A NEW memorial in honour of Wirral’s “Cockleshell Heroes” will be unveiled next month.
A plaque is to be placed on the promenade at Woodside Ferry will remember a group of Royal Marine canoeists who were behind the most daring raids of World War II.
The Marines included Birkenhead-born Corporal Albert Frederick ‘Bert’ Laver, whose relatives still live in Wirral and will be attending the special ceremony.
Corporal Laver was aged just 22 when he signed up for the top secret mission but he was eventually shot by the Germans for his part in the raid, which was credited for shortening World War II by six months.
The memorial will be unveiled by the Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis, and former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown, who is an ex-member of the Special Boat Service, and has just written a book about the mission, ‘A Brilliant Little Operation.’
Lord Ashdown said: “I am delighted that a permanent memorial to the courage and bravery of the men, who have become known as the ‘Cockleshell Heroes’, is to be unveiled in Birkenhead, home town of Corporal Albert Frederick Laver.
“This was one of the most dangerous and daring raids of World War II, and pitted 10 Marines against 10,000 German troops.
"The young men who took part, including Corporal Laver, knew there was a very good chance that they would not return, and they were prepared to risk their lives at a time when our nation's survival was at stake.
“I am very much looking forward to meeting members of his family, and pleased that they are able to join us on such an important day.”
The Cockleshell Heroes raided Nazi-occupied Bordeaux in December 1942 in ‘Operation Frankton’.
Their target was the harbour complex in the city. The port was very important to the Germans as many merchant ships used it to supply the German Army stationed not only in France but also elsewhere throughout occupied Europe.
The Marines faced 70 miles of paddling upriver in their Cockle Mk II canoes. After moving by night and hiding by day, they reached the target.
They succeeded in sinking one ship and severely damaging four others and doing enough damage in the port to greatly disrupt the use of the harbour for months to come.
Such was the significance of the raid that Winston Churchill said that it helped to shorten World War Two by six months.
Corpopral Laver’s second cousin, Eileen Smith, whose late mother Florence ‘Dolly’ Smith was the last person to see ‘Bert’ - as he was known to the family - the day before he left for action, will be attending the ceremony.
She said: “My mum thought the world of him and the day before he left, he had called round to their house while his ship was berthed at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead.
“They went to the Savoy picture house, Argyle Street, together and my mum remembered him telling her that he was leaving to do something he couldn’t tell her about. All he knew was that he was unlikely to return,’ says Eileen, who now lives in New Brighton.”
She added that years after Bert died, Eileen went to the pictures with her mother to see the film made about the mission in 1955, starring Trevor Howard and Anthony Newley: She said: “She just cried through the whole thing, I think it really hit her that he was such a young man and so brave.”
Mayor of Wirral Cllr Gerry Ellis said: “This is a very important day for Wirral. The courage of the Cockleshell Heroes has gone down in history as one of the most important missions of World War II. It is an honour to pay tribute to one of Birkenhead’s most famous and courageous sons.”
After the ceremony, on Tuesday, December 18, at 12.45pm, Lord Ashdown will sign copies of his book and give a presentation about the mission at Birkenhead Town Hall, Hamilton Square.