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Forces War Records Blog


A plaque honouring a "very brave" canoeist who was executed after a World War II mission has been unveiled.
William Henry Mills, from Kettering, was only 21-years-old when he paddled almost 100 miles behind enemy lines to blow up German ships in France. The mission was deemed a success, but marine Mills was later caught by French police and handed over to the Germans. The Royal British Legion officially unveiled the plaque at Kettering war memorial on Saturday. Marine Mills was one of 10 of a group who became known as the Cockleshell Heroes who attempted the attack on enemy ships moored in Bordeaux in December 1942. Only four made it to the port, canoeing solely by night and resting by day, to plant mines which badly damaged five ships.

Only two men survived to tell the tale, but its significance reportedly led Winston Churchill to say he believed the raid could have shortened the war by six months. Andy Smith, chairman of Kettering's Royal British Legion, said it was a "very important operation". He said: "I wanted to do something for someone from Kettering as a lasting memorial, not just for a Cockleshell Hero but also for the family. "He was one of the four who laid the mines." Members of the air force, army cadets and local dignitaries attended Saturday's service, which went ahead despite the cold weather. "It was cold but we didn't deter," Mr Smith said. "What this guy went through in the Second World War, in December time, travelling a considerable amount of miles in a canoe, if he can endure something like that we can do a half hour service in the cold." Source: BBC Via Forces War Records Blog.  
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