It was an absolute privilege to have contributed to this year's European Heritage Days events with a little help from my employer T...

European Heritage Days: a walk in the woods courtesy of Thales

It was an absolute privilege to have contributed to this year's European Heritage Days events with a little help from my employer Thales, who authorized visits of the historic arboretum located behind our former Le Haillan facility. 

The guided tours were an opportunity for visitors to familiarize themselves with the history of the arboretum and to view some of the most striking trees that are still present on site (atlas cedars, Douglas firs, Japanese camellia, etc.). Despite the damp weather, particularly during the first of the three tours, the 50+ people who took part were delighted to get the inside view of a little-known site that is usually behind closed doors.

The arboretum was initially created at the end of the 18th century by Toussaint-Yves Catros, previously head of the royal tree nurseries until the French Revolution. It extended over an area of 15 to 20 hectares and endured many ups and downs over its history (clear cuts, wartime bombing and the like). What started out as a veritable “garden of Eden” according to contemporary observers – given the number of rare and exotic species planted by Catros as a result of his ties with overseas botanists and societies – is now a more unruly forest where only the most robust species have survived and multiplied. 

This Heritage Days event was a first for Thales in Bordeaux, but will in all likelihood be the only time this happens as we will be vacating the Le Haillan facility in the coming weeks after 46 years spent there. The time was therefore right to organize this Heritage Days event, which was even ranked by local newspaper Sud Ouest as one of the top ten unusual outings to enjoy!

Thanks to everyone who came to visit the arboretum, and a big shout out to Pascal Guesnet, who conducted the tours with me, and to Thales Bordeaux Campus site director Pierre-Emmanuel Raux for fully supporting the project!

During his lifetime, Toussaint-Yves Catros (1757-1836) was saluted as having “raised the art of naturalising foreign plants to the highest degree”. He played a part in planting the pines that secure the sandy coastline of south-western France, developed the practice of growing artichokes in Macau (where the vegetable is now a local speciality) and founded the seed distribution company Catros-Gérand (which still continues to operate out of its head office in Carbon-Blanc near Bordeaux). He also authored a 600-page encyclopedic catalogue of fruit trees, published in 1810 and which can be viewed here.

> Full article about Toussaint-Yves Catros here.
> Full article about the Le Haillan arboretum.

All photos: Xavier Audu/Thales.

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The usual Invisible Bordeaux catchment area is in and around Bordeaux and Gironde, but every now and then the blog does spread its wing...

A towpath trip: cycling along the Canal de Garonne from Castets-en-Dorthes to Agen

The usual Invisible Bordeaux catchment area is in and around Bordeaux and Gironde, but every now and then the blog does spread its wings a little further! (There was, after all, a full article about a sight in Québec City last year…) So it makes sense that I should recount the weekend spent with my wife Muriel cycling along the rather scenic Canal de Garonne from Castets-en-Dorthe to Agen.

The canal, which is officially known as Canal Latéral à la Garonne, is actually far more popular with foreign visitors to France than it is with locals (perhaps it’s not exotic enough, or else is too close to home for most Girondins!). In all it stretches over 193 kilometres, hooking up with the Canal du Midi in Toulouse, the two combining to form a non-stop waterway connection between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

It was built in stages: work began in 1838 on the stretch from Toulouse to Montauban, which opened in 1844; it was extended as far as Buzet-sur-Baïse in 1853 and the canal was fully operational in 1856. In spite of tough competition from the rail and road transport networks, until the 1970s most of the canal traffic was merchant shipping. Now the waterway is mainly the scene of gentle leisure travel. In all, around 450 boats and barges are based on the canal, which in turn accounts for around 500 jobs. 

