We must not forget what these brave men did

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For many years, their bravery and courage remained classified.

Only those with appropriate security clearance knew the story of a band of brothers whose wartime reconnaissance missions were of such vital importance.

The 200 young men of the elite Combined Operations Pilotage Parties risked their lives to save those of others – and some paid the ultimate price for putting themselves in such danger.

It was their efforts that helped to pave the way for the D-Day landings in 1944.

If they hadn’t dodged German defences to carry out surveys of the seabed and shoreline and bring back samples of sand for analysis, who knows how many more lives would have been lost during the historic invasion of Normandy’s beaches?

They swam in darkness through the freezing waters of the Channel and had barely enough oxygen in the miniature submarines they used.

But doggedly they carried on until they had completed their mission.

They truly were heroes, yet their exploits were destined to remain secret while the Cockleshell Heroes were rightly feted and saw their own brand of heroism turned into a film.

So it is fitting to finally see a permanent memorial to the COPP unit created on the seafront at Hayling, the island that was its base from late 1942 to the end of the Second World War three years later.

It’s taken a lot of effort for the COPP Memorial Association to get to this point and we applaud them for their persistence when some opposed the idea of a memorial.

The pity is that only five Coppists survive and only three were well enough to make it to yesterday’s event. There are unlikely to be any more ceremonies.

But their pride was evident and entirely justified.

They and all their COPP colleagues are special men and we must never forget what they did. As we prepare to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, we will always owe them a debt of gratitude.