The Carvings in the Tower (8)

John Michael Taverner Saunders was born on March 14th 1922. His father, Mr W Saunders was a commercial traveller, and the family lived at Park View in Redhill, a suburb of Arnold to the east of the Mansfield Road:

John was one of the young men who carved their name and message on the window sill in the High School’s Tower:

John entered the High School on September 18th 1930 as Boy No 5459.

He was only eight years of age.

He passed through a succession of teachers and forms. First Form D with Miss Webb. Here is the best photograph of her I could find:

Then it was First Form B with Miss Baker. And First Form A with Mr Day and the School Nature Study Prize. Then the Second Form A with Mr “Tubby” Hardwick, badly gassed in WW1. Third Form A with Mr Gregg and Upper Fourth Form A with Mr “Beaky” Bridge, a very strange man. Here he is on the left:

Then came the Lower Fifth Form A with Mr “Fishy” Roche and then the Upper Fifth Form Classical with Mr “Uncle Albert” Duddell. Here he is:

Teachers and forms pass by with the years. Firstly the History Sixth Form with Mr Gregg, and then, in his second year, Mr Beeby. And very soon, May 20th-21st 1940, John was looking for German parachutists and carving his name.

John received four different scholarships because his parents sometimes struggled with the fees. He was a Dr.Gow Memorial (Special) Exhibitioner and an Agnes Mellers Scholar and a Foundation Scholar and the taxpayer also awarded him a Nottinghamshire Senior Scholarship.

His prize record included the SE Cairns Memorial Prize, Mr Durose’s Prize for History, the Cusin’s Memorial Prize for History, the Bowman-Hart Prize for Music and a Bronze Medal for Reading. He was a Prefect and in the Junior Training Corps he became the Company Quarter-Master Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major. In sport, he won his First XV Colours at rugby as:

“an improved player and solid scrimmager. A front row forward who gets through a great deal of hard and useful work in the course of a game.”

Here’s his final record from the School List:

John left the High School in July 1941 and eventually finished up with the Royal Artillery. They, of course, had a very large selection of guns, including these giants, designed to bombard the enemy from long range :

This smaller weapon is an anti-tank gun:

And this is an anti-aircraft gun :

John was involved in fighting through the Netherlands, as the British Army tried to rescue the paratroops who had captured the Arnhem bridge but were now surrounded and cut off . Did he realise that fellow Old Nottinghamian, Tony Lloyd, lay in Kate ter Horst’s house in the town, one of 57 paratroopers given a temporary burial in a mass grave in the house’s garden?

And then John played his part in Operation Plunder, the crossing of the River Rhine at a small town called Wesel, all of it organised behind an impenetrable week long smoke screen. Did John Saunders ever realise that two of his schoolmates would die within just a few miles from him? Arthur Mellows (1931-35) and John Hickman (1934-37)? Here’s what was left  of Wesel at the end of World War Two:

John survived the war, but despite my best efforts, I could find no more mention of him until February 12th 2013 when he passed away peacefully in his sleep. On March 1st 2013, he was cremated at Macclesfield Crematorium with all donations in lieu of flowers to be made to SPANA (the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad). He left behind him three daughters, six grandchildren and one great granddaughter.



Filed under History, military, Nottingham, The High School

19 responses to “The Carvings in the Tower (8)

  1. He survived when others from the school didn’t

    • Indeed. The lottery of war. A time when the normal rules of life and death are suspended, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time is probably the dominant factor in whether we survive or not.

  2. That photo of Wesel is tragic. The same is happening now in Ukraine. It was good to read about John surviving the war and living long enough to know a great granddaughter.

    • Ye, I too have been struck by how like WW2 Germany the towns of the Ukraine are becoming. The difference though, is that the Germans started it, their third major war started in Europe in only seventy years. For that reason all of the Allies wanted to see them bombed “back to the Stone Age”, as the saying has it.
      But there is always light in darkness, and that little girl, born into a world of peace, must have been the symbol of everybody’s hope that wars were over, at least for a while.