The point in Castets where the canal links up with the Garonne. Note the iron road bridge in the background.
After the 60-kilometre drive from Bordeaux, Muriel and I park our car and hop on our bikes in Castets at the end-point (or starting point) where the canal meets the Garonne, at the foot of an Eiffel-inspired early 20th-century single-lane iron road bridge. We embark on the towpath and the initial kilometres are a succession of locks, narrow bridges and waterside cafés, while our fellow inhabitants of the canal are fishermen and dog-walkers (generally with very well-trained dogs that are clearly used to encountering cyclists). The backdrop is formed by cornfields, the occasional rows of vines, and extensive sunflower patches which, sadly, are just past their glorious prime at this stage late in August.

Reaching Fontet, barely ten kilometres into our ride, we encounter what will be the strangest sight on the whole trek, the concisely-named “Musée d’artisanat, de monuments en allumettes et sciences naturelles”. Given the all-encompassing name, we had to venture inside and… it truly proved to be one of the most bizarre places we’ve ever visited.

The museum is overseen by volunteers who first take you round a barn filled floor to ceiling with a seemingly random selection of exhibits: taxidermied animals, farming implements, gadgets from bygone times and pieces by local artists. Visitors are then ferried into another building which is the personal kingdom of one Gérard Gergerès, who is present on site to provide the full background story.

This disabled pensioner has taken it upon himself to build model replicas of French landmarks… out of matchsticks. The models are impressive, spectacular and just a little bit eerie too, particularly when pre-programmed son-et-lumière and waterworks features kick in. His take on the palace of Versailles covers much of the floorspace and almost dwarves his version of Reims cathedral, which earned him a mention in the Guinness Book of Records (not quite sure what the precise category was). Anyway, the whole experience was all very peculiar and kind of has to be seen to be believed, although it is most definitely not for the faint-hearted. All of the above can be yours for a 5-euro admission fee.

Photography was one of many things that were prohibited inside the museum, so this picture of the miniature Versailles palace (built out of 450,000 matches over a 14-year period) has been naughtily lifted from the museum website: http://museeallumettes.com
Moving on to one of the stretches where the canal is within easy reach of the Garonne, we stop by one of the canal’s prettiest locks and admire a watermill built in 1880, le Moulin de l’Auriole. It no longer appears to be grinding out flour though. 


A long and especially pleasant plane tree-lined section follows, taking us cyclists out of la Gironde and into le Lot-et-Garonne. As if on cue, we immediately spot some melon patches upon entering the département, which is renowned for its fruit production. We keep our heads down and pass Marmande, which lies somewhere over to our left, and stop in one of the most scenic perched villages on the route: Mas d’Agenais.

A steep road leads us up to the central square and a covered marketplace, which is just a short walk from the village church, Église Saint-Vincent, which we enter in search of Mas d’Agenais’s most valuable possession: a crucifixion scene painted by the Dutch master Rembrandt. The story goes that the piece had ended up in the possession of a family, the Duffours, who were originally from Mas d’Agenais but had moved to Dunkerque in northern France. As a gesture of their attachment to their hometown, they donated the picture to the parish in 1804. The gift must initially have gone virtually unnoticed; it was only really unearthed in the sacristy in 1850! Speculation (very) slowly escalated as to who the artist was and, in 1960 (i.e. 110 years later), infrared analysis revealed Rembrandt’s signature and the date 1631. 

The delightful Mas d'Agenais.
Sadly though, our pre-trip research hasn’t been up to scratch: the painting is conspicuously absent from the church because it is currently in… Bordeaux, where it can be viewed at Cathédrale Saint-André on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays! This is a temporary measure while the display case used to showcase the painting in Mas d’Agenais undergoes repairs (a crack in its joints had meant it had become a health and safety hazard for visitors). Once the painting returns, it will be on show to the general public in “improved security and presentation conditions” according to the message that is currently displayed where the painting should be.  

A Sud Ouest cutting is currently standing in for the Rembrandt masterpiece.
Back on our bikes, we rejoin the canal and make our way past Mas d’Agenais’s magnificent suspension bridge, which has provided a means of crossing the Garonne here since 1840, no less! 

