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Customer Review

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class research & worthy of the efforts to publish FACTS, 4 Nov. 2011
This review is from: The Cockleshell Heroes: The Final Witness (Hardcover)
I have read all the books relating to the "Cockleshell Heroes" and saw the film when I was 10 (some 58 years ago!). Little did I know I would become friends with the "Last of the Cockleshell Heroes", Bill Sparks DSM. We became friends in the last 7 years of his life.
Needless to say, when reviewing Mr REES book I measure the substance and content by comparing my collective knowledge with what he wrote, and for that I award 5 stars - because of the unquestionable detail Mr REES has accumulated and shared with his readers in this fine and notable historic volume. Let me just say there are 'things' in Mr REES book that Bill did not, or could not remember, or was not aware of (no long visits to the PRO) that I have updated my knowledge of the "Cockleshell Heroes". If you care about historical FACTS and not fiction you will enjoy this book beyond your expectations.
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Initial post: 27 Oct 2014 20:52:54 GMT
Bryn R. Wayt says:
Paddy Ashdown & his 'sortie' relating to the Cockleshell Heroes" - this is what I think.
Don't buy Ashdown's book, buy Quentin Rees book, The Final Witness" (far superior and £5 cheaper).

Now for Ashdown's - "A brilliant little operation"

I have to say I was very disappointed this book came so late after the event, and the fact many copious notes were re-runs of previously published material, with many examples of mistakes in the art of copying script.
I have read every book related to FRANKTON. I had become a stout friend of Bill Sparks DSM for many years before his death, 30th November 2002, and I had the honour of being at Bill's funeral and prior that having him and Renie at my home (and vice versa).
Through his friendship I gained some fine tuning and insight of those brave men.

I far prefer Quentin Rees book, "The Final Witness" on many counts.

Paddy Ashdown's attempt to chronicle Operation FRANKTON is a copy-cat affair albeit with some more political data unearthed by the passing of time added for effect.
However, Quentin Rees wins hands down by his superbly researched and documented text in "Cockleshell Heroes - The Final Witness" - it is also cheaper, £20 instead of £25.
The unpalatable shame that Ashdown did NOT use loads of info from Rees was a massive mistake.

Paddy Ashdown has done well in using public access sources on the famous raid, but it's an unfathomable shame he waited so long getting his oar in the water with his 420 page sortie.
I don't doubt he made strenuous efforts stoking the memories of those involved, at all sorts of peripheral levels.
Getting the book published in 2012 (two years "labour of love" work) and the last of the Cockleshell Heroes, Bill Sparks DSM having died 10 years prior was tardy timing.
Was that not a fat opportunity totally missed Paddy? An interview with a legend, and facts first hand from the last survivor of the raid, all gone. Tch Tch.

Misquoted texts in Ashdown's book from other writers, rewritten, makes matters worse I'm afraid.

I cannot see why anybody writing about FRANKTON has not accurately recorded the sad demise of Bill's brother Benny: the record shows, his ship HMS Naiad was torpedoed by U-565 just north of Sidi Barrani, Egypt (32 degrees, one minute North; 26 degrees, 20 minutes East) on the 11 March 1942 and not as other reports suggest he died, "off Crete". Paddy could have researched that properly and corrected the error of the past. Tch Tch.

I'm afraid I would not have let Lt Cdr L'Estrange and his three assistants off the hook for failing in their duty to bring to the attention of "Blondie" Hasler and his men, those three very treacherous tide rips which cost the raiding party very dearly indeed - "something the Admiralty hydrographers missed" (Hasler). Why in God's name did every dry-land planner and sailors ALL miss those ancient bad waters?
Lt Dick Raikes said of L'Estrange, "....an expert on that part of the French coast". Not expert enough in my book.

Discrepancies make for questions: "...in the back of the neck of the victims (p98 "The Final Witness, 12 lines down) yet on page 192 (6 lines down) Ashdown's book says, "...back of the heads of the victims".
Why did Ashdown miss out completely the narrative Bill Sparks gave of the sentry on one of the ships catching "Catfish" in the arc of his torch and trying to follow the drift of the canoe? Another opportunity for a good part of the story missed Paddy.

Ashdown's book p207, note number 3, in that, "...paddling strongly in single [sic] paddles" and adds these words, "visible and audible to both sides of the banks" whereas Rees (The Final Witness) says more accurately the words used by Hasler, "we must have been clearly visible and audible at least 200 yards away".

Here's another Ashdown version on p230 "shrugged his shoulders and, returning to work, gave Hasler a nod of his head which indicated that he should go inside and see `her indoors'. "
Rees "The Final Witness" says, "the old man, who shrugged his shoulders, passing all decisions onto `her inside'. "
To the casual reader, it's as if one schoolboy is copying anothers homework, and the teacher recognises a distinct similarity between the two pupils homework! Rees handed in his first.
These subtle variations between publications causes doubts as to who has actually done their homework correctly and with singular authority.
"The Fiery Woodman" episode is littered with various alterations/juggling of the scripts.

Ashdown's book on p271, "..... still naked, jumped between the sheets". Really? Nowhere else in any other book does that scenario leap out the pages. Where did that come from Paddy?
We know "Blondie" was not too enamoured with Sparks for various reasons, so the idea the Officer and Gentleman, no matter how tired and bereft of sleep would share that bed naked with an "other rank" also naked is very, very doubtful.

