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Chester County Press

U-CF superintendent Sanville welcomes new school year by recalling his family's experience

08/26/2016 12:19PM ● By J. Chambless

Unionville High School principal Jim Conley tweeted out this photo of the assembled high-school staff on Aug. 23.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

In the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, school will start for the year on Aug. 29, but the week before students will arrive, district superintendent John Sanville spoke to the assembled teachers and staff at the annual Convocation ceremony. His remarks, posted at the district website on Aug. 25, addressed “The Power of Experience.”

“Experience is the foundation upon which our lives are built, and it starts the moment we are born,” Sanville said. “My parents were British, and both fought in World War II. Like many of the Greatest Generation, they did not talk about what happened. As a curious kid, I found my father’s uniform and flight helmet -- and would put them on -- pretending to be a Royal Navy pilot on the hunt for Nazi submarines.

“Dad’s real-life adventures dwarfed anything I dreamed up,” Sanville said. “He was stationed on the HMS Victorious and was part of the sinking of both the Bismarck and the Turpitz -- massive Nazi battleships. When the U.S. fleet was down to one aircraft carrier, the Victorius sailed to the South Pacific and was temporarily renamed the USS Robin – as in Robin Hood. Dad flew under the stars and stripes, supporting U.S. Marines before becoming a flight instructor for U.S. Naval pilots, first in Pensacola and then in Willow Grove, which is how my parents ended up in Doylestown.

“Mom was born into a military family -- her father was a brigadier general in World War I and met his wife while in France. … When the Nazis occupied France, Winston Churchill began a top-secret program known as the Special Operations Executive, whose mission was to train agents to work with the Resistance forces and create havoc for the Nazis. My mother was the perfect candidate – from a military family, bilingual and comfortable living in the country. After training, she was parachuted into France and worked with the Resistance through D-Day. She was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallantry in the field in the face of the enemy and was promoted to Major on the battlefield. She was one of about 200 in this operation – most were captured and killed. Mom kept all of this to herself.”

Sanville added that, “As the son of hidden heroes whose humility trumped egos, I saw first-hand the enduring value of dignity. Their survival of wartime instilled in me an accelerated appreciation of the little joys -- the charm in a tea box, a watchband that fits just right, and strawberry shortcake. Their move to America, putting an ocean between themselves and their homeland, taught me that sometimes starting over is the best option.

“Forty-something years ago, mom combed my hair, made sure my shirt was tucked in and that my shoes were shined, handed me my notebook and pencil case, kissed me goodbye and I left for the first day of school,” Sanville said. “Thus began my education, and my experiences multiplied exponentially.

“Education, at its best, affords students multiple opportunities to learn and grow in many ways via numerous means. I know that we will provide every child with what they need so that their experiences become part of what they carry forward. … All our students entering our schools will have access to creative, informational, and uniquely wonderful experiences provided by the most talented and dedicated staff and faculty anywhere – you,” Sanville concluded. “And for that, I thank you.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email

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