Looking down on the suspension bridge. The canal can be seen in the foreground while the Garonne can be spotted in the background.
We continue to make good progress, cycling through the canal port village of Villetong, where the quayside has been given the name of the “humanitarian sailor” Pierre Ribes. A panel explains that Ribes would depart from that spot every year in September for Royan, prior to heading for Africa, sailing alone on his yacht “Le Sphinx” and carrying medication which he delivered to the needy upon arrival. Nicknamed “Dr Bateau”, Ribes’s 24th such venture, aged 75 in 2004, was to be his last. He remains lost at sea.

Nearby is a warehouse with a number of old tractors and other farm vehicles parked outside, for this is the “Musée des Amis de la Mémoire Paysanne”, where the information panel outside promises “a collection of machines  and tools that retrace the history of agriculture and its mechanization”. It appears to be closed though, so we only alight long enough to take this photo. 


Our next stops are the charming bastide town of Damazan and the wine-growing town of Buzet-sur-Baïse, beyond which the canal loses a bit of its scenic value, certainly once we have passed the curious double lock system that links the canal with the river Baïse. The sound of the busy A63 motorway - connecting Bordeaux and Toulouse - edges ever closer. But this is almost forgotten when crossing a remarkable aqueduct over the Baïse; the structure is undoubtedly one of the most impressive sights on the trip.


The accompanying landscape now moves on to apples and kiwi fruit, and ever so gradually the cycling population ceases to be solely populated by overseas visitors weighted down by bags, given the influx of increasing numbers of more leisurely, urban cyclists… for we are nearing our final destination, Agen. But before we enter the town proper, the canal has one more surprise in store: the unusual Pont-Canal d’Agen. The 539-metre-long, 12.5-metre-wide and 10-metre-high structure enables the canal to cross its older, more energetic cousin, the Garonne river. Completed in 1847 and operational from 1849 onwards, the bridge was built to the designs of engineers Jean-Baptiste de Baudre and Jean Gratien de Job. Needless to say, it is one of Agen’s most renowned and popular landmarks.

The immensely photogenic and slightly mad Pont-Canal d'Agen.
After treating ourselved to a whistle-stop tour of the town centre (which is buzzing on this late August Saturday afternoon), Muriel and I make our way back out to the quiet village of Brax where we enjoy a deserved rest and meal (washed down with a bottle of Buzet), recharging our batteries before the return trip the next day.

So, what are the lasting impressions of the 180-kilometre round-trip? Well, on the minus side, one thing to bear in mind is that the surface is not quite as smooth as in the movies. Along the section we cycled there are plenty of tree roots playing havoc with the tarmac, making for a sometimes bumpy ride. But reliable sources have stated that the Canal de Garonne boasts a far more pleasant and well-maintained towpath than the Canal du Midi, for instance.

One thing I found striking was that cycling a route like this serves as a gentle reminder that much of France remains farming territory, with agricultural plots as far as the eye can see. 

Apples.
Kiwi fruit.
Melons.
Corn.
Another aspect that I enjoyed about this ride was that you’re in a warm and fluffy environment where fellow cyclists all greet each other, and that when you spot someone on a boat, communication is far more likely and animated than with people on dry land. Then again, the same can no doubt be said about most waterway cycling expeditions.

But generally the overall feeling is that this really as good as it gets as far as cross-country cycling is concerned: much of the time it really does feel like you’re gliding through a postcard view of France and witnessing the kind of scenery you could easily imaging gracing the cover of a tourist brochure. Cycling along this canal is not just a case of being parallel to the Garonne, much of the time it almost feels like being in a parallel world. 


> If, rather than cycling, you're considering cruising the canal by boat or barge, the excellent French Waterways website includes exhaustive practical and navigation information: www.french-waterways.com/waterways/south-west/canal-garonne/
> Ce récit est également disponible en français !

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Don’t you just love it when you finally spot a point of interest that you’ve been cycling/driving past for years without noticing? That ...

