Who were the Auxiliary Units? Following the fall of France in May 1940, Winston Churchill ordered Colonel Colin Gubbins (later to "set Europe ablaze" in SOE) to create a force of civilian volunteers, recruited primarily from the ablest Home Guard personnel, to operate from secret underground bases located behind the enemy lines of occupation.
Initially, Gubbins was aided in this by a few "Intelligence Officers" responsible for setting up fighting patrols of six to eight men, led by a Sergeant and co-ordinated by a local commander, usually a Lieutenant or Captain, in their designated regions.
Ideal recruits were countrymen, farmers, foresters and gamekeepers although eventually all occupations, factory and office workers and students were represented. The main requirements were fitness, knowledge of their own areas and an ability to be trained in the necessary skills for guerrilla warfare Highworth's Fertilisers
Volunteers were uniformed for cover as "Home Guard", latterly being absorbed into one of three "GHQ Special Reserve Battalions" with the distinctive numbers of 201 (Scotland and the North) 202 (The Midlands) and 203 (Southern Counties)
Final numbers were in excess of 3000, located mainly in coastal areas but covering the whole of the British Isles.
What was their purpose? To emerge at night from their underground O.B s (Operational Bases) and to carry out attacks and acts of sabotage against enemy targets (supply dumps, railway lines, convoys and enemy occupied airfields)
For these activities they were equipped with a variety of explosives (including the first issues of plastic high explosive) timing devices and detonators.
They were not, however, expected to attack enemy forces in strength, the small arms, revolvers and Sten guns, provided were for defence rather than offensive use.
The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, issued to all was for the silent killing of individual sentries and silenced .22 sniping rifles were to be used for this purpose or for the assassination of suitable targets, including possible collaborators.
Why was such a force needed? In 1940, Britain was at her most vulnerable, and a successful German invasion at that time was considered highly likely.
The Regular Forces, depleted in men and equipment after Dunkirk, may not have withstood an attack on the South Coast and would have withdrawn to the so-called "G.H.Q.Line" just south of London. The Auxiliary Units were intended to harry and disrupt the enemy supply and lines of communication to relieve some of the pressure on the opposing forces.
Operational stores and rations were sufficient for 14 days only - the anticipated useful life of the fighting patrols. Those auxiliers who survived this period would have reverted to their civilian occupations in the hope and anticipation of a successful British counter attack.
Where were their bases? The Operational Bases were built, either by the Royal Engineers or by civilian contractors. They, and any curious locals were told that these were to be emergency food stores. Situated usually in dense woodland, these O'Bs were constructed of pre-formed corrugated iron segments, sunk into the ground with concrete pipe access and escape tunnels.
Ingenious methods were used to camouflage and operate the entrance trap doors. Accommodation included wooden bunks for the patrol members, heating, ventilation and ration and water stores. Explosives and ammunition were stored separately.
Most O.B's were destroyed at the end of the war, although the remains of many still exist throughout the country and have been identified by the "Defence of Britain" project.
When did the Auxiliary Units exist? Formed in May 1940 they were maintained until Stand Down in November 1944, despite the receding risk of invasion. Before D Day, additional Auxunits were deployed on the Isle of Wight in the event of a German counter invasion against the Overlord ports.
At the time of Stand Down, volunteers were told that "no public recognition would be possible due to the secret nature of their duties" and that, since no written records of service had been kept, they were not eligible for the Defence Medal. Subsequent events have shown this latter statement to be false and belated awards have been made to some auxiliers.
Concurrently, but entirely separate from the Fighting Patrols were the Special Duties personnel, men and women recruited secretly and intended to provide an intelligence gathering service, spying on and observing enemy formations and troop movements. They were provided with insignia recognition information and individual "Dead Letter" drops from which their intelligence reports would be collected.
A network of underground radio stations was established which, following a successful invasion would have been manned by men and women of the Royal Signals, who would transmit the intelligence gathered by the Special Duties to the Headquarters of the opposing forces.
Their operational bases were similar in construction to those of the Auxunits, with the addition of electricity generators for their radio equipment.
do their stuff unseen - until you see results!
