War hero’s zip wire challenge

Alan Saunders, 92, is set to zipwire for this birthday
Alan Saunders, 92, is set to zipwire for this birthday

A veteran is set to tackle the world’s longest, fastest zip wire three days after this 92nd birthday.

Alan Saunders, from Crawley, will fly solo down the Zip World Velocity on September 17 to raise money for Blind Veterans UK. At more than a mile long and 500ft high, the zip wire in Penrhyn Quarry, Bethesda, will see the Dieppe Raid survivor travel at speeds of more than 100mph.

“Blind Veterans UK has given me the training, confidence and equipment I need to ensure I can continue to be myself and do the things I want to do as well as providing an environment in which I can spend time with other veterans at its centres,” said Alan.

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Alan has the determination to complete his challenge. Having left school at 17, he joined the Royal Marines in January, 1940.

He trained at the Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth, and was posted to St Margaret’s Village with the Royal Marines Siege Regiment, Kent, where he volunteered to join the Royal Marines Commandos.

Alan is one of the few survivors of the Dieppe Raid in 1942. The raid, which ended in a ‘catastrophic’ loss of life for British and Canadian forces, saw his unit met with heavy gunfire from German defences.

“We did not know what we were in for until the same day of the assault,” said Alan.

“We knew that a large exercise was going to take place and that we were going to invade a German-occupied port but we did not know exactly where and people were speculating about different places.

“I think I speak for the majority when I say that you are not thinking ‘I am going to get killed’ but instead you think ‘I am invincible, I am at the peak of military efficiency, in good health’, and you run on a lot of adrenalin. It’s only afterwards when the adrenalin has worn off that you think ‘how the hell did I survive that’ and the horrors of what had actually happened pours in.”

Alan and his comrades were faced with canon fire, mortars and machine guns – ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ in his words.

“It was such a confused situation and we could not achieve anything on the beach,” he said. “Looking around I saw the beach full of burning tanks, people trying to take shelter wherever they could.”

Eventually, the unit was forced to try to swim for home and, after hours of swimming, Alan was picked up by a patrolling vessel.

He was involved in many other campaigns but was given medical discharge on August 20, 1945, after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds.

“I have no bitterness at all about what happened,” he said. “These sorts of things are all part of life’s grand scenarios. You just got on and prepared for the next job. At the end of the day I survived but of course thousands did not.”

Alan joined Blind Veterans UK after losing his sight as a result of macular degeneration and cataracts.

He describes its Llandudno Centre, in Wales, as a ‘second home’. The charity provides support, rehabilitation, recreation and welfare to blind veterans, regardless of when they served or how they lost their sight.

“When Alan approached staff to help him organise this challenge, no-one in the team was surprised,” said a spokesman. “Alan is always encouraging others to support the charity – sending letters to family and friends encouraging them to donate and often comments on how he would have loved to get involved in some of our challenge events in his younger days.”

To sponsor Alan, visit www.justgiving.com/alanszipwirechallenge.

Alternatively, cheques made payable to Blind Veterans UK, can be posted to Fundraising, Blind Veterans UK, Queens Road, Llandudno, LL30 1UT, quoting ‘Alan’s Zip Wire Challenge’ along with a name and address.