The Le Médoc office block and its Véronique Filozof bas-relief


Don’t you just love it when you finally spot a point of interest that you’ve been cycling/driving past for years without noticing? That was the case for me as regards the Le Médoc office building and its remarkable bas-relief mural, to be found on Rue Croix-de-Seguey near Barrière du Médoc.

I was tipped off when reading Marc Saboya’s fine “Chaban, le bâtisseur” which provides a detailed overview of former mayor Jacques Chaban-Delmas’s 50-year architectural and city planning legacy. University lecturer Saboya dedicates two pages to the building he refers to as “CILG”, cross-referencing back in time to its original purpose, which was to house the “Comité Interprofessionnel Logement Guyenne Gascogne".


He notes that the not-for-profit body was founded in 1949 to enable to working citizens to gain easier access to decent housing and, from 1951, from its base on Allées d’Orléans in central Bordeaux, oversaw the collection of compulsory taxes paid by corporations across the region to contribute to housing programmes for their employees, widely-known these days as the “1% patronal” or “1% logement” system.

The unusual Barrière de Médoc office block was therefore tailor-made for the CILG, built to the joint designs of architects Yves Salier, Adrien Courtois, Pierre Lajus, Michel Sadirac and erected between 1966 and 1968. It is unlike any other building in the vicinity: tall, angular, flat-roofed and comprising five rows of 18 curious rectangular alcoves encasing the office windows.

 
But the pièce de résistance is to be enjoyed at street level: the aforementioned bas-relief delivered by renowned painter-illustrator Véronique Filozof (or Filosof) in 1969.

Véronique Filozof in 1960,
source: Wikipedia.
The artist, born in Switzerland in 1904, spent most of her adult life in France and was something of a late-bloomer: she was 44 by the time she began really developing her naïve art skills, after being urged to draw by an acquaintance who edited an art and literary periodical.

She would go on to become well-known and loved for her black-and-white Indian ink sketches (invariably executed using a Sergent-Major quill pen), her colourful oil paintings and her impressive mural designs. Her work was regularly exhibited at a number of high-profile events, including a 1956 function where she joined the ranks of artists including Picasso, Miró and one Jean Cocteau, with whom she developed a strong creative bond and lasting friendship. She died in 1977 in her adopted hometown of Mulhouse in north-eastern France.

Examples of Filozof's artwork: "Le Palais royal, la marchande de légumes", source: veronique-filozof.fr.
"Le Périgourdin", source: veronique-filozof.fr
The Bordeaux mural covers around a quarter of the ground floor and is made up of seven separate vertical panels (including two at a right angle either side) featuring Filozof’s moulded designs. Some depict emblematic city sights such as the Grosse Cloche, Saint-André Cathedral, Pey-Berland Tower and the Esplanade des Quinconces columns. The city’s coat of arms also appears prominently as does the bend in the Garonne river, which flows effortlessly from panel to panel offering some form of continuity. Bordeaux’s maritime heritage is also alluded to with the depiction of a ship navigating its way towards the city.


Other sections of the piece are more generic: trees, animals, a sea of faces, various abstract patterns, a majestic sun and a flower in bloom can all be spotted.


Completing the picture are a number of quotations, no doubt originally chosen to inspire CILG teams to go about their everyday business without losing sight of their raison d’être, to help people build better lives:

"Si tu veux aimer les pauvres, ne leur donne pas du pain, construisez ensemble une tour ou un navire" – Gabriel Rosset ("If you want to love the poor, do not give them bread, together build a tower or a ship.")

"Mais les yeux sont aveugles, il faut chercher avec le cœur" – Antoine de Saint Exupéry ("But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”)

"Pour faire des grandes choses, il ne faut pas être au-dessus des hommes, il faut être avec eux" – Montesquieu ("To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.")

"Celui qui aime écrit sur les murs" – Jean Cocteau ("He who loves writes on walls.")


"Argent, machinisme, algèbre, les trois monstres de notre civilisation." – Simone Weil ("Money, machines, algebra, the three monsters of our civilisation.")

"Penser c’est facile, agir c’est difficile, agir selon sa pensée est la chose la plus difficile du monde." – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one's thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.”)

