The group of Sussex based former Royal Marines behind several record-breaking kayak and rowing expeditions have paid tribute to the Second World War heroes who inspired their adventures by refurbishing and renovating the grave of one of the original Cockleshell Heroes.
The Cockleshell Endeavour Team is a group of Royal Marines and armed forces veterans who have taken on a number of water-based challenges to raise awareness of PTSD amongst service personnel and veterans. This has included supporting a former Royal Marine suffering from the effects of PTSD to kayak around the Falkland Islands, and helping another former Royal Marine to become the first blind person to row 3,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.
These Cockleshell Endeavour projects were inspired by the original Cockleshell Heroes, the commandos who undertook the brave and daring Operation Frankton. In December 1942 10 Royal Marines set off from a submarine and kayaked in pairs into the Nazi-occupied port of Bordeaux in an attempt to attach mines to docked cargo ships and disrupt the German activity.
Operation Frankton was described by Lord Mountbatten, the commander of Combined Operations as "Of the many brave and dashing raids carried out by the men of Combined Operations Command none was more courageous or imaginative than Operation Frankton".
Six ships were damaged in the raid, but sadly eight of the ten Marines who made the journey into the port were killed; the Germans executed six while two died from hypothermia. Two Royal Marines survived the mission; Commanding Officer Herbert 'Blondie' Hasler and his no.2 in the canoe, Bill Sparks.
Bill Sparks died aged in 2002, aged 80, and was buried in the churchyard in Alfriston, East Sussex. Earlier this year former Royal Marine Mick Dawson, the man behind the Cockleshell Endeavour projects, was contacted about Bill’s grave in Alfriston as the headstone was in need of some refurbishment and care. In tribute to the hero who inspired the record-breaking adventures of the Cockleshell Endeavour team, Mick raised the money needed to complete this work and has replaced the headstone on the grave to ensure the heroic activities of Bill Sparks are never forgotten.
To mark the refurbishment of Bill Sparkes grave, there will be a short ceremony this Saturday, 15th June, at 16.00 at St Andrews Church Alfriston. This ceremony will be followed by a fundraising event at The Coach House in Rottingdean, Cockleshell Endeavour’s unofficial HQ.
Mick Dawson, the founder of the Cockleshell Endeavour team, says:
“I’ve always been inspired by the heroes of Operation Frankton, and the bravery of those men should never be forgotten. Their heroics have gone on to inspire all of our projects, from the kayak around the Falkland Islands through to the record-breaking row across the Pacific last year.
“It’s only right that we recognise those who inspired the Cockleshell Endeavour project, and when I heard that the grave of Bill Sparks needed a bit of attention, I was more than happy to help. I contacted some of the principal supporters and sponsors of The Cockleshell Endeavour project who jumped at the opportunity to help fund the refurbishment of this great man's headstone, and we hope this means this great man, a true hero, will never be forgotten."
Following the completion of the record-breaking Cockleshell Endeavour row across the Pacific last year the team continues to support those veterans with physical or mental illness, and will later this month support two veterans to complete in the Yukon River Race, the world's toughest kayak and canoe race. On 26th June former Royal Marine Steve Grenham and former Commando Engineer Neil Marshall will kayak 444 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Yukon, over three days.
Steve was one of the founder members of the Cockleshell team who embarked on the first challenge with Mick Dawson. Steve has been affected by the symptoms of PTSD, a situation he feels may be related to his experiences both in the Falkland war and tours of Northern Ireland. The original Cockleshell challenge saw Steve and Mick, both novice kayakers, take on a number of kayaking challenges which grew in difficulty, including the Yukon Challenge, before kayaking around the Falkland Islands. The project raised thousands of pounds for charity and helped Steve come to terms with some of the effects of his PTSD.
Neil Marshall is a former Commando Engineer who is also suffering with the effects of a severe head injury and PTSD. In 2016 Neil competed in the Devizes to Westminster International Canoe and Kayak Race under the Cockleshell Endeavour banner, helping to raise money for the Royal Marine Charity. Neil is well known within the veteran community as one of the first veterans with PTSD to work with an assistance dog. Arbhair has been with Neil for almost three years and has helped to transform his life.
None of this would have been possible without the support of 'Unkempt (Bakers) Dozen' - Paul Moynan (Dragon Coin), Frank Considine (F.C. Media), Keith Breslaur (Patron Capital Ltd), Dave Bull (NARU), Dave Sutton (Sutton Workboats), Dave Spellman (Rottingdean), RMA City of London, The Coach House Rottingdean (Darren and Hayley), Andy Brown (FDM), Kev Browning (Global Tunnelling Experts), Mal and Jill (Rottingdean), Mick Dawson and Natalie Harper, Steve Brand and Mike Clift (Seahaven Maritime Academy).