Six men, three boats and one monumental challenge – all for a very important cause. 

The family of a soldier who survived a Second World War operation have retraced the steps of his mission in an incredible quest to raise thousands for Weldmar Hospicecare.

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 war.

Only two of the ten marines who started the raid survived, one of whom was Marine Sparks.

Mike and Richard Heard, Bill’s grandsons, with Terry Sparks, their uncle and Bill’s son along with a team of friends and supporters, endured testing conditions and hampering injuries to retrace the steps of the Frankton trail in just eight days. 

Starting on September 29, the crew paddled for four days from the Gironde to Bordeaux in France, a total of approximately 90 miles, before hiking on to Ruffec, a further 112 miles on land. 

Richard said: “It was amazing and it was a privilege to be a part of. 

“We were lucky with the tides whilst we were paddling but it was the walking that absolutely killed us, four days trudging in wet shoes. 

“We ended up with blood blisters on our feet and injured knees, but it would have been a lot harder for the men at the time.

“We had so much support the whole way. 

“For the people that we met, it was their families who were affected and were under German control and it was those ten men that came to help them.”

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the mission which was said to have shortened the war by six months.

Emotions were high as the group ended their mission at Toque Blanche cafe in Ruffec, where Bill and his partner Blondie Hasler first met the resistance and ate their first meal after finishing the operation in 1942. 

Richard said: “There was a lot of tears, I can’t put it into words. 

“We were all so overwhelmed.”

The special mission was completed with a loved one on their minds the whole way - Mike and Richard’s father Michael Heard. Weldmar provided end of life care for Michael until he sadly lost a short battle with lung cancer at the age of 63 in 2009.

Richard said those that looked after his father are “angels on this earth,” and the group hopes to raise £10,000 for the charity. 

“They are currently on a total of £9,330 and are hoping for one final push to reach that all important total.
Richard added: “We’re trying to think of the next challenge to take on, it’s hard adjusting to reality as there was a lot of build up to it.”

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