"Tels les yeux des chauves-souris éblouis par l’éclat du jour, ainsi notre intelligence se trouve-t-elle éblouie par les choses les plus naturellement évidentes" – Aristote ("For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all.")


And immediately below that quote is one final inscription: “Ce dessin est de Véronique Filosof 2.1969”.


Back to our office block though to finish off: the CILG vacated the building in 1977, moving to a new facility in the Lac district to the north of the city. Today’s Le Médoc building is home to a number of smaller companies and, while the exterior is in need of a little tender loving care (the “Le Médoc” sign could certainly do with a gentle overhaul!), the office block still seems to be in relatively good shape despite being on the verge of turning 50!


> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: 122 rue Croix-de-Seguey, Bordeaux

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Invisible Bordeaux recently picked up a guide to south-western France published in 1925 to tie in with that year's Exposition Inter...

1925-vintage advertisements revisited


Invisible Bordeaux recently picked up a guide to south-western France published in 1925 to tie in with that year's Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The 350-page book comprised a number of advertisements which made me want to get out and about and see what could be made of them today. 

Starting out at the top of rue Sainte-Catherine, I was surprised to see that the jeweler's shop Mornier still exists although, as ever, the four-digit 1925 telephone number has probably been revised!

 
**
The apparently massive Léveilley Frères furniture store on rue du Palais-Gallien is long gone. An office and apartment block has taken its place. 

 
**
If this magnificent allées d'Orléans branch of the CCF (Crédit Commercial de France) looks unfamiliar, it is because a more modern building has taken its place. On the ground floor is a branch of HSBC; CCF was taken over by HSBC in 2000 and became HSBC France in 2005. The rue d'Orléans referred to in the ad was renamed rue Charles-Amoureux in 1929, a homage to the Bordeaux-born conductor who was the subject of a past Invisible Bordeaux article.

 **
Have you ever wondered who supplied wine to Sweden's King Gustav V? It was Chaigneau & Co. There are less barrels and horses on cours Martinique these days.
** 
With its 3 million readers, La Petite Gironde (which later evolved into Sud Ouest)  claimed it was the "most important, complete and widespread" provincial newspaper on the market. Its base was on rue de Cheverus and is now a luxury mansionhouse and reception venue: Hôtel de la Tresne.

 
**
It would be quite an achievement these days to buy a van or tractor on cours de l'Intendance! The windows on the first and second floors were already bricked up in 1925. That was apparently a 19th-century method in order to pay less so-called "window tax".
** 
This was just one of two of Banque Française de l'Afrique's two provincial branches (the other was in Marseille). The building now comprises an Air France outlet although, from the outside, it looks like most of the office units are currently vacant. As for the fountain visible on the 1925 picture, much has already been written about this subject on Invisible Bordeaux!
 

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Invisible Bordeaux recently heard about a plan to reenact Operation Frankton, the heroic 1942 suicide raid which ranks as one of the most...

Frankton 75: the Cockleshell Hero’s grandsons reenacting Operation Frankton

Invisible Bordeaux recently heard about a plan to reenact Operation Frankton, the heroic 1942 suicide raid which ranks as one of the most incredible tales of Bordeaux’s dark wartime years (and which has already been featured on the blog): ten Royal Marines set out from the Atlantic, canoeing down the Gironde Estuary in order to plant mines on German cargo ships docked in central Bordeaux. Only two of the so-called Cockleshell Heroes, Herbert "Blondie" Hasler (1914-1987) and Bill Sparks (1922-2002), survived the mission; after escaping inland to Ruffec, near Angoulême, members of the French Résistance guided them across the Pyrenees and onto to Gibraltar, from where they departed for the UK.

What makes this project (codename Frankton 75 and scheduled for September 2017) stand out from other similar ventures is that it involves not just paddling down the Gironde Estuary, but also an overland trek to Ruffec, and that the crew includes Mike and Rich Heard, the grandsons of Bill Sparks. The extended team also includes their uncle Terry Sparks, Bills Sparks’s son. I caught up with Rich to get the full story.
Rich Heard.

