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Cockleshell Hero ‘Blondie’ Hasler honoured in his hometown

20 October 2016
In quintessential Hampshire suburbia there is now a memorial to the man who led arguably the greatest raid in Royal Marines history.

A commemorative blue plaque reminds anyone who wanders down Glamorgan Road in Catherington, a village just north of Waterlooville, where Herbert George – better known as ‘Blondie’ – Hasler spent much of his life.

In 1942, the 28-year-old Royal Marines officer dreamed up, then trained for and finally led a team of a dozen commandos into the heart of occupied France to blow up enemy shipping in Bordeaux Harbour – a deed immortalised in print and on celluloid as the Cockleshell Heroes.

Hasler and fellow marine Bill Sparks, who shared a canoe in the 60-plus-mile paddle up the Gironde in December 1942, were the only two men to survive, escaping through neutral Spain; the rest either drowned or were executed by the Germans under Hitler’s notorious ‘commando order’.

The attack crippled six German freighters – Churchill praised the feat and claimed it help shorten the war by up to six months.

For a community to embrace any of its heroes in all their guises is heartwarming for those of us who continue to serve

Brig Richard Spencer, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines

As a result numerous memorials to Operation Frankton have been erected on both sides of the Channel over the years, but none in the village which Hasler called home for much of his life.

Cllr Sara Schillemore said it was time to put that right and with the help of the residents’ association arranged for the plaque to be installed on Hasler’s former home (he died in 1987 aged 73).

Former Royal Marine/SBS officer and later leader of the Lib Dems Lord Ashdown, a historian of the mission – he called it the “most courageous raid of World War 2” – performed the unveiling honours alongside Brig Richard Spencer, Deputy Commandant General Royal Marines, and green beret/historian Ewen Southby-Tailyour, Hasler’s biographer.

“For a community to embrace any of its heroes in all their guises is heartwarming for those of us who continue to serve,” said Brig Spencer.

“Operation Frankton was a unique operation that had a huge strategic effect in terms of enabling the battle of the Atlantic to continue, keeping supplies coming into our country.”

Hasler cared little for the film (which strayed considerably from the true story of the raid – he boycotted the premier, but his mum didn’t), certainly didn’t like the word ‘cockleshell’ (made up for the book which preceded the movie – the canoes were actually called cockles) and never regarded himself as a hero.

His neighbour, retired RN commander Bill Evershed, said Hasler “carried the loss of his men all his life”

Cdr Evershed continued: “If he had been here today he would have been intrigued but he would not want any fuss about his achievements.

“It was in 1946 that he first took me sailing in Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent thus nurturing a love of sailing which I took forward into my own later career in the Royal Navy.

“I wish for him to be remembered as a unique character. He was one in 1,000.”

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