The family of a soldier who was one of only two men to survive a Second World War operation are retracing his mission in memory of their loved ones.

William “Bill” Sparks was a British Royal Marine Commando and the last survivor of the Cockleshell Heroes, part of the Operation Frankton commando raid on German shipping in Bordeaux during the Second World War.

Only two of the ten marines who took part in the raid survived.

Mike and Richard Heard, Bill’s grandsons, with Terry Sparks, their uncle and Bill’s son, and friends of the family, are hoping to raise £10,000 for Weldmar Hospicecare by retracing the steps of the famous operation.

Weldmar provided end of life care for Michael Heard, dad to Mike and Rich, brother to Terry, and son of Bill Sparks. He lost a short battle with lung cancer at the age of 63 in 2009.

Richard, 35, said: “They were amazing. They couldn’t do enough for him, they are angels on this earth.

“That drive gave us the idea of doing something which has been on our bucket list for a few of us for years”

Mike, 40, said: “Growing up having this legacy is amazing. It’s a story you can tell at school and to your colleagues.

“It has a really strong meaning for us as a family.”

Everyone Active have got on board and are sponsoring the crew, providing them with access to their facilities for free for training before the big event.

Starting on September 30, the crew will paddle from the Gironde to Bordeaux, a total of approximately 90 miles, before hiking on to Ruffec, a further 110 miles on land. A support crew will be there to help them along the way, on land and at sea.

The group think the challenge will take around nine days to complete. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the mission.

Richard said: “It’s going to be one heck of a journey even prepping for this, it’s going to be good fun.

“Everyone gets on board with the comradery and the idea of triumph in the face of adversity.”

Mike added: “The fun thing is the important thing, we’re very much a family unit.

“We’re all friends and we’ve all known each other for many years and that strengthens the resolve of what we’re trying to do.”

The crew will be holding fundraising events throughout the year to raise money which will go towards hitting their target.

Find out more at, and donate to the team at

Operation Frankton was a commando raid on shipping in the German occupied French port of Bordeaux in southwest France during the Second World War. The raid was carried out by a small unit of Royal Marines known as the Royal Marines Boom Patrol Detachment (RMBPD), part of Combined Operations.

The plan was for six canoes to be taken to the area of the Gironde estuary by submarine. They would then paddle by night to Bordeaux. On arrival they would attack the docked cargo ships with limpet mines and then escape overland to Spain.

Twelve men were selected for the raid; including the commanding officer, Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler, and with the reserve Marine Colley the total of the team numbered thirteen. One canoe was damaged while being deployed from the submarine and it and its crew therefore could not take part in the mission.

Only two of the 10 men who launched from the submarine survived the raid: Hasler, and his deputy in the canoe, Bill Sparks. Of the other eight, six were executed by the Germans while two died from hypothermia.

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed the mission shortened the war by six months.

The words of Lord Mountbatten, the commander of Combined Operations, are carved into a Purbeck stone at Royal Marines Poole: “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”.

The Cockleshell Heroes were immortalised in a 1955 British war film starring Trevor Howard, Anthony Newley, David Lodge and José Ferrer, who also directed.