What is the basic thinking behind this adventure?

We are following in the footsteps of our Grandad, Bill Sparks. It's been something of a dream for my brother Mike and me since we were kids, to reenact the mission and experience some of the sights and trials that the Marines faced. My brother turned 40 this year, so it seemed like as good an excuse as any to make it happen! My uncle Terry is joining us too, he was in the Marines for 25 years, following in his father's footsteps.

Who else is involved?

The six-strong team who are completing the paddle include me, Mike, Mike Hale (one of my best friends and our paddling “guru”), Juan Greyling (close friend of ours who is always up for a wacky endurance challenge!), Alun Davies (retired Police officer who has been working with me for the last 18 months) and Matt Lardner (soon to be retired Police officer, and ex-Marine - he's known of the raid since his days in the corps and he was thrilled to be invited along!).

Next stop: the Gironde Estuary (photo source: dorsetecho.co.uk)
When is the modern-day reenactment taking place? How long will it last?

The expedition will set out at 06.30 on Saturday 30th September 2017 from our launch location, Le Verdon-Sur-Mer. Our plans are to complete the paddle over three days, with the walk then taking a further four. This factors in a day as a buffer should we need it for either the paddle or the trek. Our aim is to have a little celebration at the cafe in Ruffec where Sparks and Hasler met the Resistance. We have contacted the charity that looks after the Frankton Trail and hope to have someone from Mary Lindell's family present; the Dubois family hid Hasler and Sparks, and then Mary Lindell helped them escape France. Any involvement from their lineage would be very welcomed!

Hasler and Sparks meeting up with Mary Lindell in more peaceful times.
Sparks (first left) and Hasler (first right) reunited with the Dubois family who took enormous risks to protect the two men.
How have you gone about preparing the adventure? Have you planned where you'll be stopping over?

We have been lucky in that Everyone Active (a national leisure centre company) have given us free access to their gyms so that we can prepare physically for the challenge. We have been busily trying to source two-man kayaks to train in and to use, and finally think we have three boats sorted! So we will book in some group training days as well as just getting out on the water as much as possible. Unfortunately we don't all live in one location which makes logistics a little fiddly!

In terms of the stops, my Uncle Terry is our navigator and planner, we are looking to confirm our exact stops over the next week or two. From my understanding there are actually very few places along the Gironde which you can safely get in and out of the water.

You also have a full-on support team following you.

The support team is getting pretty extensive, with people putting in a lot of time back at home to help with the fundraising efforts. My sister (Natalie Pitney) and mum (Gill Clark - daughter of Bill) have been sending letters to local businesses looking for support, as well as organising a raffle, etc.

For the actual trip, Terry will be our main man, he will be supporting us from the shore side along with my brother-in-law - Jim Pitney. Depending on our plans they will be setting up camp ready for us, or potentially ferrying us from pillar to post so we can paddle. Potentially we have a guy called Andy who is providing safety boat cover, but this is a way off of being confirmed. And when we get to the trek part of the trip we will potentially be joined by more friends and family.

Are you familiar with the region? What are you expecting to encounter along the way?

None of us have paddled the Gironde before, but we have been in contact with several people who have recently. We are aware of the tidal race especially at the mouth of the Gironde where the water meets the Atlantic, so we are thinking that the first leg of the paddle is going to be particularly difficult, with the current/tide pulling us in all directions. Also the Gironde is known for its bore wave… who doesn't love a 6-8ft wave appearing out of nowhere?!!

A team meeting in progress (source: frankton75th.co.uk).
Once we are into the paddle proper, the pace of the river is going to be our biggest concern, if we were to capsize, or to lose a bit of kit, it'll be away from us pretty quickly. Equally if we were to miss our stop point, it will be a longer paddle back against the current to try and get there.

