Graphic novel of English GI who fought in Patton's army

Artist Brian Bicknell

Artist Brian Bicknell drew on a contemporary sketchbook by fellow soldier Victor Lundy for his depiction of the journey to France - Credit: Brian Bicknell/Victor Lundy/US Library of Congress

A grandson has captured his grandfather's unusual wartime experiences in a graphic novel.

English GI tells the story of Bernard Sandler, who was stranded in New York while on a school trip in 1939.

When war broke out, his Jewish family decided it was safer not to return to England, and the 17-year-old was taken in by family friends until the bombing of Pearl Harbour brought the US into WWII.

Grandson Jonathan, who grew up in Swiss Cottage and now lives in Golders Green, continues: "After Pearl Harbour there was conscription, he was of the age where he had to join, and was called up in February 1943. For an Englishman to serve in the US army was quite unusual."

After 18 months training, Bernard was finally shipped off to war in late August 1944.

A convoy of 100 ships sails out of New York Harbour on August 27, 1944 with Bernard Sandler aboard

A convoy of 100 ships sails out of New York Harbour on August 27, 1944 with Bernard Sandler aboard - Credit: Brian Bicknell/Jonathan Sandler

"He was in a convoy of 100 ships that sailed from New York. It must have been quite a sight," adds Jonathan. "They arrived in Cherbourg as part of the 26th Division and spent a month in Normandy before joining up with General Patton's Third Army and seeing brutal fighting in the Lorraine campaign that October."

Within weeks Bernard was injured and evacuated to an American field hospital in Dorset where he was finally reunited with his parents after nearly five years.

Bernard Sandler as a G.I who served in the 26th Division in France in 1944

Bernard Sandler as a G.I who served in the 26th Division in France in 1944 - Credit: Courtesy of the Sandler family

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"It was an emotional reunion. He had to go back to the US where he proposed to my grandmother. They came back to Britain in 1946 and my grandfather ran the family business in Leeds."

A project manager for a software company, Jonathan drew on his grandfather's memoirs which he dusted off the shelf when his son took an interest.

"I've always been a fan of graphic novels and thought this is quite a good coming of age story about a schoolboy alone in New York stranded on a school trip, taken in by a family he barely knew, and joining the US army."

Brian Bicknell drew on a contemporary sketchbook by fellow soldier Victor Lundy for his depiction of journey to France

American artist Brian Bicknell drew on a contemporary sketchbook by fellow soldier Victor Lundy for his depiction of journey to France - Credit: Brian Bicknell/Victor Lundy/US Library of Congress

Jonathan hired American artist Brian Bicknell but remained close to the creative process, drawing each frame to evoke Bernard's 40s New York of Broadway theatre, and jazz in Greenwich Village.

A sketchbook by fellow soldier Victor Lundy added inspiration on the voyage to France, and the novel includes poignant scenes of celebrating an improvised Jewish New Year in Normandy, and a soldier anxious about having H for Hebrew on his identification tags if he was captured.

There's also Bernard's moving 1937 visit to Latvia to see the thriving Jewish community his father had fled, which was later destroyed in the Holocaust.

Post retirement, Bernard, who would have been 100 this year, lived a creative life. He co-founded the Leeds Playhouse, produced plays, moved to London, and became chair of Kilburn's Tricycle Theatre where his memorial was held in 1998.

"It's ultimately a happy story, enriched by being told as a graphic novel which is more accessible to a younger audience," says Jonathan.

Golders Green author Jonathan Sandler with his book about his grandfather. 

Golders Green author Jonathan Sandler with his book about his grandfather. - Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Sandler

"My grandfather was a positive person who got on with life. Although he came from a provincial background he was quite sophisticated after living his formative years in New York whose arts scene and liberal social attitudes formed his world view. He remained very socialist, and completely anti-war - he had a close friend who was killed, and having read his memoir, I cannot imagine that he wasn't scarred by his experience, but he led a very happy and fulfilling life."

English GI is published by graphicmemoir.co.uk/ price £9.99. Go to https://tinyurl.com/4cyf5u3a

English GI is published by https://graphicmemoir.co.uk/ price £9.99.

English GI is published by https://graphicmemoir.co.uk/ price £9.99. - Credit: Brian Bicknell/Jonathan Sandler