Cockleshell Heroes remembered at ceremonies in France

Submariner Commander Paddy Parvin salutes the slab on sandstone which celebrates the deeds of heroes exactly 75 years ago.

Three miles off this beach at Montalivet in southwest France - and in similarly rough conditions - five canoes were launched from submarine HMS Tuna.

Their Royal Marine crews faced a 75-mile paddle - 15 to the mouth of the Gironde, then another 60 up river to the port of Bordeaux to destroy German shipping in the dark days of December 1942.

The raid - which has entered history as the Cockleshell Heroes - achieved its objective, but at terrible cost: eight of the ten marines either died or were executed by the Germans.

The 75th anniversary of Operation Frankton, the attack's official codename, was marked with two ceremonies: one at Montalivet, a second, larger event at Pointe de Grave, at the mouth of the Gironde, attended by the Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, RM musicians, veterans organisations from both sies of the Channel and relatives of the raiders themselves.

This has been a humbling experience - understanding the efforts by the submariners, the locals who helped the commandos, but more so the commandos themselves

Commander Paddy Parvin

Jim Sparks, the younger brother of Mne Bill Sparks, one of the two survivors of the raid, said: "It was truly fitting to attend such an auspicious event and especially remember those who did not return."

Mne Sparks and raid leader Maj Blondie Hasler eventually returned to the UK after escaping to neutral Spain with the help of the French resistance.

Eric Boisneau, the organiser of Frankton Souvenir, the group which keeps the memory of the heroes alive in the Bordeaux region by creating a memorial trail and erecting monuments, was delighted so many people braved the foul December weather to pay their respects.

"We are especially honoured to see the families of those who turned the tide of war in favour of the Allies," he added.

Having experienced the December weather in the Gironde, Cdr Parvin - the Fleet's Marine Engineer Officer for Submarines - said he got a brief glimpse of the hardships the raiders faced in December 1942.

"This has been a humbling experience - understanding the efforts by the submariners, the locals who helped the commandos, but more so the commandos themselves," he said.

"Most made the ultimate sacrifice and it was to change the way the Nazis thought about their invulnerability - this was the beginning of the victory in Europe."