From my understanding the tides change on a pretty sharp turnaround too, so we can go from having it behind us and helping us, to it being head on and slowing our paddle rate down. And then there's the wind, the uncontrollable unpredictable element which could change things massively!!

So we are preparing as best we can, once we have kayaks we will be hitting some slightly faster flows of water in order to get used to things. Plus we will all be drilled to a certain proficiency (hopefully).

Which part of the reenactment do you expect to be more challenging? The canoeing or the walking?

The paddling will definitely be the harder of the two, the raw power of the Gironde will mean we will need to keep our wits about us at every step. Plus the distances we will need to cover on a daily basis will make the physicality of it tough on all six of us.

The trek side of things is comparatively civilised, so fitness will be the main thing there. But the walk is going to be a challenge; covering 30+ miles over four consecutive days will certainly be hard wearing on our feet, however we plan to have a support van carrying the majority of our kit, who we will meet up with for breaks. My uncle has completed the walk on a couple of occasions, so this is certainly the more 'known' of the two areas.

Bill Sparks (second from left to rear of car) touring the US
to promote the Cockleshell Heroes movie.
Once Operation Frankton was in the past, what did your grandfather Bill Sparks do next?

After the raid he served in Burma, Africa and Italy. In 1946 he joined London Transport as a driver, taking a year's break in 1952 to work as a lieutenant in the Malayan police during the insurgency.

Three years later he was an adviser for the film Cockleshell Heroes with Mel Ferrer and Trevor Howard, and toured America to promote it. He also published The Last Of The Cockleshell Heroes (1992) and Cockleshell Commander (2002).

He finished his working life as a London Transport garage inspector. At 65, tax regulations cut his invalidity pension, forcing him to auction his many medals in order to keep his retirement home at Alfriston, East Sussex. The anonymous buyer allowed him to borrow them for veterans' parades.

He was passionate about preserving the memories of his fallen comrades, and spent a large portion of his life ensuring that they were well remembered as the heroes that they were.

Did he return to Bordeaux or develop any particular ties with the city?

As far as I am aware he returned to Bordeaux on several occasions, in 1966 to unveil a memorial at the English Church in Bordeaux, and then in 1983 to complete his own reenactment of the raid. I am sure there were countless other occasions too.

1966: Sparks (third right), Hasler (middle) and Mary Lindell unveiling a plaque at what was then St Nicholas Anglican church in Bordeaux (Cours Xavier-Arnozan). The plaque can now be seen at Centre Jean-Moulin.
Hasler and Sparks in Bordeaux in 1966.
Sparks during his own 1983 reenactment of the raid.
And you'll be raising money for charity along the way. Tell us more!

Eight years ago my father passed away after a very short battle with lung cancer (it was literally one month from diagnosis to his passing). For his final eight or so days he was cared for in a hospice locally. The Weldmar Hospicecare Trust operate in Dorset across a couple of sites, and provide the most amazing respite and end of life care imaginable, to families who are suffering.

I've been quoted as saying that the staff are like “angels on this earth” but that still doesn't seem to do them justice. The chef researched a “junket” pudding that my dad could remember from his infant days at school, then he went out and bought the ingredients and made it for him. Nothing was ever too much for the staff! Our aim is to raise £10,000 to support their ongoing needs as a trust... we just need a lot of support with this.

Finally, how can we monitor your progress?

I will be doing a couple of radio interviews with BBC Solent over the coming weeks, I'll post links to these on our social media. We will be blogging regularly via the website and updating social media as we go. We are contactable via all of these means and would encourage people to get in touch. We would especially like to hear from any descendants or locals who had some interaction with the marines either during the war or in the subsequent years after.

> Website: www.frankton75th.co.uk
> Facebook: www.facebook.com/frankton75footsteps
> Instagram: @Frankton75revisited
> Twitter: @frankton75th
> Justgiving page: www.justgiving.com/Frankton75inthefootstepsofourgrandfather

Archive photos from Frankton 75 social media feeds. Lead photo: detail from commemorative plaque in Le Verdon-sur-Mer.

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