Canoeing quartet will ‘go like the Kleppers’ for SSAFA

“It’s going to be a hell of a challenge,” says leading historian and broadcaster Saul David.

Two military historians, an actor, and a former Welsh Guard are set to navigate their way from Ardrossan to Oban in a pair of Klepper canoes at the end of the month to raise funds for SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity.

If canoeing around the south-west coast of Scotland – even in mid-Autumn – sounds like a bit of a lark, it is not.

The route – based on part of the WWII training for the Special Boat Section (the forerunner of the Special Boat Service) – is some 63 nautical miles*. Factor in tides and currents, as well as possibly inclement weather, and those 63NM might be or at least feel considerably more.

One of the historians is Professor Saul David, known for, among other best-selling works SBS: Silent Warriors – The Authorised Wartime History and Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport. Fellow historian James Holland has Brothers in Arms: One Legendary Tank Regiment’s Bloody War from D-Day to VE-Day and The Savage Storm: The Battle for Italy 1943 in his extensive canon. Both Saul and James are also seasoned broadcasters with a string too long to include here of documentaries to their credits.

Ben Willbond has acted in – deep breath – everything from Horrible Histories to Bridget Jones’s Baby to Rev. to The Thick of It to Ghosts… The list goes on. Ben’s father, Group Captain Tim Willbond, worked tirelessly for military charities including SSAFA since leaving the RAF 23 years ago, and this in part is why the charity was chosen.

The fourth member of the team is Rob Gallimore, a former officer in the Welsh Guards who served for 17 years, which included four tours of Afghanistan. Rob now teaches history.

If Ben’s family relationship is partly the inspiration for choosing SSAFA to be the recipient of funds raised – the target is £5,000, but the intrepid quartet is aiming to smash that – then Saul’s SBS book inspired this particular adventure. The folding Klepper canoes are similar in design to those used by Royal Marine Commandos on raids such as Op Frankton in 1942, immortalised as “The Cockleshell Heroes”, and many others.

Saul said:

The WWII SBS guys did it in two days and went further. We’re taking three days minimum, but then again, most of them were supremely fit blokes in their 20s.

We, to a man, are past our prime, and I think it’s fair to say it’s going to be a hell of a challenge.

In fact, I mentioned the paddle to a recent CO of the SBS and he said that the original training run we’re reproducing was harder than anything they did for SF Selection. We sincerely hope NOT!

SSAFA is the UK’s oldest tri-service charity. Since 1885, it has helped serving and retired Armed Forces’ personnel, and their families.

To support Saul, James, Ben, and Rob on their SBS paddle to keep this life-changing and often life-saving work going, visit

For more information, visit

*Around 73 miles

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By @Cobseo 54 years ago

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