George Saunders passed away on 2nd September 2017 age 79 years having spent his entire working life involved in activities on the River Thames.
George left school at Erith age 15 years to become an apprentice Waterman and Lighterman to master the art of navigating tugs, barges and passenger craft along the Thames from Gravesend to Teddington and all the navigable waterways and docks along the way. At the end of his 6 year apprenticeship George rowed in the Doggett Coat and Badge Race from London Bridge to Chelsea which has been held annually since 1715 in which he was the 1959 winner. Rowing was a big part of Georges life and after winning Doggetts in single sculls he went on to row in “Fours” and “Eights” for some of the big Putney and River Lea rowing clubs achieving many successes including Gold Medals in the Rowing World Championships.
The professional river men will best remember George as the apprentice training officer at Watermen’s Hall which was responsible for training and licensing watermen and lightermen working on the river Thames. As the training officer he was the first point of contact for the 100 plus apprentices learning their trade as George had done at the start of his career. George organised the annual training camp for apprentices held at Cambridge over 2 weekends where new recruits were introduced to single scull rowing and the older apprentices were given coaching to improve their rowing skills to enable them to enter for the Doggett’s race.
George was also appointed a Waterman to Her Majesty the Queen which involved land and river based duties. With the “Bargemaster” and 23 other royal watermen they attended on board vessels carrying the Queen and other senior members of the royal family and attending as postilion on the royal horse drawn coaches for visiting heads of state and transporting the Crown and other symbols of state from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament for the annual State Opening.
George’s early career included some acting as a film extra in the all-time cinema great “A Man for All Seasons”. Together with 30 other watermen, George spent two weeks on the Beaulie River in Hampshire reliving Henry VIII and his entourage being rowed by his watermen from Westminster to the Palace at Hampton Court.
After a period in the Merchant Navy in the 1960’s, George moved from Erith to Dulwich with his lifelong partner Jeanette Gregory where they shared a long and happy life together. No doubt others will have stories to recall of their enjoyable association with George Saunders as he will be long remembered by everyone who knew him.
Past Master David Allen 10.09.2017