  3. This continues to be really interesting reading John, a great insight into those names carved so long ago and with, no doubt, great dreams for the the future. I love the old nicknames given to the teachers, I don’t think it’s something children do these days (at least not that I’ve heard being used!). It’s so sad that John never met his colleagues again and that they died so close by without him knowing. If only they had met up even for a few hours, it would have been so uplifting form them all.

    • Yes, it would, but those kind of things rarely happen in war. Similar scenarios have been two Old Nottinghamians killed in the same major Bomber Command raid, or the different individuals all killed in the fighting around Caen.
      When I was at grammar school (1964-1970), most teachers had a nickname, and just one or two did when I started work as a teacher. I was the amazingly original “Kniffo” but best of all was “Biffo”. This teacher could turn the hind legs of donkeys to stone with his endless lectures to the class, so they named him after the character in the “Dandy” comic, “Biffo the Bore” (sic ).

  4. GP

    A remarkable story. The hero faded into the sunset.

    • Yes, he did, and it was a lovely change for me to write a blog post about WW2 that didn’t end in a huge cemetery somewhere in Western Europe. And, even better, he left ten descendants to carry his family line into the future. That, tragically, has not been the fate of the vast majority of WW2 casualties I have written about. Only three or four of them were old enough to have started a family.

  5. John, thanks for keeping the memory of these young men alive. I guess we can consider John Saunders one of the lucky ones to have survived the war, but, as you say, there was no record of his life after the war. Who knows what emotional or physical wounds he may have suffered in subsequent years. War is far more devastating to our hearts and souls than the landscape featured in your post. Yet, here we humans go again in starting another war.

    • Yes, you are absolutely right about the traumas of ex-services people. My Dad left the RAF as a worse consumer of alcohol than he should have been, and his facial tics lasted until around 1970.
      As for the Ukraine, for me, Putin is more or less 100% guilty of starting the war. The whole world tried to find a diplomatic solution but he would have none of it. Having said that.the USA’s continual poking of a very well armed bear with a sore head was always a risky strategy. After all, the Americans did not want missiles in Cuba so why should the Russians be happy to have NATO missiles in either Poland or Turkey, for example? On the other hand, these kind of problems should be settled in negotiations not on the battlefield.

  6. It has been very interesting to read more about the members of that unit who carved their names on the windowsill. Glad he survived the war.

    • Thank you for those kind words. I too am glad that John survived. After the best part of ten years researching the 125 war dead of the High School, it made a very welcome change !!

  7. Chris Waller

    A remarkable story. His school record was exemplary. He was very fortunate to survive the war. I would guess that in the RA he was in the ranks of commissioned officers, probably at least captain or major. The mortality rate among lower commissioned officers was very high, so he survived against the odds while many of his former school-mates perished. As you say, those are the fortunes of war..

  8. I’m afraid you are very optimistic about how well regarded the High School was by the army! Certainly in the South Notts Hussars at the beginning of the war, all of the top brass were landowning rich men with estates, MPs or ex-MPS, men with stately homes in their own grounds etc, and the ex-High School boys tended to be given jobs as corporals, or sergeants, if they were very lucky.
    War being what it was, they frequently made good progress through the ranks once the shooting war started. Dunkirk, too, for example, was a campaign where many high ranking officers were killed, and quite a few sacked for incompetence.

  9. Thank you for sharing a interesting story!!.. sadly, all war and conflict does is sow the seeds of suffering and anger… I believe they said that WWI would be the war to end all wars and we see how that is working… maybe one day mankind will use the pen to settle differences, we can always hope.. 🙂

    Hope all is well in your part of the universe and until we meet again…..
    May your troubles be less
    Your blessings be more
    And nothing but happiness
    Come through your door
    (Irish Saying)

    • 100% with you on that one. I have recently been watching the Invictus games and while I salute the courage of men who have lost legs and arms yet can still play basketball or tennis, it is so sad that there are so many victims of war forced to live out the rest of their lives with such terrible injuries.
      The Ukraine war is dreadful, but I believe that we did come very, very close to settling it by words not bullets. Only one man stopped the triumph of peace and I think we all know who that was. Almost the whole of the rest of the world wanted a settlement around the negotiating table.

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