Bill Sparks

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William Edward "Bill" Sparks
Born 5 September 1922
Clerkenwell, London
Died 30 November 2002
Alfriston, East Sussex
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Marines
Rank Marine
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"; a team of commandos who paddled 85 miles from the Bay of Biscay up the Gironde River to Bordeaux in German occupied France, to plant limpet mines on merchant ships supplying the Nazi war machine.

Operation Frankton[edit]

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 MPs 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.

During the rest of the war, he served in Burma, North Africa and Italy. Afterwards, he worked as a bus driver, during the Malayan Emergency as a police lieutenant, and then as a bus inspector.

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[edit]

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