Skip to main content

Norman 'Sandy' Saunders

Norman 'Sandy' Saunders

Radar Technician, Royal Navy

“I grew up in a Navy town and worked on the docs, I always going to end up in the Royal Navy.”


It is said that everyone has a story to tell and as I go through life I find this to be very true. Most stories are interesting and some are epic and fascinating.

In the case of Hyland Park's Norman 'Sandy' Saunders the latter is true. The spritely 94 year old has lived a life of service to the nation, initially to his birthplace, England, followed by his chosen home, Australia.

For nearly 40 years Sandy Saunders' devoted himself to a Naval career spanning WWII, Malaysia, Borneo and Vietnam.

Born in the Navy town of Portsmouth, a life on the seas was almost inevitable for Sandy.

In 1943 Portsmouth was being bombed by the Germans most nights and it was not long before Sandy joined the Royal Navy to do his bit for the war effort. “I grew up in a Navy town and worked on the docs, I always going to end up in the Royal Navy.”

The 16-year-old was taken to the Isle of Man where a base had been established for training lads like Sandy for service in the Royal Navy. As well as training as a Naval communicator, Sandy recalls schooling was included in the routine and he was able to pick up his education that had been cut short in Portsmouth due to his school being bombed. This bonus schooling was to provide him with the education to achieve the rank of Petty Officer at a later stage.

It was from here that Sandy was selected to train as a technician for the recently invented radar being fitted to Royal Navy ships.

Sandy is strongly of the opinion their successful use of radar largely turned the tide of the war in the Atlantic by taking the upper hand away from German U-Boat Commanders.

As WWII drew to a close Sandy found himself working with the squadrons of the Motor Torpedo Boats that were now also being fitted with radars.

“It was delightful – hearing the news that the war was over.”

By the time the war had ended Sandy had decided Navy life agreed with him and while many sailors were returning to post war civilian life, Sandy was sent to Malta to continue with his career. In Malta he served on HMS Aurora, one of the few British cruisers to survive the war.

The Royal Navy required Sandy to post back and forth between Malta and England on several occasions and on one of his posting back to the UK he was central in the establishment of the RNs Radar School at Collingwood where he spent a number of years instructing.

He recounts that one of his postings was on a former P&O passenger liner that had been converted to a repair ship that had the ability to come alongside a warship and implement whatever repairs were needed.

Eventually Sandy's dedication and professionalism duly impressed his chain-of-command and he was trained and tested for selection as a Commissioned Officer. This was to be a turning point for Sandy and his family as it put him in the running to be sent to Australia for four years on loan to the Royal Australian Navy as he had skill sets that were then deficient in the RAN.

The Saunders family loved life down under so much that Sandy eventually applied to be able to transfer between Navies.

He was successful in this endeavour and then spent the next 17 years as an officer in the RAN. During this time the seasoned sailor who had seen action during WWII, which included the D-Day landings at Normandy, was now to serve his new country on active duty off Borneo, Malaya and Vietnam.

Sandy Saunders played a significant role in the development and introduction of the Australian ship launched anti-submarine missile known as Ikara.

This capability was state of the art at that time and ended up in use with the RN, New Zealand and Brazilian Navies from the 1960s up to the 1990s.

In 1981 Sandy Saunders finally found his land legs and retired from the Navy to the Nambucca area.

Sandy and his wife Cynthia were to become well known locals on the Mid North Coast and, sadly, Cynthia recently passed away.

Sandy is still in good shape and can hold his own on the bowling green.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments in his life was two years ago when Sandy was presented with the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur from the French President Emmanuel Macron.

France's highest honour was bestowed on Sandy for the part he played during the D-Day landings in 1944.

What Sandy experienced at Normandy all those years ago is hard for us to even imagine and the fact he continued to serve so many years beyond that time is true testament to a remarkable man and a life well lived.


Norman Saunders, 2020

Story by Mick Birtles DSC and published in the Numbucca Guardian, 6 July 2020