Monday was a very special day in Catherington, many residents gathered to watch Lord Paddy Ashdown unveil a Blue Plaque to a Hero who had lived quietly in the community and whose actions were said by the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill to have shortened the war by six months.
Lt Col H.G Blondie Hasler, DSO OBE CdeG RM was the inspiration behind and leader of Operation Frankton (The Cockleshell Heroes) an audacious raid to disable Axis shipping in Bordeaux. An operation from which only two of the ten men who originally set out returned. Two men drowned and six men were captured, interrogated and executed.
Lord Paddy Ashdown was joined by Brigadier Richard Spencer Deputy Commandent Genneral RM and local man Commander Bill Evershed (Retd) to unveil a Blue Plaque on the family home of Blondie Hasler. Bill talked of the man he remembered as a boy, the man who fostered his love of the sea and inspired him to make the Royal Navy his career. Brigadier Spencer spoke of the strategic importance of this operation in maintaining the flow of shipping and goods to Western Europe and Lord Ashdown talked of the style of leadership that Blondie used and the creation of the Special Forces branch of the Royal Navy now known as the Special Boat Service that followed this raid.
The event was attended by the Royal Marine National Standard Bearer and Standards from the SBS and other Royal Marine Association branches who wished to represent their members. Many former Marines had travelled hundreds of miles to be present at this notable event including Lt Col Ewan Southby Tailyour, a close personal friend of the family, who has written Blondies biography. Hampshire District Council Leader Cllr Ferris Cowper, Chairman Cllr David Ashcroft and Chief Executive Sandy Hopkins were also present.
A contingent of local firemen have recently completed the ‘Cockleshell Challenge’, in which they recreated the journey of Blondie Hasler and his men by paddling from Gironde estuary to Bordeaux in canoes similar to those used in the original raid. The trip was the catalyst for Bill Evershed’s original idea for a blue plaque and they approached me for help. I was pleased to support the venture with monies from my Community grant fund. This was supplemented by monies raised by Catherington Village Residents Association.
The day was a real success with well over 100 people attending the event. The Blue Plaque looks superb and is now mounted on the front wall of 15 Glamorgan Road, a tribute to the man who lived there and the men who volunteered for this dangerous mission.
I would like to extend my special thanks to Greg and Sarah Hughes who now own 15, Glamorgan Road for supporting this project. After the ceremony the special guests joined the family for lunch together in Blondie’s former home.
Cllr Sara Schillemore
Photographs: Penny Plimmer, Richard J Veitch, Guy Shepherd