Commandos, canoes and a world film premiere

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On this day in 1955 the world premiere of the film Cockleshell Heroes was held at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square, London.

The film was a fictionalised version of the real life commando raid in Bordeaux in which Major ‘Blondie’ Hasler led Royal Marine commandos in canoes (cockles) up the Gironde estuary in south-west France and damaged several blockade runners with limpet mines.

The secret unit, the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment, was formed in July 1942, and trained at Eastney Barracks and in the Solent.

The frogmen and canoeists achieved their objective on December 11, 1942, destroying vital radar and other equipment that Germany was expporting to Japan.

Ten men took part in the raid but only two returned, Major Hasler and Corporal Bill Sparks.

Both survivors worked as advisors on the film.

The training sequences were filmed at Eastney and the Dockyard and Fort Brockhurst railway station were also featured.

Written by Brian Forbes, it was directed by Jose Ferrer, who also starred in it, and included Trevor Howard, Anthony Newley and Dora Bryan in the cast – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.