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Listen to Excess Baggage for

21 April 2007

Sixty five years ago, Operation Frankton was a courageous World War II attack, by canoe, on enemy shipping in the docks of Bordeaux undertaken by a group of British commandos later known as the ‘Cockleshell Heroes.’

Sandi Toksvig talks to Sandra and Roger Downton who, with little canoeing experience and a waterproof navigation chart, retraced the heroes' perilous route and confronted the terrifying tidal races of the River Gironde.  Captain Chris Hellier reports, from France where his group of Sandhurst cadets are attempting a present-day operation following the journey taken by Cockleshell survivors Major ‘Blondie’ Hasler and Marine Bill Sparks.

It has the tallest mountain peak in the western hemisphere, the widest river, deepest waterfall drop and most southern city in the world.  Argentina is also a popular travel destination despite its turbulent time post-war, and economic collapse in 2001-2002 after devaluation of the peso.  Beautiful, and still a bargain, in recent years it has seen a dramatic growth in tourism.

Travel writer Polly Evans saddled up among the gauchos and went into Argentina’s rural wilderness.  Her book On a Hoof and a Prayer, recounts her adventures and her research into the country’s tumultuous history; Christabelle Dilks author of the Footprint guide to Argentina and Patagonia has just returned from a month long trip, the highlight of which was a six hour trek into the middle of an advancing glacier.

Presented by Sandi Toksvig

The Iguassu Falls on the borber between Argentina and Brazil in South America

Photo:  The Iguassu Falls on the borber between Argentina and Brazil in South America

This week's guests: 

Sandra and Roger Downton paddled the seventy five mile exact course of the dangerous mission of the Cockleshell heroes, camping rough on the banks of the muddy river.  They undertook the same gruelling and perilous journey down the giant flowing River Gironde, to the docks at Bordeaux as their personal tribute to these brave men.

In War Heroes Wake: Our 75 Mile Trip Echoes Cockleshell Heroes Daring Wartime Mission
Published by Traveller’s Joy Publishing
ISBN: 0 9550166-0-6

Captain Chris Hellier is an infantry officer working at Sandhurst as a platoon commander training Officer Cadets. Their mission began on Monday and followed as closely as possible the route of Hasler and Sparks. Progress of the Captain Hellier and his cadets can be followed on their website Operation Frankton.

Operation Frankton
Twelve men in six canoes, known as Cockle Mk.IIs, were launched off the Gironde estuary in the Bay of Biscay by a submarine on 7 December 1942.  Their mission was to paddle some 75 miles (120 km) up river to Nazi-occupied Bordeaux and attack German blockade runners, fast merchant men used to carrying supplies and radar like equipment to and from the Far East and Japan. Winston Churchill later said that the raid helped to shorten the war by six months.

Christabelle Dilks fell in love with Argentina and an Argentine man at 16 when her family lived on the edge of Patagonia.  Two years later the Falklands war broke out and she had to leave the country, her first love and her close friends. Christabelle didn’t go back for 20 years, but returned to rediscover the country and its people, travelling widely and writing a guidebook Footprint guide to Argentina.

Argentina (Footprint Argentina Handbook)
Publisher: Footprint Handbooks; 5Rev Ed edition
ISBN-10: 1904777724
ISBN-13: 978-1904777724

Polly Evans is an award winning travel writer, author of It's Not about the Tapas, about cycling in Spain, Kiwis Might Fly chronicling her motorcycle tour of New Zealand and Fried Eggs with Chopsticks which is about her solo journey in China.  In her latest book, On a Hoof and a Prayer, Polly takes a trip round present-day Argentina and learns to ride a horse.

To fullfil a childhood dream Polly saddle up among the gauchos.  Overcoming battered limbs, a steed hell-bent on bolting, and an encounter with the teeth of one very savage dog, Polly cantered through Andean vineyards and galloped beneath snow-capped Patagonian peaks.  She survived a hair-raising game of polo and a back-breaking day herding cattle.

On a Hoof and a Prayer: around Argentina at a gallop
Publisher: Bantam; New Ed edition
ISBN-10: 0553816799
ISBN-13: 978-0553816792

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Sandi ToksvigSandi Toksvig:
The daughter of a foreign correspondent, Sandi has been travelling all her life more info
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