James Prentiss Sands was born on 14 March 1921 in Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Canada. He was the son of Jim Hekob and Eleanor Loretta and had one brother, Cecil Nelson. It is not clear if his father had died but his mother remarried Clarence Sever Sands, the father of four children, Gertrude, Myrtle, Johnny and Carlyle. After the marriage, Prentiss changed his surname to Sands but his brother Cecil retained the name of Hekob. Clarence and Eleanor went on to have five children together, four sons and a daughter: Sammy, Chester, Marion, Billy and Larry.
Whenever Chester thinks of Prentiss, now in 2018, he remembers him as tall and thin, a quiet young man.
Prentiss was a member of the Church of England.
He left school at the age of twelve after completing five grades. He went to work on his mother’s farm and also on the farm belonging to J.P.Fisher; he sometimes earned extra money by chopping wood.
On 24 October 1941 he joined the army as a single man who had been living with his mother in Horburgh, Alberta. He was found to be a healthy young man, 1.67m tall and weighing 69 kilos, with brown hair and eyes; on the left side of his chest he had two round scars. He said he wanted to settle again in Alberta after the war.
The army placed him in the General Reinforcement Unit stationed in Calgary. He was sick in December that year with mumps and was cared for in the Camrose Mill Hospital, Alberta. After two months in a training centre he was ill again and admitted to the Belcher Hospital in Calgary with a severe throat infection and probably measles as well. Once when he was five hours late returning to camp, he was sentenced to three days confined to barracks.
On Thursday, 9 April,1942 Prentiss embarked for England and arrived ten days later; he was placed with the infantry. He wrote to his family on 2 July:
Prentiss spent more than two years training in England. After a week’s leave spent in Scotland in April,1944 he was transferred to the Calgary Highlanders Regiment and left for France two months later on 6 July, landing near Courseulles (Juno Beach).
On 6 August,1944, probably from Fleury-sur-Orne where The Calgary Highlanders were having some days of well-deserved rest, he wrote to his mother.
He was wounded on 29 August,1944 in northern France, probably in La Londe Forest on the banks of the river Seine and sent back to England for treatment at Park Prewett Hospital, Basingstoke; he remained there until 22 September. It is not clear what the nature of his wounds was.
He wrote a letter to his brother Chester on 5 October.
After his stay in hospital, he was sent for a further month’s training before returning to France on 28 October. After a few days he re-joined the Calgary Highlanders who at this point had moved across northern France and had been involved in the Battle of the Schelde. When Prentiss re-joined them they were having some days of rest at Lier, Belgium. Five days later the regiment travelled to Nijmegen, the Netherlands and was stationed on the road to Malden. The first part of winter they spent their time guarding the bridge at Grave and the frontline at Groesbeek. Two weeks on, one week off.
Operation Veritable began on 8 February,1945 and Prentiss took part in the battle of the Reichswald, fighting in the cold, muddy and flooded trenches. His comrade Stan MacDougall was at his side and he related the following:
“So I said to this Corporal Sands, he was on my right, he was a big, tall farmer, a nice man, I think he was twenty four years of age. Anyway, I said, "Will you give me covering fire? I'm going to try and knock this machine gun that's out on my left." So anyway, he said, "Alright." So anyway, I crawled over, I, I just forget the distance it was, they were firing away. I never took my Sten gun with me or anything. I took two grenades. And anyway, I got near where they were at and, and I, I threw one. I got a direct hit. So I said to myself, "I better throw the other one in case going back, a bullet will hit it and it's on my belt." So I threw the other one. So, I started to crawl back and I got up to run and this German paratrooper officer seen me and he had a potato masher in his hand and he was running for my trench, he seen where I was going and Corporal Sands shot him and when he fell, he fell right in front of me and he had the potato masher in his hand and I just pulled it and threw it and went off. At that moment I owed my life to Prentiss Sands. I have never forgotten him (…) He was my hero.”