Obituary: Lieutenant Colonel Frank Saunders MBE ERD, soldier, councillor, public servant

Born: 2 July 1906, in Fazakerley, Liverpool. Died: 19 March, 2013, in Stirling, aged 106

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Saunders was a Second World War veteran who became Scotland’s oldest serving politician when he sat on Stirling Council’s environmental quality committee in August 2000, at the age of 94.

He made history in 2008 when he became the first person to be given the freedom of Stirling, after becoming one of the city’s best-known civic figures, spending 38 years as a councillor.

Lt Col Saunders was born into a long line of military men in July 1906, the year of the San Fransisco earthquake and when Stirling MP Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was prime minister.

He was a chartered civil engineer by trade before signing up to join the army during the Second World War. He went on to spend 25 years in the forces.

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He became part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1939 and was one of many British troops to be evacuated from France when it fell to Nazi occupation.

During the war, he served in five countries as part of the Royal Engineers, fighting for the Western Desert Force in Egypt and the 8th Army in North 
Africa. He also fought in the 2nd Polish Corps of the 8th Army in the Italian campaign and the 3rd Corps during the civil war in Greece. While fighting in Eastern Europe he almost died from illness.

In 1947, he was moved to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel until he retired from duty in 1961. He continued to act as president of the Royal Engineers Association, Forth Valley branch.

On leaving the regular army, in 1947, he moved into his first love – politics, joining the Conservative Party. He was elected to the former Stirling Burgh Council in 1964 and remained a councillor following the setting up of Central Regional Council after local government reorganisation.

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However, he was forced to leave the Conservatives in 1994 because of his outspoken opposition to the last wave of local government reorganisation. Standing as an independent in 1995, the veteran politician failed to be re-elected as a councillor.

In 1999, he became Scotland’s oldest political candidate when he stood in the King’s Park and Cambusbarron ward, but again was unsuccessful. But in August 2000, Saunders was co-opted to serve on Stirling Council’s environmental quality committee at the age of 94, making him Scotland’s oldest serving politician.

Throughout his years away from politics, he remained active by working with the Citizens Advice Bureau and local enterprise group the Stirling Initiative. But it was his involvement with the Stirling Civic Trust that attracted the attention of Stirling Council. Upon joining the environmental quality committee, then provost Colin O’Brien described Mr Saunders’s contribution to the town as “legendary”.

During his time as a public servant, he was a member of six public bodies: as a trustee of the Stirling Smith Museum and Art Gallery; on Kings Park Community Council, as a justice of the peace, supplementary; on Stirling Assembly, a sounding board of public opinion; on Stirling Civic Trust and as a member of the CAB.

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During a long and distinguished career in politics, he served Stirling’s Kings Park and Cambusbarron ward – through various boundary changes – for 38 years, as a member of Stirling Town Council and later Central Regional Council. He also took on a role as a judge in the old police court system.

In his later years, Saunders resided in Stirling’s old town with his second wife Mary, whom he married in 1981. She predeceased him in August last year.

He followed a family tradition of reaching a century. His grandfather made it to 100, while his father, a master mariner, lived to 105. He said that the secret to his long life was “a strict regime where I enjoy a drink and a smoke every day”.

Saunders marked his centenary, with Mary, by opening a telegram at their home before attending a celebration organised by Stirling Council and Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum, where he was a trustee.

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In July 2008, at the age of 102, he made history by becoming the first person to be given the freedom of Stirling, an accolade he later went on to share with late cricketing legend Irwin Iffla and US Open champion and Dunblane native Andy Murray.

Then defence secretary Des Browne marked the honour, while the military celebrated the occasion with a dazzling display that included a parade of 1,000 pipers and drummers, a dramatic parachute landing by the Golden Lions and a stunning RAF Tornado fly-past. Saunders said: “I am overwhelmed. It is wonderful so many people turned out to celebrate this honour.”

Saunders was also a regular attendee of Stirling’s memorial celebrations. In the same year he was awarded freedom of Stirling, he spoke passionately about the importance of celebrating the country’s veterans.

At an event at Stirling Castle to mark the launch of Scotland’s Veterans Day, he asked for greater awareness of the efforts of the Armed Forces. He said: “I was sent thousands of miles around the world to serve my country. I lost many friends. Men were left behind every day. It is important to celebrate our veterans.

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“Soldiers are often relieved to get in to civilian clothes, but they should be treated correctly. Where would we be without them? I hope Veterans Day helps to achieve greater awareness of their efforts.”

Michael Griffiths, 68, a friend of over 30 years, said: “He was a servant to the people. It didn’t matter who you were, he treated everyone the same; he was a great man”.

Saunders was an only child, and did not have any children of his own. His funeral will take place on 2 April, at Holy Trinity Church (Episcopal Church), Dumbarton Road, Stirling.