Mark 7 military canoes. Photos supplied by Quentin Rees
and published with permission
Quentin Rees’s recent book Cockleshell Canoes is a thoroughly researched and well illustrated celebration of a group of people who have become part of canoe history.
Some, such as Blondie Hasler and the team of commandos who took part in the daring Operation Frankton are already well known. Commemorated in a major film titled Cockleshell Heroes, it was an attack by ten commandos in canoes on Bordeaux Harbour in occupied France during December 1942. British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill believed the mission shortened World War II by six months, and Admiral the Earl Mountbatten deemed it as the ‘most courageous and imaginative of all the raids ever carried out by the men of Combined Operations Commands‘.
Sadly, most of the brave individuals involved were eventually captured and shot by the Germans, who at that time regarded commandos as equivalent to spies.
However, the roles of many others have previously remained unsung. In this book Rees has weaved together real-life testimonies from the stories of the courageous soldiers who used the canoes, their military commanders, and the canoes’ inventors and designers, and tells of an epic journey of progress that took canoe development took from Cornwall, all along the Southern English Coast and beyond – even to the tropical island of Ceylon.
The canoes proved to be valuable in many of the theatres of WWII, and thousands of the various models were sent worldwide, often being used by the various Special Forces, including by the the espionage specialists of Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Click here to buy a copy from Amazon – The Cockleshell Canoes: British Military Canoes of World War Two.
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Like many Brits I’ve been enjoying the BBC television series Coast, which is made up of interesting segments about various stretches of our coastline. It’s been good stuff most of the time, and has covered areas of our coast most people never get near, such as Spurn Point, and it has often been illuminating and informative.
If I was to make a complaint it would be that at times I have felt the influence of middle-class London youngsters laughing just a little too hard at people who live or holiday at Northern seaside resorts. Directed largely from London as it is, I suppose we should not be surprised that the BBC should be like this from time to time.
Watching this otherwise very enjoyable piece of television couple of weeks ago, I noticed a segment on the Hebridean boatbuilder John MacAulay, and was inspired to use Google to see what I could discover about him.
Here are the BBC’s notes from the programme:
Here’s what I found when I Googled for John Macaulay. First, here’s a picture of his yard:
Here’s a scrap of video from the film Am Baile in which he talks about boatbuilding and his ambition to pass his skills on to a younger generation:
The way that Google can broaden one’s perspective of people can be wonderful. Here’s a review of MacAulay’s book making the plausible argument that all those songs, stories and legends about seal people were based on real encounters with a kayak-using people who used to be seen along the Scottish coast:
Seal-folk and Ocean Paddlers: Sliochd Nan Ron
I’m reminded of all those Australian Aboriginal stories about giant creatures that seem to be supported by fossil evidence – or was it that the fossils were the source of the stories?
Anyway, in case you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here are some sites that may give some insight:
There are lots of these stories and ballads. Here’s one recorded by the Oxford book of ballads of 1910:
And here’s the Child Ballads version: