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"Bill Sparks, one of the survivors, said, 'The French have always treated us better.' They are the ones who have kept, through their own interest, the Frankton trail (a hiking trail)," says Rees.
"The Commando Order was what determined the fate of these guys, but for that, they'd still be alive," says Rees.
Apart from hiking the escape route, some are tempted to reproduce that marathon paddle up the Gironde.
Conway, MacKinnon, Wallace, Ewart, Laver and Mills were all put to death, but not before undergoing interrogation. They responded with a lie that their mission was to damage
One of the six canoes codenamed "cockles" was damaged even before the mission began. So five canoes set off into the night on December 7, 1942. One went missing in the first few hours in fierce tidal races, and its occupants Sgt Samuel Wallace and Marine Robert Ewart got to shore where they were captured by the Germans. Then another capsized, its two occupants Cpl George Sheard and Marine David Moffatt lost at sea.
Conway was a popular member of the group, who amused his fellow Marines by admitting that, as he rode a horse and cart delivering milk for the Co op, he would talk to his horse. He was just 20 when Operation Frankton began, and owed his place on the mission to a sporting injury sustained by one of the original dozen men selected for the mission, Marine Norman Colley. Conway replaced Colley, who stayed with the mission as a reserve.
By the second night, a third canoe had been lost, Conway and Lt John MacKinnon's craft having sunk after hitting an underwater obstruction. The two men got to shore and made it to La Reole in supposedly neutral Vichy France. They were in the custody of gendarmes who were, says Rees, "all for letting them go", but the Gestapo then heard about their
"In common parlance, it was a suicide mission," says Quentin Rees, who has published the fullest account yet of Operation Frankton in his book Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness. "They didn't know if it would be successful. They definitely believed that no one would return from the mission."
Setting out on foot for the Spanish border, Laver and Mills were captured. But Hasler and Sparks made it across the Pyrenees Roshe Nike Pink
The most fitting tribute to the real life heroes of Operation Frankton comes today when a new memorial will be dedicated at La Pointe de Grave, at the tip of the Gironde estuary.
These were not specialists, but ordinary Royal Marines who were put through a steep learning curve by Hasler. One was Marine James Conway, born 1922, who lived with his mother at Heaton Mersey View, Larkhill, Edgeley, Stockport.
All of the men had volunteered for "hazardous service". And as they were interviewed by commanding officer Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler, the danger of the job was stressed yet again.
It was a mission so daring and so dramatic that in 1955 the broad outline of the story would be turned into a film, The Cockleshell Heroes
The mission, the details of which were not shared with the men until they were already en route aboard the submarine HMS Tuna, was for a dozen men to paddle six collapsible canoes up the Gironde estuary in Nazi occupied France.
canoes reached their destination. The limpet mines were attached and six ships were sunk in shallow water. It was a tactical coup that Winston Churchill believed may have shortened the war by six months.
"These guys wanted to do something to make a difference," says Rees. "They weren't anxious to die, they were only anxious to matter."
What none of those men would perhaps have known was that, just weeks earlier, Adolf Hitler had issued the Commando Order, an instruction that all captured Allied commandos even those in uniform should be killed.
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They were to cover 105 miles in bitterly cold conditions, paddling by night to avoid detection. Then they would fix limpet mines to merchant ships in the harbour at Bordeaux vital targets that had been used to bring goods for the German war effort.
"Do you realise that your expectation of a long life is very remote?" he told each of them.
night, when it was freezing cold.
Norman Colley, aged 90, from Pontefract, still survives. As reserve, his life was saved by that sporting injury which put Conway on the mission in his place. "He still has some guilt even now," says Rees. "He was one of the lucky ones."
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Despite the myth making of the movie, there has been a feeling that the Cockleshell Heroes were not given adequate tribute. A memorial was created by public subscription, but, placed at the Special Nike Roshe Runners Womens Boat Service base in Poole, Dorset, it cannot be viewed by the public.
Two canoes continued, Hasler and Cpl Bill Sparks in one, and Cpl Albert Laver and Marine William Mills in the other. On the fourth night, the two
this raid managed. It shows people what you can do if you put your mind to it."
"But in the course of it, they find out what is possible. And this raid was thought to be impossible. Nobody ever thought that anybody would ever come back."
Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness by Quentin Rees is published by Amberley at 20.
"They go on it thinking it will be a breeze, but the paddle is arduous," says Rees. "And they're doing it when it's sunny, in daylight. Those guys did it at Nike Roshe Run Cheap Mens
How the Cockleshell Heroes paddled their way into legend
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