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Cockleshell Hero honoured with monument in his native Stockport

Cockleshell Hero honoured
4 December 2017
The people of Stockport will this weekend honour their own ‘Cockleshell Hero’ – former milkman James Conway who took part in the Royal Marines’ most famous wartime raid.

Descendants of the 20-year-old Royal Marine, veteran, serving commandos and civic leaders will gather opposite the town’s war memorial art gallery to see a monument unveiled to the canoeist who volunteered to strike a blow at the Nazi war machine.

With 11 comrades, Conway set out to sink German shipping in the occupied French port of Bordeaux in December 1942, paddling 80 miles up the Gironde in canoes – codenamed cockles – to place mines on the enemy vessels.

Just two men survived the mission – Operation Frankton, but better known by its post-war book/film title Cockleshell Heroes. James Conway was not one of them.

He and his comrade Lt John Mackinnon were forced to abandon their canoe Cuttlefish after it was damaged several days into the raid.

The two men fled through occupied France, eventually reaching the small town of La Réole three dozen miles southeast of Bordeaux, where the pair were betrayed to the local authorities when Lt Mackinnon needed treatment for a knee injury.

The two men were handed over to the Gestapo, but never betrayed their mission or their comrades. They were subsequently executed under Hitler’s infamous ‘Commando Order’ – though the date and location are not known.

By then, however, the Germans had six damaged ships to deal with – one of them needing extensive repairs.

Just two of the original six cockles reached Bordeaux but the limpet mines the marines placed on vessel caused havoc; future First Sea Lord Lord Mountbatten subsequently called Frankton a “brilliant little operation carried through with great determinism and courage.”

To mark the 75th anniversary in James Conway’s home town, artist Luke Perry was selected to create a memorial. He spent months researching the clothing the marine wore, and met his family to capture a near-exact representation of James on the monument.

“James Conway’s role as one of the Cockleshell Heroes makes him a true Stockport – and national hero,” said Cllr Kate Butler, Stockport Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration,

“I’d encourage residents to come together at this event to commemorate the bravery and the life of a local young man who paid the ultimate price for this nation.”

Former Commandant General Royal Marines Maj Gen Martin Smith said the Corps felt honoured “that on the 75th anniversary of James Conway’s death, Stockport is recognising one of its sons who bravely served in our Corps and gave his life in the service of his country.”

The unveiling takes place at 2pm on Sunday 10 December at Mount Tabor.

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