FORMER Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown will unveil a Merseyside memorial to soldiers who embarked on one of the most daring missions of the Second World War.
The raid on German ships in a French harbour by the “Cockleshell Heroes” shortened the war by six months, according to Winston Churchill.
Wirral Council has now approved plans for a plaque outlining the exploits of the Royal Marines – including Albert Laver from Birkenhead – on the promenade at Woodside.
It will be unveiled by the Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis and Lord Ashdown, who wrote to the Mayor to ask if Birkenhead would honour an “extraordinary citizen”.
Members of Mr Laver’s family and representatives of the Royal Marines Association will also attend the ceremony on Tuesday, December 18 at 12.45pm.
Former Special Forces Commando Lord Ashdown, who has written a book about the mission, said: “I am delighted that a permanent memorial to the courage and bravery of the men who have become known as the Cockleshell Heroes is to be unveiled in Birkenhead.
“The young men who took part, including Corporal Laver, knew there was a very good chance that they would not return and they were prepared to risk their lives at a time when our nation's survival was at stake.
“I am very much looking forward to meeting members of his family, and pleased that they are able to join us on such an important day.”
The mission involved canoeing along the Gironde estuary, paddling by night and hiding by day until they reached Bordeaux, some 60 miles (97km) from the sea. On arrival into the harbour on December 11, 1942, they succeeded in sinking a number of cargo ships, but only four of the original 12 man team escaped overland to Spain.
The remainder, including Albert Laver, died from drowning or being taken prisoner and shot by their captors.
Among the family members attending the ceremony will be his second cousin Eileen Smith, from New Brighton. Her late mother Florence ‘Dolly’ Smith was the last person to see ‘Bert’, as he was known to relatives, the day before he left for action.
She said: “The whole family is so proud of him even though we know so little about him. He was obviously very brave, what a selfless act for such a young man.”
Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Gerry Ellis, said: “The courage of the Cockleshell Heroes has gone down in history as one of the most important missions of World War II.
“It is an honour to pay tribute to one of Birkenhead’s most famous and courageous sons.’
After the ceremony, Lord Ashdown will sign copies of his book and give a presentation about the mission at Birkenhead Town Hall. All are welcome to attend both the unveiling of the memorial and the talk.