Doncaster’s Ben Parkinson prepares for latest challenge

Ben Parkinson has started training for his Pilgrim Bandits Cockleshell Heroes expedition.
Ben Parkinson has started training for his Pilgrim Bandits Cockleshell Heroes expedition.

War hero Ben Parkinson has launched his next epic challenge - reenacting a daring World War Two mission.

The paratrooper, the most seriously injured soldier to survive the war in Afghanistan, and nine other injured soldiers will retrace Operation Frankton, which Sir Winston Churchill believed shortened the conflict by six months.

They officially launched their plans for their charity group Pilgrim Bandit’s 2014 expedition this week at the House of Lords, with Lord Paddy Ashdown and MP Caroline Flint.

The December 1942 attack on German ships at the French port of Bordeaux was later immortalised in the movie Cockleshell Heroes, and the team will be working to retrace the gruelling 75-mile journey carried out by a 34-man unit of canoe-sculling royal marines.

Ben, aged 29, of Bawtry Road, Bessacarr, who lost both legs above the knee and suffered brain injuries in a bomb blast in 2006, is raising money to help other injured soldiers.

He posted on Facebook: “2013 was amazing but 2014 will be better and I hope it is for everyone else too. Waterborne in 2014. Training everyday for Cockleshell.”

The team will complete a parachute jump from Royan Airfield on the West coast of France before attempting to complete a five-day kayak up the choppy waters of the Girande Estuary. They hope to arrive at the port in Bordeaux on D-Day, June 6.

They have recently completed training off the coast of Dorset and are due for a further trip to a sea loch in Aberdeen next month. Ben has been completing his own training at home after adapting his multi gym to replicate the motion of kayaking.

Mum Diane Dernie, 55, said: “I think he found it hard going at first because obviously his centre of gravity is much higher up and there were choppy waters.

“Ben had trouble controlling his swallowing so anything to do with water was a big no-no. But he has improved so much. I am so proud of what he has done. He is so determined.”

Money raised will go to the Pilgrim Bandits Charity, which organises challenges for injured soldiers. Ben has raised about £5,500. Visit to pledge support

Only two royal marines survived original raid

Only two men out of the 34-man unit survived the original mission, in which troops destroyed two German Navy trawlers, 12 E-boats, 12 patrol boats and six M-Class mine sweepers. Eight commandos were executed by the Germans, and two more died of hypothermia.

Pilgrim Bandits Charity spokesman Paul Risbridger said: “It was a hugely daring mission, and the team deserves great credit for taking on the challenge.”

The challenge is being supported by ex-marine and former Liberal Democrats MP Paddy Ashdown. Team members gathered with MPs for an official launch at the House of Lords last week. Kayaks have been donated by entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne.