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15 October 2014
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by CSV Solent

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CSV Solent
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19 June 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Philippa Capon on behalf of Mr Saunders and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Saunders fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

On 5th October 1944 I had at last secured an interview at 100 Eaton Square before a board of three Airborne officers following my volunteering to serve as an unarmed medic with the Paras. I should explain that I was a ‘conshy’ and being awarded non-combatant status in the Army, had, on call up in October 1941, volunteered for Bomb Disposal. I served in London from 1941-1943, with the object of relieving the civilian population from being evacuated from their homes under the threat of UXBs (Unexploded Bombs).

Probably because I was extremely short sighted, my first application for the Paras failed in June 1943. This second time when challenged about my sight — ‘How can you expect to land behind enemy lines without your glasses?’ — I insisted that I could stick my army steel specs to the side of my face with surgical tape and was accepted for training. As so many medics had been lost on D-Day and even more at Arnhem, I suspect that on this occasion they might have taken me with a tin leg!

While down in London I called to see ‘Olly’ Beech at his home in Herne Hill (he had been our Despatch Rider in Bomb Disposal) and during an air raid we took shelter in his basement. We held our breath waiting for the chug chugging of a V1 to stop and foretell the descent and explosion and breathed a sigh of relief when it missed us. Later in the Ardennes, I was detailed from 224 Para. Field Ambulance to staff a Casualty Clearing Station with the 1st Canadian Para Battalion (part of our 3rd Para. Brigade) fighting on the northern flank of the ‘Bulge’. En route we had time to crawl over a bombed V1 launching platform surrounded by broken rockets and shattered cylinders of propellant. Later we saw V1s chugging overhead from Holland or Germany bound for London and were bombed by screaming Stuka dive bombers.

The latter were designed to terrify us and this they did. Thus in the space of three months or so I had taken shelter at the ‘business end’, I visited a launch site and seen V1s in transit overhead.

Later I was on Operation Varsity Challenge over the Rhine on 24 March 1945 and remember changing places with a man consumed with superstition, who couldn’t jump as No 13. He took my number, dropped in the trees and was a sitting target for rifle and machine gun fire, so it was a quick death. I landed in a sort of No Man’s Land with Germans behind me and strode unconcernedly to join a patrol of the 8th Para. Battalion. Lucky me! We then ‘yomped’ across Germany, passing just south of Belsen (not then known to us as a Death Camp) and arrived at the Baltic just before Marshal Rokossovski’s North Russian Army, so securing Denmark and Scandinavia for the West.

Upon returning home we had 29 days leave prior to embarkation for the Far East and the ultimate assault on Japan (which I reckoned would be my come-uppence). But the atom bombs that killed so many thousands, most probably did save our lives. Instead we were sent to Palestine to try and calm the Jewish struggle for independence. I had an interesting time there with various ‘specials’ for 12 months before demob in the autumn of 1946.

Not bad really for a ‘conshy’. I had spent four out of five years in the Army in voluntary service. But I’m not a hero, nor I hope a coward, though I often think I could have done so much more. I suppose I’m what might be described as a ‘freethinker’. My only faith is in the power of conscience. War is not the glorious adventure depicted on films; it’s cruel, destructive and worst of all, indiscriminate in the slaughter and maiming of women and children and non-combatants who play no part in the conflict. Did I do the right thing? I’ll never know, but undoubtedly I had interesting experiences, especially being part of the camaraderie in those two very worthwhile jobs.

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