James Conway – a Royal Marine who was executed after taking part in a World War Two mission to blow up enemy ships has had a monument unveiled in his hometown of Stockport.
Descendants of the 20-year-old Royal Marine (left in the above picture), veterans, serving commandos, Royal Marines Cadets and civic leaders gathered in the snow to see the monument unveiled to the canoeist who volunteered to strike a blow at the Nazi war machine.
With 11 comrades, Conway set out to sink German shipping in the occupied French port of Bordeaux in December 1942, paddling 80 miles up the Gironde in canoes – codenamed cockles – to place mines on the enemy vessels.
Just two men survived the mission – Operation Frankton, but better known by its post-war book/film title Cockleshell Heroes. James Conway was not one of them.
He and his comrade Lt John Mackinnon were forced to abandon their canoe Cuttlefish after it was damaged several days into the raid.
The two men fled through occupied France, eventually reaching the small town of La Réole three dozen miles southeast of Bordeaux, where the pair were betrayed to the local authorities when Lt Mackinnon needed treatment for a knee injury.
The two men were handed over to the Gestapo, but never betrayed their mission or their comrades. They were subsequently executed under Hitler’s infamous ‘Commando Order’ – though the date and location are not known.
By then, however, the Germans had six damaged ships to deal with – one of them needing extensive repairs.
Just two of the original six cockles reached Bordeaux but the limpet mines the marines placed on vessel caused havoc; future First Sea Lord Lord Mountbatten subsequently called Frankton a “brilliant little operation carried through with great determinism and courage.”
To mark the 75th anniversary in James Conway’s home town, artist Luke Perry was selected to create a memorial. He spent months researching the clothing the marine wore, and met his family to capture a near-exact representation of James on the monument, which depicts him paddling.
“James Conway’s role as one of the Cockleshell Heroes makes him a true Stockport – and national hero,” said Cllr Kate Butler, Stockport Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration,
“I’d encourage residents to come together at this event to commemorate the bravery and the life of a local young man who paid the ultimate price for this nation.”
Former Commandant General Royal Marines Maj Gen Martin Smith said the Corps felt honoured “that on the 75th anniversary of James Conway’s death, Stockport recognised one of its sons who bravely served in our Corps and gave his life in the service of his country.
“The raid sent a message to friend and foe alike that in the dark days of 1942, Britain would not give up, no matter what.”
The mission paved the way for special operations and led to the foundation of what is now known as the Special Boat Service.