Researched and written by Anne Wright
Captain J D G Sanders
Royal Field Artillery and Royal Flying Corps
Killed on active service, 5.1.1916
James Donald Gerhardt Sanders was the recipient of the final Aviator’s Certificate issued by Brooklands before the outbreak of the First World War. He took his test on 30 July 1914 in a Bristol Biplane. Donald joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 3 October as a Flying Officer but he already had a long military career behind him. Born at Lucknow, India on 3 August 1886 he was baptised two months later on 6 October at Fyzabad, Bengal, the eldest son of James, a member of the Indian Civil Service and Charlotte Lizzie (nee Chapman) Sanders. His parents retired to The Warren in Heath Road, Weybridge.
Donald was educated at Hurst School near Hastings and Rugby School before joining the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery on 25 July 1906, this was followed by promotion to Lieutenant on 25 July 1909 and he had been elevated to the rank of Captain by the time he left the army in 1914. Donald served with the West African Frontier Force from 25 June 1911 to 12 March 1914. When he went to France with the RFC on 6 March 1915 he was a Flight Commander (equivalent rank to Captain) with E.F.1 Squadron. Their initial role in supporting the British Expeditionary Force was to carry out reconnaissance. Four squadrons were based in France in 1914 but by the time of the Battle of Loos in September 1915 the number was 12 with 161 aircraft. At the beginning of 1916 Donald was based at an airfield complex north-east of Bailleul, near the Belgian border. He and others were trying out a new machine on 5 January; they each took it up for about 10 minutes and tried out various stunts to test its capabilities. A fellow officer recorded what happened:
While Sanders was up something went wrong with the engine and he had to try a forced landing away from the aerodrome. As luck would have it there were some telegraph wires and he did not see them. The machine crashed badly and he was thrown on his head. It is reported that death was instantaneous.
Donald was a great loss to his squadron, they were reported to be ‘terribly cut up’ at his death. The RFC could ill afford to lose experienced pilots. Another of his fellow officers observed:
For me it is a sort of snapping of an old tie. I used to dine at the RFC Mess often and we used to talk of early days. He was senior Flight Commander in the squadron and was one of the best pilots in the corps.
He was an accomplished young man not only in his service career but also in his leisure pursuits; Donald was a keen skater, holding bronze, silver and gold medals of the National Skating Association and was also a proficient skier. He often visited Switzerland in the winter months. Donald was laid to rest in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension Nord (II.B.69); this large French town is 14.5 km from Ypres (Ieper). Donald’s parents remained in Weybridge and were still at the same address when his father died on 3 March 1934 aged 76.
British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns – Births and Baptisms, https://www.findmypast.co.uk/
Great Britain, Royal Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index and Administrations), 1858-1966, 1973-1995, www.ancestry.co.uk
The Royal Flying Corps 1914-1918, www.airwar1.org.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, www.ancestry.co.uk