The story of the cockleshell heroes written by CE Lucas Phillips is another gem following on from his 'Greatest Raid of All' story on the raid on the docks at St Nazaire. This story about a raid on the harbour at Bordeaux by members of the Royal Marines in their small two man canoes is another classic.
The synopsis on the training and men involved gives us a great insight into how relatively ordinary off the street guys are moulded into a highly effective assault team that carries out one of the most daring raids of the war. The successful raid achieves its objectives with the minimal of resources and manpower.
The determination and bravery of the team is beyond words, achieving their goals whilst overcoming bad weather and an even worse enemy. The successful outcome of the raid is marred by the cold blooded execution of most of the ten man group after they are captured team by small team. Two eventually escape capture and return to the UK after evading the Germans through occupied France.
A great read about an amazing exploit sprinkled with sadness due to the demise of a number of brave young men and the effect that this had on others close to home. I have just ordered the film which I can't wait to view (again) but the film deserves a modern re-release from the classic post war version...it craves it as the story is a classic tale of an extraordinary daring raid that leaves you in awe of the men involved.
Reading my local delivered free paper Stockport Times East April 7, 2011, I discovered that James Conway - one of the heroes was in fact from Stockport, Cheshire.
He was a Co-op milkman who freely admitted he talked to his horse. I am just old enough to remember milk being delivered by a horse. These clever animals would watch the milkman go up somebody's path and they would set off till the next stopping place and wait there for the milkman to catch up.
James Conway had joined up on the same day as the brother-in-law of the man who was pictured in the paper actually reading this book.
This book should be required reading for teenagers in our schools.
The book lit a light in my head and I searched on the internet and found out about the new memorial in France. I found his parents on the 1911 census in Heaton Norris.
James Conway's name is on the Plymouth Naval Memorial Panel 102 Col.3
I am not well enough to visit the war memorial at Stockport Art Gallery but his name is listed there too under Navy and Royal Marines.
Everyone reads names on memorials but they should remember behind each name is a story and some more heroic stories than others.
I had been prompted to write a review as a consequence of the tendentious review submitted in CAPITAL letters by a strange reviewer calling him/herself 'King Arthur' (which now appears to have been deleted, thank goodness). Blondie Hasler regarded CE Lucas Phillips book to be 'the last word' on the subject and his own (i.e., Blondie's) memoirs (I have a copy of a letter from him that says precisely this). Of course Lucas Phillip's did not have access to many of the files that would make a more modern account more accurate (most were not opened in the National Archives until 1972), and there are a couple of minor mistakes in it (such as misspelling Maurice de Milleville, for instance), but this does not detract from the fact that the story is fast-paced and well-told. The review by King Arthur is strange and unbalanced. CE Lucas Phillips was a first class military historian whose works have received widespread acclaim, including best selling accounts of Kohima and the St Nazaire raid. His great skill lay in weaving the details of a story into an exciting, readable narrative, and he achieves this perfectly in this book.
What is remarkable about this story , is that the six who were captured did not betray their colleagues under Gestapo interrogation.I have the first publication of Lucas Phillips book , at that time it was not known what had happened to other eight. Only much later in the 1960's/1970's , were the German intelligence reports discovered. Hitler had ordered their execution before which there were to be 'no holes barred ' in the interrogation to gain information as to what their intention might be.The German report makes note of the fact they gained no information and to the soldiery bearing of the young men when faced with the firing squad. Boys really.Sargent Wallace was from Dublin was a time served Marine who should have gone back home but insisted on going on the raid.The book and film do not lie. They were truly heroic and ought to be remembered by all of us.When I traced their route in the Gironde in recent years , no one in the tourist offices knew anything. Sad. Read this great adventure and spare a thought. You owe them that.