William Edward "Bill" Sparks
|Born||5 September 1922|
|Died||30 November 2002|
Alfriston, East Sussex
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Medal|
William Edward "Bill" Sparks DSM (5 September 1922 – 1 December 2002) was a British Royal Marine Commando in World War II. He was the last survivor of the "Cockleshell Heroes" of Operation Frankton in 1942; a team of commandos who paddled 85 miles from the Bay of Biscay up the Gironde estuary to Bordeaux in German occupied France, to plant limpet mines on merchant ships supplying the Nazi war machine.
Sparks was born in Bartholomew Buildings, Seward Street, Clerkenwell, London and joined the Royal Marines upon the outbreak of World War II. He volunteered for hazardous service as a way of avenging his brother Benny who had died on the cruiser HMS Naiad.
During the night of 7 December 1942, ten Royal Marines set out in five canoes on Operation Frankton. They caused considerable damage to five ships, but six of the men were shot by the Germans and two drowned. Sparks and Major Herbert "Blondie" Hasler were pursued through France and Spain by the Germans for three months before they reached safety in Gibraltar.
When Hasler flew home, Sparks was sent back to England under arrest, as no one in Gibraltar could corroborate his story. On arrival, he escaped from the military police and went to see his father, who had been told that he was missing in action. Two days later, he reported to the Admiralty and was about to be arrested again, when he slipped out to Combined Operations Headquarters, where he was greeted with astonishment.
Bill lived for many years in Loughton, Essex before moving in the early seventies to Canvey Island. After the death of his first wife Violet in 1982, Bill and his second wife Irene relocated to Alfriston, East Sussex.
Sparks was survived by his second wife, a daughter and three sons, one of whom, Terry Sparks, became a captain in the Royal Marines. One of his grandchildren, Paul Sparks, served in the Royal Air Force Regiment.
Honours and awards
- 29 June 1943 - Distinguished Service Medal For courage and enterprise: Marine William Edward Sparks, Ply.X.3664..
- There is a blue plaque to Sparks on the council house he occupied after the war in Poundfield Road, Loughton, Essex.
- Munn, Michael; Sparks, William (1992), The Last of the Cockleshell Heroes: a World War Two memoir — ISIS Large Print ISBN 978-1-85695-125-8
- Bill Sparks (2008), Cockleshell Commando, Pen & Sword — ISBN 978-1-84415-894-2
- "No. 36072". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 June 1943. p. 2946.
- The Last of the Cockleshell Heroes: A World War Two Memoir, Google books
- Cockleshell Commando, Amazon
- https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1415009/Marine-Bill-Sparks.html Daily Telegraph Obituary "Marine Bill Sparks"