Two Doncaster men spent a gloriously sunny weekend paying their own tribute to the British commandoes who took part in one of the most daring raids of the Second World War.
Step-brothers Andrew Morrison and Wayne Goddard have paddled a specially made version of one of the canoes immortalised by the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ on an eight-mile trip along the River Don on a charity fund-raising mission.
The pair paddled the 15ft long ‘cockle’ Catfish from Mexborough to their home village of Sprotbrough on Sunday, dressed in Royal Marines uniforms of the time, and finished at the river-side Boat Inn mid-afternoon.
Wayne, aged 48, a senior manager at NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group hit on the idea of making the journey during Dementia Awareness Week to raise money for the Doncaster branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, which supports local dementia services.
Andrew, aged 53, who runs an engraving business in Doncaster, spent a year painstakingly researching and building the canoe from plywood, oak and canvas, creating what is believed to be the first exact replica of a cockle to be built for more than 70 years, topping it off with a compass from a Spitfire plane.
He said: “I’ve had a lot of help with the design from the military and others, including politician and ex-Royal Marine Paddy Ashdown.
“Weighing 84lbs, the cockle was a collapsible canoe, designed to fold down to a depth of just 6.5 inches so it could be loaded on to a submarine.
“There are a handful of cockles around but as far as I’m aware there is only one that floats, others are in museums, but mine is a real working model.”
The Cockleshell Heroes story, later made into a popular British war movie, took place in 1942 when 13 specially selected Royal Marines signed up for Operation Frankton, a mission to attack enemy ships moored in the occupied port of Bordeaux in France.
The Germans had a fleet of ships that were bringing essential materials for the war effort, such as oils and rubber, from the Far East.
Ten marines were dropped off by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Tuna near the mouth of the Gironde river in five collapsible two-man canoes.
Only four men made it the 100 miles to the port – canoeing for four nights and resting during daytime – where they fixed limpet mines on ships’ hulls, badly damaging five of them.
Only two men – Major Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler and Corporal Bill Sparks – made it back home alive.
Winston Churchill reportedly said the successful attack shortened the war by as much as six months. A memorial to the marines stands at Pointe de Grave on the headland of the River Gironde, close to where they embarked.