told the story he’d heard at his grandmother’s knee of her enormous grief when she got the news that Joe had died and let the chooks go. It must have made a great impression on Eddie hearing that as a little fellow and he’d carried his grandmother’s sorrow for Joe’s death with him all his life.
L – An article written in an Army newsletter about Joe.
“Iodine Joe” – Joe Saunders – “Iodine Joe” – of the 1st and 14th Field Ambulance was one of the gamest chaps who ever left Australia. He carried a wad of cotton wool, lint and a bottle of iodine but his most treasured possession was a mouth-organ with which he comforted many a pain racked lad, both mentally and physically. Where ever, he was, if he came across a casualty, out came the iodine and bandage. He’d go over the top with the rest of the mob and start his good work.
“Iodine” was one of those individuals who earned a decoration every day of the week and never caught the judge’s eye. Sailing with the first contingent in 1914 – he was only a boy of 18 – he served right through to May, 1918. He was due for long service leave to Australia on May 21, 1918, but on the 20th he was killed while making his way to the rear. – “Bullet”
The 1914/14 Star
The British War Medal
L - Joe’s memory is perpetuated on the Great War Roll of Honour in the Uniting Church in Marmora Street, Freshwater.
Former Prime Minister the Hon. Tony Abbott and Mrs Abbott visiting Joe Saunders tree in Soldiers Avenue, Freshwater.
The tree was planted in the 1920's by his mother Mary.
(Above) Joe Saunders and Fred Reynolds have both been honoured in the naming of two of the new Harbord Diggers apartment complexes in Freshwater, opened in 2018.
In Soldiers Avenue, Freshwater their memorial trees are only a few metres apart. They will never be forgotten.
All photos, papers and stories, unless specified are from the Saunders private papers and interviews. Photos of Jacka Park and Soldiers Avenue from the collection held by the Soldiers Avenue Stakeholders Group. Photo of the Diggers Club from their website.
War history and Red Cross information from War Memorial site including photos as indicated.
Information regarding Military History https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Australia_during_World_War_1.
Written and researched by Wendy Mazoudier Machon, Sean Rout and Eddie Saunders, nephew of Joseph, on behalf of the Harbord Diggers RSL sub-Branch.