This was printed on a booklet resembling an agricultural catalogue, issued to all Auxunit volunteers. Its innocent title covered a handbook on explosives, timing devices and suitable sabotage targets. Selected recruits would be sent to Highworth, Wilts, where, after reporting to the then Postmistress, they would be collected and taken to nearby Coleshill House, their secret H.Q. for a weekends training in fieldcraft, sabotage and unarmed combat, before returning to their patrols to pass on this knowledge.
Situated in Parham, Suffolk, where a group of enthusiasts have set up a museum dedicated to the 390th. Bomber Group, U.S. Air Force that operated from here during the war. The land is owned by the Kindred family, who were members of an Auxunit patrol in the area, and an adjoining museum has now been created to honour the British Resistance Organisation. This contains many artefacts relating to the Auxiliary Units and has an extensive amount of archive material. A replica Operational Bases is under construction. The museum collection is superior to that in the Special Forces section of the Imperial War Museum. The Museums at Parham are open from 11a.m. to 6p.m.on Sundays and Bank Holidays during March to October inclusive and also on Wednesdays during June, July and August.
The Museum is situated one mile S.W. of Great Glenham east of the B1116 (Hacheston - Framlingham Road) Turn off through Parham village or turn off the A12 directly opposite Glenham Hall.
General Information from the Museum Chairman:- Mr.Colin Durrant (01473 711275)
On 2nd. July 2000, a reunion, sponsored by the British Resistance Organisation Museum, was held at the Museum, Parham Suffolk. Some 60 Auxiliers and their guests attended, and the Honoured Guests included Lord Ironside, whose father, Field Marshall Sir Edmund Ironside was C-in-C Home Forces in 1940 and Brigadier G.H.B.Beyts,DSO,MBE,MC who had been responsible for the training programme for the Auxunits at their Coleshill H.Q.
Tribute was paid to those members of the Auxiliary Units - Scout Sections, who, subsequently serving with the SAS Regiment, were killed in N.W.Europe and which included the four members of the Regiment massacred during Operation Bulbasket.
Details available nearer this date from the Museum contacts following.
1. "The Last Ditch" by David Lampe. Cassell 1968. ISBN 304925195 220pp.
The original and still definitive history of the Auxunits. Unfortunately out of print, but copies available in some libraries.
2."Resisting the Nazi Invader" by Arthur Ward. Constable 1997 ISBN 0 09476 750 5 133pp.
More recent history of the Home Front in general and the Auxunits in particular.. Contains many coloured photographs and authentic reconstructions.
3. "Auxiliary Units - History and Achievements 1940-1944" by Andy Taylor. Published by the B.R.O.Museum Parham. 1998 £5.50 41pp. Based on a detailed report written in Oct.1944 by
Major N.V.Oxenden who was Training Officer at Coleshill from 1941-1944 and therefore authentic.
4. "The Secret Sussex Resistance" by Stewart Angell. Middleton Press (01323)768073. 83pp.
Comprehensive history of the Sussex patrols, with photographs of their O.B's
5. "Suffolk's Secret Army" by Geoff.Dewing 89 Kings Close East Molesey.Surrey.KT8 9DG. 1996 21pp.
ISBN 1 873 793 82 0. Brief history of the Suffolk patrols.
6. "Churchill's Secret Army and other recollections" by A.E.Cocks.The Book Guild ISBN 0 86332 659 1 5.
Autobiography of the Author, including his Auxunit service. 1992. 160pp.
7. "All-in Fighting" by W.E.Fairburn. Originally published 1942, since available in paperback. Standard work on unarmed combat by the co-inventor of the F.S.fighting knife. Does not contain Queensbury's Rules!
8. "Somerset v.Hitler" by Donald Brown, Countryside Books or see Contacts.
Sussex S.Angell (01323) 768073
B.R.O.Museum. Projects Co-ordinator. A.Taylor (01206) 844041
Editor/Researcher. J.Warwicker (01728) 663488
Dedicated to the members of the British Resistance Organisation who, at a time when their Country was in Mortal Danger were prepared to Defend it by Force of Arms, and with their Lives if need be.
contributed by G.E.Bradford (01962) 868096.
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