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RFA Tiderace remember sailor from first RFA ship

13 June 2018
Sailors from the Naval Service’s newest tanker paid tribute to a crewman from its very first when they tidied his neglected grave.

Pumpman George Saunders died of illness in March 1918 while serving aboard RFA Petroleum, the ship which gave birth to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

In the first decade of the 20th Century, the Royal Navy was looking to oil, not coal, as the fuel for its battleships – and rather than coaling stations peppered around the world, the Fleet would require the ability to refuel while at sea.

In her day Petroleum was the largest tanker in the world, while Tiderace is the second of four Tide-class tankers – the largest vessels in today’s RFA flotilla, built to sustain the UK’s two new aircraft carriers on operations around the globe.

Tiderace is undergoing final trials and training before entering service later this year. Taking a break from that training in Portland – the ship’s affiliated town – a five-strong team, led by the Commanding Officer Capt Sam Shattock, headed to St George’s Church in Reforne armed with gardening tools.

Having had our interest piqued by the work, we learned via the Historical RFA reports that Pumpman Saunders was discharged with illness from RFA Petroleum via King George’s Hospital in London, where he died.

Capt Shattock

They found the grave of the pumpman –  a term still used by the RFA for the sailor overseeing the flow of oil from a tanker into a waiting warship – had become sorely neglected with the passing of a century.

Once the grass was cut back, it was clear that the stonework surrounding the grave had subsided and been moved, even buried.

After two hours’ hard labour and a spot of rebuilding work, the 29-year-old sailor’s was left in a much more fitting condition.

“St George’s is a unique church and its graveyard is a goldmine of local history,” said Capt Shattock.

“Having had our interest piqued by the work, we learned via the Historical RFA reports that Pumpman Saunders was discharged with illness from RFA Petroleum via King George’s Hospital in London, where he died.

“He was buried five days later on March 23 1918. His resting place is atop the isle of Portland which regularly has views of RFA ships alongside. Now that his grave is clear, I’m sure that George Saunders would be pleased with the view of the latest RFA tankers.”

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