Who would believe Hasler did not have a "Tommy Gun" - being the OC of the raiding party ?
On page 106 (5 lines from the bottom) of "Blondie" by Ewen Southby-Tailyour, mentions "....including Blondie's Tommy Gun which he considered an unnecessary weight" yet in Ashdown's book on p366 Appendix A, under the "Weapons & Explosives" Hasler is NOT listed as having a "silent Sten 9mm" but L (Laver) and W (Wallace) are listed as having a Sten Gun? Another rip tide!

Then we have the "safe arrival" signal agreed when Blondie got back to the UK.
"Blondie" p115 "the chicken is good". p127 "The Final Witness" - "Le pollute est bon".
Then we have Ashdown almost agreeing with Rees' version but for the reference on p294, when Ashdown mentions, "But Armand demanded something special, so they fixed on `Le pollutes sont arrives' - which was never mentioned by other chroniclers.

Then of Sparks `cockney' accent, p132 "The Final Witness" - "Jean remembered Paillet saying of Sparks, `He is a Cockney; no German could replicate that accent' With this confirmation.."
Ashdown on p279 "which according to Pailler could never have been imitated by a German".

Then we have the discrepancy about the words Ronnie Sillars uttered: p299 Ashdown "it was an evening I will always remember" but on p141 of Rees "The Final Witness" we have the quote, "it was an evening I shall always remember". Shall or will ?
I believe Rees wrote the correct version, as he used the full rank and name and middle initial of Sillars, namely, "Major Ronnie G. Sillars RM" so accuracy was a foundation Rees worked from - not so much Ashdown's homework.

In Ashdown's book p401 he says in note 6 the Combined Ops Badge was composed of, "In fact, the Combined Operations badge of anchor, wings and a tommy gun". More accurately the "wings" are in fact the head-on view of a maritime bird in full flight, looking right, and not just "wings" - but I suppose I'm being pernickety.
Had he viewed the letter to Bill Sparks DSM from Admiral Lord Mountbatten (p21 of Bill's Memoirs "Cockleshell Commando" (my copy signed by Bill on the 19 October 2002) Paddy would see in the top left of the letter is the embossed image of the Combined Operations crest showing the bird in full flight, below which is the Tommy gun athwartship, and of course the full frontal anchor in the background as a main feature overlaid by the other motifs.

I notice Lucas Phillips has an enormous amount of mentions plastered all over the place in the `notes' section (p375 - p410) whilst the authoritative and acclaimed professional writer/researcher Quentin Rees get a lousy 9 mentions in toto - p379 (note 8, 12, 16, and 18 which were all about canoes !) and p384 note 11, 32 (again about canoes) and note 38 on page 385 which comes from "Cockleshell Heroes" and on p387 note 33 (canoes again).
From the masterpiece writing of Quentin Rees in, "The Final Witness" there is but ONE note that Ashdown picks from this deep field quarry filled with accurate facts and information - Page 391 in Ashdown's book, note 36, refers to p175 from that far superior book by Rees.

The brass-neck impertinence of Ashdown seems to know no boundaries: p402 note 16 of his book, "This appears to be, in most other details of the escape phase, rather unreliable both as to chronology and events. On this phase of Frankton especially, Lucas Phillips appears the more reliable source" !

On page 403 note 6 Ashdown continues to re-write history about what actually happened and showing renewed disrespect of Mne Bill Sparks DSM recollections of when the gendarmes ran in when "other sources" are taken as gospel !
More effrontery by Ashdown is displayed when he favours Phillips: "to follow Lucas Phillips' chronology but to add local information (especially from Boisnier) where it appears both relevant and convincing" ! That's the LibDem mentality kicking in.

Not content to take the word of Hasler and Sparks, Ashdown on p404 note 11 throws another political spanner in the works about, "conflicting accounts" during the stay in Ruffec. "I [Ashdown] have based this account on what appears to me to be the most reliable outline - that given in Lucas Phillips (although he, and at least one other account, add a night at Toque Blanche which simply wasn't there). I have supplemented Lucas Phillips' outline story with details given later, mostly local accounts where these seem to be appropriate and are not directly contradictory".
LibDem rewrites history the way he sees it. Judge & Jury Ashdown rides again.

Conclusion.
Don't buy Ashdown's book - buy Quentin Rees one, it's far far better and £5 cheaper.
Ashdown's 420 pages are produced because of the larger type font used, whilst Rees employed the smaller 10pt on 12pt Adobe Caslon Pro giving 320 pages FULL of fact and no political chicanery.

As an example of the superior detail that Quentin Rees employs is the fact that he delicately covers when George Jellicoe Sheard's wife died in an air-raid, on the 13 June 1943 aged 26 at 21a Sussex Road in Ford, Devonport. Something Ashdown could not be bothered to record properly; "killed in an air raid on Plymouth...." was his pathetic note 1 on p408.
He adds as if he is an authority, "we do not know the exact date of her death" - you do now sunshine. Pathetic research Paddy - wake up and do it properly next time.
Ashdown was far more interested in taking apart the evidence of a few Cockleshell Heroes and adding his spin, as politicians do.
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