Train named in memory of Plymouth's Cockleshell hero George Sheard

Military personnel and family attended the naming of a GWR train in memory of 'Cockleshell Hero' George Sheard in Plymouth. Credit: ITV West Country

One of the famous ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ from World War Two has had a train named in his honour by Great Western Railway. 

Corporal George Sheard from Plymouth was among a group of young Royal Marines who volunteered for hazardous service, planting mines on enemy ships off southwestern France. He drowned on the mission known as Operation Frankton. He was 27 years old.

Corporal George Sheard - one of the Cockleshell Heroes who never came home. Credit: GWR

In December 1942, Cpl Sheard was among those Royal Marines who volunteered to canoe up the River Gironde from the Bay of Biscay to plant limpet mines on enemy ships in Bordeaux Harbour.

Their aim was to destroy as many ships as possible so that the harbour itself would be blocked with wreckage and incapable of operating.

Of the 10 men who went on the daring mission, only two survived.  

Six were executed and two drowned - one of whom was Cpl Sheard - but the mission's significance reportedly led Winston Churchill to say he believed the raid could have shortened the war by six months. 

Colonel Tony de Reya, Deputy Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, was at the unveiling of the train named in Corporal Sheard's honour and says it was a moment of enormous pride for him to be recognised in this way.

For many military personnel they'll be pretty proud to be jumping on trains here from Plymouth anywhere into the UK that carry George Sheard's name emblazoned on the front.

Col Tony de Reya, 3 Commando Brigade

He adds: "I think the Corporal George Sheard story is really really compelling and when you look at people like the Cockleshell Heroes who gave everything - and eight out of ten of them never came back - to deliver a deadly and daring mission, I think that it is entirely appropriate that they get recognition."

Corporal Sheard's nieces and great niece attended the ceremony and travelled on the train's first passenger journey. Credit: ITV West Country

Cpl Sheard’s name was unveiled on Intercity Express Train number 802010, which formed the 1116 service from Plymouth to London Paddington following the ceremony.

His nieces and great niece, Sarah Holmes, attended the naming and were also guests of honour on the train as it travelled to Exeter.

Corporal Sheard's niece Margaret Hitchcock was overwhelmed at the honour.

I'm so proud I could cry.

Margaret Hitchcock, George Sheard's niece

She says "Words can't describe it. It's just wonderful. To think that he's being honoured after all these years. Wonderful.

"Very brave men. Unfortunately most of them didn't come back. That's what's so sad really. But we should never ever be allowed to forget them".

More about the Cockleshell Heroes

The Cockleshell Heroes carried out one of the most daring raids. of World War II.

The men of the Royal Marine Boom Patrol Detachment were nicknamed 'Cockleshell Heroes' after the collapsible Mark 2 canoes - known as cockles - used on the mission.

As the canoes approached the mouth of the River Gironde they hit a violent rip tide. The waves were five feet high and the canoe ‘Conger’ was lost. The crew of ‘Conger’ – Corporal George Sheard and Marine David Moffatt – were towed by the other canoes. Once near the shoreline, both men had to swim to shore as they were slowing down the remaining canoes. Neither man made it. It was assumed they had drowned or died from hypothermia.

Corporal George Sheard from Plymouth is thought to have drowned during the mission.

Only two of the five canoes that took part in the mission reached their target with the crews of 'Crayfish' and 'Catfish' placing mines on the merchant ships in the harbour - and causing significant damage.

The crew of 'Catfish', Major Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler who commanded the raid and Marine Bill Sparks were the only men who took part in the mission who made it home. With the help of the French Resistance it took them 15 weeks.

The story of Operation Frankton was made into a film in 1955 called "The Cockleshell Heroes". It was a heavily fictionalised account and starred Christopher Lee and Trevor Howard among others. The two survivors of the raid, Major Hasler and Marine Sparks acted as advisors while the producer, Cubby Broccoli, went on to make the James Bond movies.

The Cockleshell Heroes were:

  • Marines Eric Fisher and William Ellery on ‘Cachalot’. Both had to abandon the mission because of damage to their canoe. They both returned to the UK on board the submarine that took the team out there.

  • Corporal George Sheard and Marine David Moffatt on ‘Conger’. Both men were drowned. 

  • Sergeant Samual Wallace and Marine Robert Ewart on ‘Coalfish’. Both were men captured and shot.

  • Lieutenant John Mackinnon and Marine James Conway on ‘Cuttlefish’. Both men were captured and shot.

  • Corporal Albert Laver and Marine William Mills on ‘Crayfish’. Both men were captured and shot.

  • Major 'Blondie' Hasler and Marine Bill Sparks on ‘Catfish’. Both men made it back to the UK.

This train is one of seven named by Great Western Railway in honour of World War II heroes to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Credit: ITV West Country

GWR is marking 75 years since the end of the Second World War by naming seven of its Intercity Express trains after people involved in the conflict. Alongside George Sheard, they are:

  • Sir Winston Churchill

  • Odette Hallowes - the most highly-decorated spy of the war. She lived on the Somerset-Devon border

  • Wing Commander Ken Rees - a pilot and Prisoner of War who played a vital part in the Great Escape

  • Alan Turing - responsible for the breaking of German ciphers

  • Harry Billinge - from St Austell, a D-Day veteran who has fundraised tirelessly

  • Tul Bahadur Pun VC - one of only 13 Gurkhas to receive the Victoria Cross.