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Naval hero William Sanders immortalised

Naval hero William Sanders immortalised with village named in his honour

Media release – October 1, 2018

Ryman Healthcare has named its new Devonport retirement village in honour of New Zealand’s most highly decorated naval hero - William Sanders.

William, the only New Zealander to win a Victoria Cross in a naval battle, died after his ship was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1917.

He won the Victoria Cross – the Commonwealth’s highest honour for bravery – as well as the Distinguished Service Order.

Ryman Healthcare names its villages after significant local people and William Sanders was suggested as an appropriate name by Devonport residents.

The name was unveiled at a special event today attended by members of the extended Sanders family, the Royal New Zealand Navy as well as Ryman residents and staff.

The name – a closely guarded secret until today – got a warm reception from the 140 guests at a special unveiling in Devonport.

Eric Welch, William’s great nephew, said it was a great recognition for a Kiwi hero.

“It would mean a lot to my grandmother. William was her brother and she talked about him a lot – there was a great heaviness of heart – a sadness about his loss that was always there for her.

“He gave his life in the war and she always said we should respect that. I think she would have wanted to see his name respected in this way.’’

Ryman Chief Executive Gordon MacLeod said it was an honour to name the village after such a significant hero.

“William was an extraordinarily brave New Zealander and we’re pleased to be able to honour his name in this way.’’

Born in Auckland in 1883, William went to Takapuna School and grew up with a love of swimming and the sea.

He went to sea as a cabin boy at the age of 16 and rose through the ranks. When World War 1 broke out he joined the Royal Navy Reserve and served on several ships before being given command of the HMS Prize.

The Prize was a Q Ship – a decoy vessel that was used to lure German submarines into an attack.

Outwardly the Prize looked like a conventional merchant sailing ship, but it was fitted with concealed weapons.

Royal New Zealand Navy historian Michael Wynd said Q Ships were essentially used as bait.

Once they were attacked a few members of the crew – known as a panic party - would abandon ship and paddle away in a life raft.

The remainder would wait for the U boat to get closer, and then attack.

“You can only imagine how dangerous that was – playing cat and mouse with a ship that was much bigger and more powerful than they were.’’

In April 1917 the Prize was sailing off the coast of Ireland when it was attacked by submarine U 93.

William and the crew kept their nerve while under intense shelling by the U boat for 25 minutes. As the submarine moved in for the kill, they struck back in a surprise attack, badly damaging the enemy.

Described as a man of iron nerves, William was awarded the Victoria Cross for his ‘’conspicuous gallantry, consummate coolness and skill in command’’ while in action.

Just four months later, in August 1917, William was killed when the Prize was attacked by another submarine. He was 34 years old when he died and had never married.

He was awarded a posthumous DSO for his bravery in another attack in June 1917.

“William Sanders remains the most highly decorated naval officer in our history,’’ Michael Wynd said.

“He is also a model of bravery and leadership that we still use today for our sailors to aspire to.’’

Construction on the new William Sanders Retirement Village began last year and its first residents are due to move in early next year.

The village will offer a full range of retirement living options with care tailored to each resident’s needs.

The village will include independent apartments, service apartments as well as a care centre with resthome, hospital and dementia-level care options will be provided.

The resort-style amenities in the village will include an indoor swimming pool, spa, gymnasium, hairdressing and beauty salons, café, movie theatre, library, a bar and billiards room.


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