The English GI – A Preview

Jonathan Sandler’s graphic novel about a Leeds schoolboy in World War 2 was published earlier this year.

The English GI is the result of Jonathan’s dedication to adapting his grandfather’s War memoir. As a Leeds Grammar School boy, Bernard Sandler was part of a school trip to America, and was forced to stay there when war broke out. He served in the US Army as a result of this extraordinary twist of fate.

Jonathan’s captivating novel and homage to his grandfather combine to ensure that the story is on permanent record.

All of a sudden, Britain declared War, and Bernard Sandler, a 17 year old from Chapel Allerton, was unable to come home. As a young schoolboy alone in the vast metropolis of New York, he was called up to the US Army, where he was ultimately sent back to Europe to serve in the brutal Lorraine Campaign, in France, in late 1944 under Patton’s Third Army. 

Leeds Grammar School (Bernard Sandler is 2nd row from the top, third from the left)

Jonathan has always been a fan of graphic novel mediums and instinctively had the idea that this particular story would work well. He wanted to evoke New York during the 1940s — its buildings, the signage, the way people dressed, and the period’s general atmosphere. While he remained faithful to his grandfather’s original wording, he enriched the content with details that he learned from the comrades who his grandfather served with. This included one moving scene from Jewish New Year when serving in Normandy (September 1944). Jonathan also discovered an online archive of a sketchbook belonging to another soldier, Victor Lundy, who gave Jonathan and the illustrator added insight, particularly into the voyage from New York to France, in August 1944, which took 11 nights prior to entering combat.

The book also allowed Jonathan to explore and understand the various branches of his family’s Jewish heritage, including the remarkable story of Bernard’s family in Leeds and the fate of his wider family in Latvia, who experienced hardship and tragedy in WWII. 

After the War, Bernard settled back with his family in North Leeds. Inspired by his time in New York in the 1940s, Bernard Sandler led a full and creative life in the UK. He was a leading figure in Leeds’ public life and he was one of the founders of the Leeds Playhouse in 1970 before becoming an independent theatre producer. Before that, he helped build up the Hurst and Sandler family business in Leeds, which included a large clothing factory and five department stores across Yorkshire. He died in London in 1998, at the age of 75.

Bernard Sandler came from a close knit, Jewish family in Chapel Allerton, Leeds. 

It was during the lockdown that Jonathan Sandler (based in Golders Green, London) was re-reading his grandfather’s wartime memoirs. He started to re-imagine the scenes, inspiring him with the idea of turning his grandfather’s words into a graphic novel –  a frame-by-frame account of his World War II adventure. The arts writer Philip Vann, Bernard’s nephew (originally from Leeds, now based in Cambridge), helped research and compile the background text for the wider book.

The English GI is available on Amazon:

Photographs provided by Jonathan Sandler.

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