Private John Kershaw Sanders


A post-war passport photograph of 14795587 Private John Kershaw Sanders, "B" Company, 8th Parachute Battalion. Copyright: Hugo Sanders; his son, who contributed the following:


"My father took part in Operation Varsity, aged 19 and 2 months. Before he joined he was a farm worker, and was in the Home Guard for a while before joining The Royal Armoured Corps in June 1944. He volunteered for Airborne Forces in the October of that year. He qualified as a military parachutist on Course 142 which ran at RAF Ringway from 13-25th November 1944. He never talked about it much. He did say they were armed to the teeth. His favorite weapon was a type of grenade they called a sticky bomb. He used to go into a house, whack it onto a table and leave. It couldn't be thrown back. His worst weapon was the Sten gun, which either failed to go off, or went off without warning. The worst bit was being shot at while descending from the aircraft. Very frightening as you couldn't do anything about it. By the time you landed you were so pumped up you felt absolutely invincible. The initial fighting was pretty fierce and then resistance crumbled."


"He walked from the Rhine to the Baltic Sea. They took it in turns to clear hedge rows of any resistance. If Dad heard a sound he would lob a grenade over the hedge and run. Their brief was to warn farmers a big army was imminently arriving and negotiate which produce and livestock they could requisition. He liked the farmers and got on very well with them. They were resigned to it all, "Alle is caput!" they used to say. They also gathered up all the firearms in the villages and burnt them. However he did manage to rescue 2 very valuable antique firearms, which he kept for himself. He also adopted a goat, a pig, two horses and a collection of German hunting dogs. He kept them for company until he left for home."


"On one occasion, he was invited to join a meeting to discuss how they were going to attack a well defended enemy detachment. The conversation went like this; C/O, "Okay, Sanders, what is your position on this situation?" Dad, "Well sir, I'm going to saddle up my pig and use it to charge the enemy from the front. Pigs can be really fierce, you know and mine has got some pretty nasty tusks!" As you can imagine, the rest of the staff decided he wasn't taking the situation seriously at all and he was demoted to Private."


"On another occasion they were in a requisitioned farmhouse which the C/O was using as an HQ. He and a friend found a full bottle of Schnapps and they proceeded to drink the lot. The C/O was doing paper work on a desk directly above the kitchen where they were drinking. The two of them became mortally drunk and in his stupor, Dad picked up his service revolver and fired it into the ceiling. The bullet went straight through the C/O's desk just missing his head. The C/O was absolutely furious and came storming downstairs to give them a blazing row. This reduced them into uncontrollable fits of laughter. Nothing much happened about this, 3 weeks pay docked for unlawfully discharging a firearm, that was all. The consensus was, they were all going to die anyway so there was no sense in making a massive thing about it. After this incident, Dad was drunk for 2 days. They were now being badly strafed by enemy aircraft. His comrades had to bundle him into the ditches on the side of the roads for cover."


"When it was all over, the gods must have been with him. He never received a scratch. Whilst queuing for the ship back home, an officer approached him and said he would look after his antique firearms and get them through customs for him on the other side. He never saw them or the officer again! After the War he returned to farm work, for a while. He then managed a large cattle ranch in Tanzania. He also started an egg farm in Tanzania which supplied 30% of the country's eggs. He, eventually, returned home and had a boarding kennel for dogs until he passed away in 1986 aged 60. He has to be the warmest, most generous and the funniest person I have ever known. He and I would walk into a pub full of board strangers. After half an hour we would leave to hear them literally howling with laughter as we crossed the car park. They just don't make them like that any more!"