Firefighters attend unveiling of historic Cockleshell Heroes plaque

A historic plaque to a Hampshire hero who, with his team, changed the course of World War II has been unveiled.

Plaques honour Cockleshell Heroes

Firefighters were among the guests of honour at the event to remember the achievements of the Cockleshell Heroes after they retraced their paddle strokes to raise £10,000 for charity.

Lord Paddy Ashdown, who has commanded a Royal Marines company and a section of the Special Boat Service, and is a trained Swimmer Canoeist, praised the efforts of the crews from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.

The former Liberal Democrat leader, who unveiled the new blue plaque on the old home of Lieutenant Colonel Herbert George ‘Blondie’ Hasler, said: “This is a very arduous journey and I really congratulate the firefighters on doing it.

“It is no doddle I can tell you, especially if you do it properly as they did. I thank them for remembering these guys – these very brave men – and you couldn’t do it in a way which is more fitting.

“Today is about remembering a remarkable man who came from this house and who led that expedition and who is, in my view, one of the really great leaders of our time.

“He took ordinary people and was able to get them to do extraordinary things.”

Lord Ashdown is also the author of a book about this mission called A Brilliant Little Operation and has paddled the route taken during Operation Frankton himself.

Hundreds of people, including representatives from the military and dignitaries, turned up to witness the unveiling at the former home of Blondie Hasler.

He was one of just two survivors from a 10-man Royal Marine Commando unit, from Southsea, Portsmouth, that he led on a daring raid to attach mines to the hulls of German supply ships in Bordeaux.

Speeches were also made by East Hampshire District Councillor Sara Schillemore, who helped organise the event; Bill Evershed, a family friend of Blondie Hasler; and Brigadier Richard Spencer of the Royal Marines.

Cosham firefighter Craig Sadler said: “As part of our challenge each member of the team had to do a charity event.

“We arranged a talk and took photographs of the local monuments.

“The long and the short of it is we came up and knocked this lady’s door and that is how the ball started rolling, and they got involved in the story. Absolutely lovely couple, supported the charity event at Cosham Fire Station, supported us the whole way and through our route.

“Then it was a partnership; they were doing this part of it – the heritage part – and then we did our charity event recreating the route.

“Obviously it’s not 1942; there is nobody shooting at us and we are not going to be executed if we are caught. Its not night time and its not December.

“It was as much of an emotional journey as it was physical. It was an eye-opener and very humbling. They were very brave men.”

Cllr Schillemore echoed these sentiments and added: “Today is about remembering Blondie Hasler and his family home.

“I was amazed at the turnout with Brigadier Spencer and the firefighters. Lord Ashdown was thrilled to be involved.

“What more could I ask for, except perhaps a little less rain? It has been absolutely fantastic.”

The money raised by the crews will be split between The Fire Fighters Charity, The Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and The Special Boat Service Association (SBSA).

The Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service team have plans to recreate the escape route used by Blondie Hasler and his fellow survivor Bill Sparks next year.

The plaque was erected by Catherington Village Residents’ Association and co-funded by East Hampshire District Council.

Standard bearers representing the Armed Forces were at the ceremony on Monday and the military kayaks the firefighters used were on display.

A bugler played the Last Post and Reveille and a minute’s silence was observed.

A buffet was then hosted by Sarah and Greg Hughes the owners of the property in Glamorgan Road, Cathrington, Horndean.

The Hampshire firefighters recreated the five-day mission which covered 90 miles through the treacherous waters of the Gironde estuary into Bordeaux last month.