An intrepid group of fundraisers are closing in on their target.

As previously reported in the Echo, the family of a soldier who survived a Second World War operation retraced the steps of his mission in an incredible quest to raise thousands for Weldmar Hospicecare.

Their story prompted Battens Charitable Trust to donate £1,000.

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 nine days. 

“Our challenge took eight days to complete,” said Rich, “four on water, and four on foot. It was based on a mission my grandfather was sent on with 10 men with the aim of paddling two-man canoes 90 miles from the mouth of the Gironde Estuary into Bordeaux, where they were to plant mines on German transport ships. 

“Only four men made it to Bordeaux; two drowned and four were caught and executed. The remaining four marines planted the mines and disabled at least five ships and then began to escape occupied France. Two were caught and killed, but my grandfather and his commanding officer walked 112 miles to Ruffec, where they were escorted out of France by the French Resistance."

Rich and his core team of six, who were supported by a ground crew, decided to complete this very personal challenge in aid of Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.

“My father died eight years ago after a short battle with lung cancer and spent his last few days at Weldmar,” explained Rich. “They couldn’t do enough for him. They were literally faultless and amazing in the level of care, love and service they delivered. 

“We wanted to honour the memory of my dad and our grandfather – Marine Commando Bill Sparks – through this challenge, with the aim of raising £10,000. The £1,000 donation from the Battens Charitable Trust means we’ve nearly reached out target, although we’d love to raise even more.”

Ceri Stephens, a trustee of Battens Charitable Trust said: “I heard about this rather epic challenge from a friend. It’s an amazing story, and when I put it to the trustees of the Battens Charitable Trust, which supports local causes, they were only too pleased to support it.

If you would like to help Rich and his team reach their £10,000 target, make a donation via their Just Giving page