Portsmouth firemen make a splash for charity in daring tribute to Cockleshell Heroes

A team of firefighters from the Portsmouth area are using kayaks to re-trace the route of the Cockleshell Heroes team who used the little boats to undertake a mission to attack German shipping in Bordeaux. From left, firefighters, Jasper Taylor, Tom Davies, and trainer Tom Burgess.
Picture Ian Hargreaves (161220-1)
A team of firefighters from the Portsmouth area are using kayaks to re-trace the route of the Cockleshell Heroes team who used the little boats to undertake a mission to attack German shipping in Bordeaux. From left, firefighters, Jasper Taylor, Tom Davies, and trainer Tom Burgess. Picture Ian Hargreaves (161220-1)

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  • Firefighters set sail on a mission to recreate celebrated Second World War operation
  • Team will paddle 90-mile over five days in the busy Gironde Estuary in France
  • They will retrace the strokes of Royal Marines who completed the route in 1942
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THEY may be full of energy now but this team of daring firefighters has a long and daunting task ahead of them as they attempt to retrace the strokes of an heroic crew of Royal Marines.

The squad of 25 Hampshire firemen will be swapping their hoses for a paddle this weekend as they re-enact one of the most celebrated missions of the Second World War.

The crew set off from Southsea Fire Station last night to tackle the Cockleshell Challenge in aid of four charities.

They aim to paddle 90 miles in kayaks from the open waters of the Bay of Biscay to Bordeaux over five days in homage to the original Cockleshell Heroes. The Commando’s mission, called Operation Frankton, was one of the war’s most daring, small-scale raids.

Taking place on December 7, 1942, it saw a team of Royal Marines planting mines in the German-occupied dockyard after kayaking from the Atlantic Ocean to Bordeaux.

Mark Pannell, watch manager of Hayling Island Fire Station, has helped to set up the challenge.

The French fishermen think we’re crazy going out there in Kayaks

Former Royal Marine Ray Cooper, 72

He said: ‘It will test all of our physical and mental resolve to recreate and complete the 90-mile journey.’

The fundraising firefighters are being led by retired Royal Marine and ex-US Marine Ray Cooper, who has tackled the perilous journey on several occasions.

The 72-year-old Vietnam veteran – a former instructor at the Royal Marines Volunteer Cadet Corps on Whale Island – said: ‘The French fishermen think we’re crazy going out there in kayaks.’

He added: ‘The first thing you learn about the Gironde river is to respect it. If you don’t respect it, it can kill you.’

Tom Davies, 29, is a crew commander at Emsworth Fire Station, and is one of the team tackling the punishing paddle.

He said it was an ‘honour’ to be on the trip, adding: ‘The Gironde can be quite notorious. It’s used as a busy shipping lane so we’ve really got to be careful.’

Fellow firefighter Martyn Elliott, 46, of Drayton, said: ‘All of us are really excited. It’s been a long time coming.’

The team aims to raise £10,000 for Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund, Fire Fighters Charity, Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Special Boat Service Association.

The trip is due to finish on Thursday. To donate, see virginmoneygiving.com/team/CockleshellHeroes