The story of the Auxiliary Units can be traced back to 1938, when Major Grand set up a section of the Foreign Office known as section D – its task ‘To investigate every possibility of attacking potential enemies by means other than the operations of military forces’. In 1940 the government, anxious about a potential German invasion, tasked Section D with setting up a British guerrilla force. However due to lack of resources not much was done except hide dumps of explosives around Britain with the apparent hope that someone may use them to attack the enemy.
The task of forming an underground army that would operate in the event of a German invasion was then given to Colonel Gubbins (who led his Independent Companies in Norway, which on withdrawal to Britain were formed into units called ‘Commandos’). This new underground army was organised within GHQ Home Forces and Ironside promised Col Gubbins whatever men and supplies he asked for. It was one of the best kept secrets of the war.
The new units were called ‘Auxiliary Units’ – a name chosen because it was vague and would not create too much suspicion. The plan was to create Resistance units in a Coastal strip, no more than 30 miles wide, as any invasion force would be must vulnerable within the first few days of landing. The Units would go to ground on invasion and emerge to carry out attacks on occupying German forces.
The Coast was divided into 12 sectors, each with an assigned officer to create Resistance cells (i.e. Auxiliary Unit patrols) – these were known as ‘Intelligence Officers’. These officers’ recruited Patrol leaders, people, who would be able to live off the land, knew their way around their own area – such as gamekeepers, poachers, farmers and farm labourers etc. Patrol leaders were then responsible for recruiting individuals for their patrol units.
The recruits were told they belonged to the Home Guard – 201st Battalion in Scotland, 202nd in North England and the 203rd in the South. However none of these battalions ever featured in official Home Guard lists and the men’s names never officially put on any Home Guard list. At first, in the event of invasion, patrols were only expected to last a few days before being discovered by the Germans. But as confidence grew those supervising the organization as well as individual patrols considered they could operate for many weeks.
Col Gubbins set up a training base at Coleshill House, about 8 miles north-east of Swindon, set in extensive grounds which were not overlooked by neighbours. Specialist training in explosives etc was carried out here although most of the training for Auxiliary Units was carried out in their patrol area. The Auxiliary Units received new weapons (e.g. PIAT’s, Thompson sub-machine guns) before any other units in the Army.
Auxiliary units were soon constructing hide-outs (‘Operational Bases’) – these were to be places where the units could withdraw to eat, sleep and lie low. At first they were little more than hollows with log roofs, but soon developed to easily accommodate the unit, and equipped with bunks, cooking stoves and lamps etc and stocked with food, water and ammunition.
The first Intelligence Officer for Suffolk was Capt Andrew Croft – sent to organize patrols in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. At first patrols were only organized in Essex and the area of Suffolk south of Woodbridge, the area considered the most likely for any German invasion force to head to first. Later each County was to have its own Intelligence Officer.
Map of Auxiliary Unit patrols in Suffolk - information taken from Defence of Britain data base. It would appear to be
incomplete according to the Operational State of Auxiliary Units in 1941, compiled by Brigadier Major (see below)
Col Gubbins moved onto a new command in Nov 1940 and his successor was Col C.R. Major. The organisation continued to grow in confidence and efficiency. Some Corps commanders recognized its value and incorporated patrols in Corps Defence schemes with specific roles in the event of invasion. Patrols also began to take part in large scale exercises with regular forces, although no mention was ever made of this in official papers and reports concerned with the exercises.
In 1942 another branch of the Resistance movement was set up - the ‘Special Duties Section’. This was basically a spy network and chain of radio stations. The idea was that spies would pass on information to out-station transmitters which would pass the message onto a control station. On invasion, control stations would be taken over by GHQ Home Forces and were supposed to be situated within the perimeter of Divisional headquarters. These radio stations were to keep broadcasting as long as possible after invasion, an almost suicidal role as it would not have taken the Germans long to detect them. Many stations were operated by women ATS officers. Although Auxiliary Unit Intelligence officers and SDS officers did make contact they seldom worked together – it would be essential that each branch of the organisation knew as little as possible about each other in the event of invasion.
The Auxiliary Units signal section which maintained the control stations had its HQ at Bachelors Hall, Hundon, in Suffolk. Control stations in Suffolk were located at Ousden and just south of Bury St Edmonds.
Towards the end of the War, Auxiliary Units were organised by area again (instead on a County basis), with Framlingham, Suffolk being the headquarters for East Anglia.
The Auxiliary Units were stood down in November 1944. No public appreciation was given although the following was stated in a letter by General Sir H Franklyn (Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces) to Col F Douglass (then in command of the Auxiliary Units):
“All ranks under your command are aware of the secret nature of their duties. For that reason it has not been possible for them to receive publicity, nor will it be possible even now. So far from considering this to be a misfortune, I should like all members of Auxiliary Units to regard it as a matter of special pride”.
Col Douglass passed on this letter to all members with his own letter and the following comments:
“You were invited to do a job which demanded more skill and coolness, more hard work and greater danger than was demanded by any other voluntary organisation. ...No public recognition will be possible. But those in the most responsible position at General Headquarters, Home Forces, know what would have been done if you had been called upon. They know it well. It will not be forgotten”.
Intelligence Officers Contact Address (1940 – 41):
Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk – 1940: The Vicarage, Kelvedon, Essex
Suffolk – 1941: The Mill House, Cransford, nr Woodbridge, Suffolk
Auxiliary Unit operational state, Suffolk, 1941:
Intelligence Officer: Capt. J.W. Holberton
Patrols formed – 28 Patrols to be formed – 1 No of men – 180
No of Group commanders – 5 Hideouts built – 28 Hideouts being built – 1
Additional Hideouts wanted – 1
Personnel Accounts published in local newspapers:
Ray Read: Ray joined the Local Defence Volunteers (later Home Guard) and one night while on parade was given a tap on the shoulder and told there was a job for him. This was to join the Auxiliary Unit based at Little Bealings near Ipswich. His father was already a member of the Unit, which numbered six men in total. Training was carried out at Framlingham under the instruction of regular soldiers. Ray recounts how the Operations Base (OB) was like a “submerged Nissen hut” with very rudimentary air conditioning. They were ordered on one occasion to stay in it for 24 hours to test it. Along with a Tilley lamp, a candle was provided to test the oxygen. If it went out oxygen would be low. After several hours, the candle kept going out and Ray was told to open the hatch to let in some air. He remembers collapsing into a bed of nettles, with other members of the patrol clinging to trees to stay upright and being sick. After this the ventilation was improved with intake and outlet hidden in hollow tree trunks. He notes one weak point of the OB – the smell of cooking food in it would have got outside.
Herman Kindred: Herman was a member of the Stratford St Andrew Unit along with his brother, Percy. The OB was situated in woods near Little Glemham Hall. He describes it as being “about 14 ft long by 8 ft wide with fixed bunks which doubled as seats, and folding bunks above them. We got in through a trap door hidden in a bush and down a ladder. The toilet was behind the ladder and had its own ‘exhaust’ system. At the end of the main chamber, at a slight angle, there was a tunnel about 4 ft 6 in high by 2ft 6in wide and 20 ft long. In the tunnel there were compartments for stores. At the end of the tunnel was a trap door concealed by a privet bush.” The OB also had an observation post concealed at the edge of the wood by the A12. A periscope was used for observing.
The Last Ditch, D. Lampe, Cassell, 1968
Newspaper cuttings (not sure which), SRO
Defence of Britain data base