Row breaks out as Alfriston grave of Cockleshell Hero is altered

The daughters of a Cockleshell Hero buried in Alfriston say they have been left devastated after work was done to the family grave without their permission.

Thursday, 3rd October 2019, 5:09 pm
The grave in Alfriston's St Andrew's Church graveyard SUS-190310-132500001
The grave in Alfriston's St Andrew's Church graveyard SUS-190310-132500001

Former Second World War Royal Marine Commando Bill Sparks was buried at St Andrew’s Church graveyard in 2002 along with his second wife Irene in 2005 and the plot has been tended by daughter Barbara Gilbert, who carried out her late mother’s wishes and planted rose bushes on the grave.

Mrs Gilbert said she was horrified when she visited recently to find the rose bushes had been dug up to make way for a surround and filled in with slate.

The family understands it was done in a move to pay their respects to their father and the Royal Navy has confirmed former Royal Marines tended the grave of Bill Sparks with the “agreement of a family member”.


But the sisters say they were not consulted and as the last person to be buried there was Irene, it is her wishes for the grave that should be adhered to.

Mrs Gilbert, who lives in Maidstone, said, “We were devastated when we saw what had been done. Mother’s wishes were for rosebushes not slabs everywhere. Nobody contacted me, not from the church, not from anywhere. I have been so upset.”

Her sister Sandie Laming-Powell said, “This has been very upsetting for us. We can’t believe nobody contacted us.”

The rector at St Andrew’s, Reverend Stephen Stuckes, said the issue was a private matter but Mrs Gilbert told the Herald that churchwardens had offered to have the new surround and slate removed and restore it back to how it was before.

Mr Sparks was the last survivor of the Cockleshell Heroes of Operation Frankton in 1942 when a team of commandos paddled 85 miles from the Bay of Biscay to Bordeaux to plant mines on merchant ships supplying the Nazi war machine.

On a December night in 1942, 10 Royal Marines set out in five canoes and caused considerable damage to five ships.

Six of the men were shot by the Germans and two drowned. Mr Sparks and his commanding officer were pursued through France and Spain by the Germans for three months before they reached safety in Gibraltar.

He also served in Burma, North Africa and Italy and after 1945, worked as a bus driver and inspector and as a police lieutenant in Malaya.