Operation Frankton (Cockleshell Heroes Mission) Report by Darryl Charlwood

First of all I would like to thank you all for donating and enabling me to hit my target and raise over £5,700 for the Pilgrim Bandits charity. I had a great week away, although physically very demanding Kayaking 80 miles in 5 days! It was inspirational to spend time with the five injured servicemen who had all lost their legs due to IED’s in Afghanistan and one who also kayaked with only one arm! Below is my account of our time spent in France. Friday 30th May & Saturday 31st May We all met at Portsmouth and caught the overnight ferry to France then drove down Saturday and set up our camp at Pauillac on the banks of the Gironde. Accommodation was provided by Army tents with roughly 7 to a tent sleeping on camp beds. We soon realised we had a snorer in our midst when most were kept awake that night, luckily I had my wax ears plugs after learning from bitter previous experiences.  Meals consisted of eating army ration packs which were in effect boil in the bag ready meals which were okay initially but you soon realised they all tasted fairly similar. Sunday 1st June The morning was spent doing a gentle training session of 10 miles in the kayaks just to warm us up. In the afternoon we visited Le Verdon with the French Frankton remembrance society and met a 91 year old French lady who as a 17 year old girl had helped hide and feed the original members of the mission in December 1942. She is due to meet the Queen this week in Paris and receive an OBE. They took us to visit the Cockleshell memorial sites in the area, which was very moving to hear how and what they did when the conditions were a lot colder and more hostile than they were for us. Monday 2nd June Day 1 started at Le Verdon and finished 12 miles later at Port De Goulee. This was a horrendous start at the mouth of the Gironde as there was a large sea swell and lots of chop due to strong winds which meant the Kayaks were very difficult to control and keep straight to avoid capsizing. Luckily only one of the kayaks capsized, and after a hard slog with a slight detour up the wrong inlet due to being wrongly directed by the safety boat which had GPS navigation we were then corrected by our Kayak instructor armed with his vineyard map, and finished in 4 hours! Tuesday 3rd June Day 2 started at Port De Goulee at 4pm to avoid paddling against the tide. We launched in the river inlet in thick mud and finished in a muddy slipway. This was for 20 miles and was met with some dread due to the conditions the day before. Thankfully the river was a lot calmer and we managed the distance in only 4 hours. Kerry Swain from ITV arrived to start filming for the week to show on Meridien. That evening we suffered our 4th night of horrendous snoring and two members of tent vacated to sleep in the van as they couldn’t stand it any longer! Not good as early start next day. Wednesday 4th June Day 3 was only for 11 miles but early start at 8. Woke at 5 with rain drumming on tent and rain drops hitting my face, obviously army tents are not that weather proof!! As we arrived at slipway to start the heavens opened with a torrential downpour.  It took us 3 hours to kayak to our destination with occasional rain showers.  By now the sorest part of my body surprisingly was my backside and not my arms due to the Kayak seat!! That evening the snorer was evicted from our tent and made to sleep at the far side of the camp on his own and everyone enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep. Thursday 5th June Day 4 the 30 mile Kayak into Bordeaux and out again – Lightbulb moment!!! When I signed up was told 60 miles in 5 days, by my calculation we had done 43 so far with 30 + 7 left for day 4 & 5 which equates to 80 miles!!!!! The morning started with clear bright skies at 8 a.m. with the 15 mile Kayak into Bordeaux which we managed to do in 4 hours. We stopped on route on a muddy bank for a quick rest and comfort break where several people fell in the mud which made me decide to stay in the kayak, bad mistake! Over an hour later my bladder was bursting at the seams and had me in considerable agony due to the amount of water I had drunk and left me with a serious dilemma!!! When we arrived in Bordeaux we were supposed to stop at the old submarine pens but couldn’t get in so we had lunch on a grassy muddy bank and a well-earned rest before setting off an hour later for our 15 mile return journey. By then the temperatures had hit 28 degrees which made for a hot paddle back which we did in just under 4 hours. Friday 6th June Day 5 started on the 70th Anniversary of D Day with a short 7 mile kayak to Blaye where the original mission ended with the two surviving members of the mission. At various points along the way we had dropped pebbles from Southsea with the names of the original members of the mission written on them, at various points to commemorate what they had done. The last day was relatively easy apart from the last 2 miles which ended as we had started with heavy swell and strong winds but luckily no drama. Conclusion So that was that 80 miles kayaking in 5 days which I never thought I could do at the age of 50! It was a fantastic experience and inspirational to do this with the injured servicemen who are an example to us all on what you can achieve with a lot of grit and determination. Andy Reid has only one arm and had a paddle attached to his prosthetic arm which rubbed his stump and created blisters from day one but at no time did he complain even though he was in agony. It was a pleasure to be in the company of Andy, Ben Parkinson MBE, Jim Wilson, Colin Hamilton and Hari Budha Magar. Not sure I want to see a kayak again for a while though!!! Thanks once again for all your support. Darryl