Lord Paddy Ashdown is to unveil a plaque to commemorate Catherington’s ‘cockleshell hero’, ‘Blondie’ Hasler where a blue plaque will be placed on the family home of Lieutenant Colonel HG ‘Blondie’ Hasler, the driving force behind a daring World War II raid.
The event, on Monday 17 October, will be attended by senior military figures, including Brigadier R A W Spencer OBE ADC, Deputy Commandant General of the Royal Marines, as well as Blondie Hasler’s biographer Ewen Southby-Tailyour. Lord Ashdown, himself a former SBS officer, will unveil the plaque at 11.30am on the house in Glamorgan Road.
Lt Col Blondie Hasler DSO OBE CdeG RM planned and led Operation Frankton, a daring raid in 1942 to disable enemy shipping in Bordeaux by paddling canoes packed with mines up the Gironde.
Thirteen Royal Marines, dubbed the Cockleshell Heroes, after their canvas canoes, left Scotland in December 1942 in the submarine, HMS TUNA, bound for the Gironde estuary. One canoe was damaged while being unloaded through the submarine hatch so its two-man crew was unable to go. The remaining ten men paddled, under cover of darkness, towards the estuary.
Tragically two canoes capsized in the estuary tide-races. Of their crews, two men were drowned and two soon captured. The crew of a third canoe were later betrayed and captured by the enemy.
Only two canoes reached their destination where they successfully attached their limpet mines to ships berthed in the harbor, disabling six vessels.
Of the ten men who had left the submarine only two finally returned. Two men drowned and the remaining six were captured, interrogated, tortured and executed by the Germans. Blondie Hasler and his partner Bill Sparks escaped over land, were sheltered by the Resistance and finally reached neutral Spain and Gibraltar.
This operation gave rise to the creation of the now famous Commando Unit, the SBS, within the Royal Marines Corps.
During the ceremony Commander Bill Evershed, RN Rtd, a friend of Blondie Hasler and his family will say a few words about the man.
Cllr Sara Schillemore, councillor for Catherington, arranged the event and donated £500 from EHDC’s councillor grant scheme towards the plaque. This was supplemented by funds raised by Catherington Village Residents’ Association.
She said: “Blondie was from Catherington and it is important that the sacrifices these men made are not forgotten.It was a highly-dangerous mission that was heavily reliant on the ingenuity and courage of the men involved and Blondie masterminded the whole operation. The then Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, said their efforts probably shortened WW2 by six months.”
“The unveiling of the plaque has become a significant event for the village and for the Royal Marines and we will be delighted to welcome many high-ranking representatives to the ceremony. I’m delighted that one of Catherington’s most famous residents is being commemorated in this way.”