Van Sainsbury

This pilot is in the group picture…

He is on the left of Johnnie Johnson in the photo.

I found this on him on the Internet…

Click here.

Flying Officer Arthur Van R Sainsbury


‘Van’ Sainsbury was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1922. He was educated at Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. After University Van joined his father’s firm of A H Sainsbury & Co, a food brokerage firm.

In 1942 Van joined the RCAF and in the October was sent to 13 EFTS, St Eugene, Ontario where he trained on Fleet bi-planes — one of the standard training aircraft. By the January of 1943 Van was flying Harvards and Ansons. In July of that year he was posted to England and went to 7 Squadron AFU Peterborough where he underwent further training on Ansons and Masters: Van was recorded as an ‘above average’ pilot. He rose to the rank of Flying Officer in December and was then posted to Cranwell where he flew both Proctors and Masters. Van progressed to Hurricanes in March 1944 and in June had his first flights in a Spitfire II (TO-K) at 61 OTU, Rednal, Shropshire. Operational flying commenced in July 1944 from Mountford Bridge where his first ‘Rhubarb’ was in a Spitfire V (VV-N): in the August he transferred to the more powerful MK IX A operating from Bognor Regis in Sussex. Later that month he joined 403 Squadron (RCAF) in Normandy where his first flight was in a Spitfire IX B (KH-B). Van’s first victory was on the 31st August in Spitfire KH-M.

Van was privileged to escort King George VI to Brussels on the 13th October 1944. By the December he had returned to Tangmere flying Mk XVI Spitfires. In February 1945 Van returned to the European Theatre and on the 24th “blew a staff car off the road” near Eindhoven.

On the 24th March 1945 came Operation Plunder – Montgomery’s Rhine Offensive and Flight Lieutenant Fleming and Flight Lieutenant Van Sainsbury were the first section of TAF (Tactical Armed Forces) over the Rhine.

There is an interesting comment in Van Sainsbury’s logbook for the 1st April 1945. “BOCHEN area – Deck level – Bags of white flags”. On the 15th April 1945 Van flew a certain Mk XVI Spitfire (TB 752) from B78 to B114 but “returned as clouds were at ‘0’. Shaky do!” TB 752 had not then received her 403 Squadron code. On the 16th April Van led 12 other new aircraft in TB 752 to B114: his next flight in TB 752 (KH-Z) was on the 1st May. A number of other flights were made in TB 752 and on the 8th May he formed part of an escort for Dakotas flying to Copenhagen. The flight lasted 2 hours 45 minutes and the log entry reads “Hard on the ass – but an interesting trip”. By June 1945 Van was promoted to take charge of ‘A’ Flight.

On the 12th August he returned to the Central Gunnery School, Catfoss, East Yorkshire flying mainly Spitfires, Masters and Wellingtons. It is interesting to record that on the 20th August Van flew a Mk XVI Spitfire coded ‘Z’ but there is no way of confirming that it was TB 752.

By 1951 Van Sainsbury was attached to 411(F) Fighter Squadron RCAF flying Vampires: his last service flight was on the 1st August 1952 in Vampire 083.

He returned to business and the company of Sainsbury Limited became distillers, Vintners and Brewers representatives. Van had 5 children (4 sons and a daughter) and Michael and Peter Sainsbury have managed the business since Arthur Van Sainsbury’s death on the 26th June 1974.

His widow (Joan) and sons Michael, Peter and David have all visited Manston to see TB 752 and have generously donated items for display in the Memorial Building.

David Sainsbury in the cockpit of TB 752 in 1990


4 thoughts on “Van Sainsbury

  1. Just discovered this blog/site. Fantastic!

    I am Arthur Van Rensselaer “Van” Sainsbury’s oldest son – some great stuff here. Many thanks.

  2. Hello, I am Lieutenant-Colonel (Retired) Dean C. Black, CD – Commanding Officer 403 “Wolf” Squadron (2000-2002). In 2001 I led the squadron’s celebration of the 60th anniversary of the squadron’s formation. I also found in the filing cabinets a draft of the squadron’s history which had been languishing for ten years. I wrote the closing chapters, bringing it up to date, and then published the book, selling over 1,500 copies. I have two left, but these have been autographed by many 403 Spitfire pilots, so they are invaluable mementos. In December 2010 Steve Butte invited me to Australia to be with him as he was dying. I invested him as the Honorary Colonel of the Squadron in April 2002. All this to say, I am impressed with your site, and I have much to offer. Are you interested? I am currently serving as Executive Director Air Force Association of Canada ( and Executive Editor of Airforce magazine.

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