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On 7th December 1942, Bill and 9 other Royal Marines set out in 5 canoes down the River Gironde in France on a mission to blow up seven German ships in Bordeaux harbour - officially known as Operation Frankton. They were dubbed the “cockleshell heroes” because of the Cockle Mark II canoes used in the raid. The team were tasked with travelling 60 miles up the river in order to attach limpet mines to enemy ships - travelling only at night to avoid being seen and evade capture. Eight members of the crew were killed or captured during the operation, but it was still deemed a success.
Portrait photograph of Bill Sparkes in the Forces. [1939-1945]. Archive ref num: LT000030/076
Bill brought a boat which he named Catfish after the Cockle Mark II canoe of the same name which he operated along with Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler during Operation Frankton.
Bill standing in his boat Catfish. 1972. Archive ref num: LT000030/052
London Transport employee for 25 years, Sparkes held several roles including bus driver, bus inspector in the east division, and garage inspector at both Barking and Hornchurch.
Article describing Sparkes involvement in the “Cockleshell” raid and his LPTB exploits. September 1986. Archive ref num: LT000030/059
London Transport employee Corporal Bill Sparkes was one of only 2 survivors along with Major Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler from Operation Frankton. Bill was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his heroic actions.
Photograph of Bill Sparkes employed as a bus driver. December 1964. Archive ref num: LT000030/044
A film called The Cockleshell Heroes was released in 1955, with Sparkes and Major Hasler, the only other survivor, acting as technical advisors. The film was directed by Jose Ferrer. At the premiere Bill was introduced to Prince Phillip.
Bill Sparkes meets Prince Philip at the premiere of the film 'The Cockleshell Heroes'. 1955. Archive ref num: LT000030/076