William Sanders is New Zealand’s most highly decorated naval hero.
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 normal merchant sailing ship, but it was fitted with concealed weapons.
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 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.