Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC has had his latest “hero of the month” article published in Britain at War, the country’s best-selling military history monthly magazine.
The June issue of the magazine has four pages on the life and career of Corporal William Edward Sparks, DSM. Sparks, known to his friends as Bill, was born in London’s East End and was a Cockney with an infectious laugh.
In 1942, he was chosen as one of just twelve men for a daring mission behind enemy lines. The plan was to use six Cockle Mark II canoes to paddle up the Gironde and Garonne rivers at night to attack German shipping by placing bombs on their hulls.
After being dropped off by submarine in the dead of night, one canoe was damaged and its two-man crew had to withdraw from the mission and return home. Eventually, only Sparks and his CO, Major Herbert “Blondie” Hasler, completed their task – the other eight men died or were captured and then executed.
Hasler and Sparks had to scuttle their canoe before making a long and hazardous journey, with the help of the French Resistance, into Spain. Hasler was eventually awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Sparks the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).
Sparks died in November 2002, aged 80, long after the cloak-and-dagger mission was turned into an acclaimed film called “The Cockleshell Heroes”, which was released in 1955.
Lord Ashcroft’s articles for Britain at War over the past eight years have been largely based on excerpts from his six books on gallantry: Victoria Cross Heroes, Special Forces Heroes, George Cross Heroes, Heroes of the Skies, Special Ops Heroes and Victoria Cross Heroes Volume II.
Lord Ashcroft is a military historian who has lectured extensively on courage and his various medal collections.