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Lymington ex-commando joining Cockleshell22 veteran expedition trek in Norway to support Royal British Legion

An ex-commando from Lymington will join a team of adventurers to recreate an infamous World War II mission in Norway and raise funds for the Royal British Legion.

Next month (Feb), former lifeboat crewman James Brooke will join the 12-strong Cockleshell22 veteran expedition group as they follow the route taken by special forces soldiers during Operation Gunnerside.

Seen as one of the Allies’ most significant acts of sabotage against the Nazis, Operation Gunnerside saw a team of Norwegian commandos traverse the Hardanger Plateau in temperatures as low as -60C to raid the Vemork hydroelectric power plant at Telemark in 1943.

James Brooke
James Brooke

The plant had been seized by the Nazis and was being used to make “heavy water” – an essential component in the high stakes race between superpowers to produce an atomic bomb.

The story of the raid, which was organised by the Special Operations Executive, was made into the 1965 movie The Heroes of Telemark starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris.

Mr Brooke, who owns and operates the James Brooke Academy sailing school in Lymington, said it is a “once in a lifetime” fundraising opportunity.

“It’s going to be quite an interesting one,” said Mr Brooke, “It’s going to be quite an extraordinary physical challenge but I think it’s going to be incredible to retrace the steps of those guys.

“They were in a very hostile environment, not just because of the weather, but because Norway was under Nazi occupation. They were under constant threat and would have had to move very carefully, often under cover of darkness and staying in huts on the plateau, until they got to the point where they could infiltrate and sabotage the plant.

Former commando James Brooke
Former commando James Brooke

“There had been previous failed missions to sabotage heavy water production in Telemark and, by the time of Operation Gunnerside, these Norwegian superheroes had realised we were running out of time. The Nazis could have been only a few months away from having a working atom bomb they could have dropped on London – none of us would be here today.”

Mr Brooke said he was invited on the expedition at fairly short notice after another would-be trekker dropped out.

He said: “Cockleshell22 was set up last year and their first expedition was a kayak ride from Poole to Bordeaux for charity.

“This year they wanted to do something bigger. When the organiser told me someone had dropped out he just looked at me and – he didn’t have to say anything - I just thought, ‘wow, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity’.

“I keep in reasonable shape, walking and running, so the organiser said to me, ‘you've got six weeks to get in shape.’”

Mr Brooke has been training by doing weighted hill-walks and treks. He will also spend the next two weeks undertaking acclimatisation training in the Alps before flying to Norway to begin the expedition on 1st February.

Mr Brooke said: “We’re doing this to support the work of the Royal British Legion. Veterans often face a lot of physical and mental challenges after serving.

“This expedition is in honour of the servicemen who didn’t make it back from the mission – and for all the services personnel who have returned from their missions and now need our support.”

To donate, visit justgiving.com/page/cs22veteranexpeditions

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