Written by


Published by

Traveller's Joy Publishing



This is an extraordinary story of heroism, barbarism and ultimate success that deserves to be remembered. Roger and Sandra Downton's recreation of Operation Frankton is a gripping adventure.

Bernard Cornwell


1942-2012 70th Anniversary of Operation Frankton


Roger interviews Cockleshell survivor Bill Sparks

Whilst working as a producer at Shepperton Film Studios in the early 1990’s, Roger and his co-producer were granted the privilege and honour of visiting Bill Sparks D.S.M and his wife Rene at their retirement home. This personal visit and audience with the last of the surviving Cockleshell Heroes afforded them a relaxed, warm, welcoming atmosphere, and proved to be a unique research opportunity for their proposed documentary. Roger’s meeting with Sparks was fruitful and resulted in a wealth of intimate information regarding training for Operation Frankton and the true nature of the close relationship that unwittingly manifested itself between Sparks and Hasler who found themselves in the close quarter confines of a canoe during training, on the raid and on their long, gruelling walk and claustrophobic incarcerations during their miraculous escape under the noses of the Nazis, spies and Vichy French. All this EXCLUSIVE documentation (over a dozen pages written by Bill Sparks himself) has been crucially important to the authenticity of Roger and Sandra’s book, ‘In War Heroes Wake’. Bill’s answers, details and quotations in reply to Roger’s questions concerning ‘Operation Frankton’, and the Hasler/Sparks confined relationship, are totally original, amusing and, essentially (being exclusive to Roger from the ‘horse’s mouth’), have never been documented before.


Short Video

Click here to read the Foreword by:
General Sir Robert Pascoe, KCB, MBE,
late of the Royal Green Jackets


Click here for a good reason to buy the book



BBC Radio 4's 'EXCESS BAGGAGE' 21st April 2007 featured Roger and Sandra talking to Sandi Toksvig about their canoe trip in the wake of the Cockleshell Heroes. Click here to go the BBC website to hear the interview in full.


BBC Radio 5 Live's Drive programme featured an interview with Roger on 31st March 2011 to mark the opening of the new memorial at La Pointe de Grave. You can listen to the interview using the Flash player below:


If you do not have Flash installed then:







In December 1942, twelve men set out to execute a daring and imaginative attack on enemy shipping lying in the docks of Bordeaux. There unfolded a war story of great human sacrifice, courage, danger, tenacity and achievement. The mission was called Operation Frankton and the men involved became known as the legendary Cockleshell Heroes. At the outset of the Operation, a succession of disasters left only four men to continue with the mission. Eventually, after a gruelling, covert, canoe journey at night in the depths of winter, they successfully planted their specially designed magnetic ‘limpet' mines on the enemy ships moored in the harbour of Bordeaux. Just two men came back alive.

This is not only the story of the Cockleshell Heroes and their famous Second World War raid, but the tale of two ordinary civilians, Roger and Sandra Downton from Poole in Dorset who, in July 2004, inspired by the heroism and daring exploits of the Cockleshell Heroes, retraced, with very little knowledge or experience of canoeing, the course of the daring mission. This absorbing account of Roger and Sandra's research, oddball training programme, adaptation of more ‘economic equipment' and clothing, and their quest to raise sponsorship are all lightheartedly explained and delicately interwoven together with the gripping story of the original men of Operation Frankton. Paddling in the wake of those commandos, our intrepid married couple set off up the perilous River Gironde. In a canoe, lovingly called ‘Sardine', follow their frightening struggle with the ferocious currents, the uncertainty of where they would stop over night, and the peregrination that took them past the famous, picturesque wine regions of France, eventually culminating in their triumphant arrival at the scene of the attack in the splendid harbour of Bordeaux. Their challenging and enlightening experiences make interesting and exciting reading. Truly a display of great stamina and fortitude.


The true wartime story of a daring attack in 1942 by canoe on enemy shipping in the docks of Bordeaux. This courageous deed by fearless men who showed contempt for the German occupation of France is cleverly interwoven with the present day escapade by Roger and Sandra Downton. Like the men on the original raid who became the legendary Cockleshell Heroes, Roger and Sandra were subjected to the unpredictable mood swings of the giant, rapid flowing River Gironde. Following the same course and bivvying in the same locations as the commandos, they recaptured the tension the Heroes had felt precariously hiding under the noses of the enemy. A present day adventure with the thrill of a real war story.

Check out our fascinating talk based on this book

For details of how to obtain a copy of ‘In War Heroes Wake’, which is available for £6.95, please go to our Contact page or directly to the Shopping page.


This website does not use cookies. Read our Privacy and Cookie Policy here on our shopping page