This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of WW2. As Remembrance Day events are cancelled due to Covid, we take time to remember those that were involved with Auxiliary Units.
Whilst each person’s entry on our website is a personal memorial in itself, we have created a new page highlighting the increasing number of Memorials, Plaques and Information Boards dotted around the country.
Please take a few moments to explore the page and see what Auxiliary Memorials might be near you. We are aware that most of them are in southern England and Wales. We would love to see more recognition throughout the whole of Britain: www.staybehinds.com/memorials-connected-auxiliary-units
Of course, YOU might know of more memorials, plaques, information boards, or local features that have Aux links that we are unaware of. We’d love to hear of more and add them to our site !
Pelynt village (near Looe) in Cornwall is the latest place to erect a memorial to Auxiliary Units. The memorial was unveiled in spring, but due to the virus there was not the turn-out hoped for. The memorial has been placed outside Pelynt village hall at a specially prepared seating area.
CART was also planning to attend with our large multi-award winning display of Auxiliary Units equipment and information. We will do this when we are allowed our freedom back and it is safe to do so.
Thanks goes to John Jolliff for being such a force in bringing the history of these brave men and women to his community by way of his many informative talks. Thanks also to Mary Talbot for her organizational skills and this photograph of the memorial.
There’s everything from interviews with Auxiliers, their training, the Operational Bases, the Special Duties ATS ladies, Memorial plaques, tours of bunkers, Auxiliary Units Headquarters, reenactors and a good deal of the shows we normally attend each year.
There are over 130 different videos up already, and this is a platform we’ll be looking to do more on this year inline with the new site.
Check out Churchill’s Secret Army on YouTube. Enjoy!
For the final day of the Festival of Archaeology, we are looking at some of our most recent projects. As yet they these do not have full or final reports but there are still interesting findings we can share.
At Nether Stowey we had the opportunity to briefly investigate an Operational Base that was already partially collapsed. The site was on a farm, and had proved an ongoing issue for the sites owners, as their sheep regularly found a way through increasingly expensive fencing and into the OB. Once there they struggled to extract themselves and over the years, more than one had ended their days there. The plan was therefore to bury the OB and prevent this happening. CART were offered the opportunity to investigate the OB prior to the site being buried. In this situation there is no need undertake a total excavation. Parts of the structure will remain intact for future generations to study. The purpose was to learn what was not immediately obvious. There was limited time, with a day or preparation and a day for excavation.
A draft report on the excavation details the findings. Whilst the main chamber was the typical elephant shelter, both the entrance and escape exit are different. See our images of the dig for more details. Possibly the escape exit may represent a later addition, although no specific proof of this was found. The end chamber is built from bricks, unlike the concrete blocks of the main end walls, except around the route to the escape tunnel. We have a couple of basic plans to show the layout, though the more formal plan was drawn up prior to the excavation so does not show the entrance that was identified. Creating detailed plans and reports is a lengthy process and just recently our new website has taken priority. However, hopefully this will indicate how the new website will be developing as we have the chance to complete and add this material online.
A final bonus from the excavation was the publicity in the local area regarding the excavation resulted in CART being given a copy of a photograph of the Nether Stowey Patrol.
Over a period of several weeks in 2019, CART, supported by Dorset Council and their wildlife volunteers with some technical support from the New Forest Community Archaeology team. From the first identification of the exact location by local resident Adam Dunn, to the extensive excavation and final interpretation board, has been quite a journey. Our initial report shows the difference from what we knew at the start of the year to now. The Ferndown Patrol report contains some of the images from this, another site which had an extensive ventilation system of glazed pipes, which was partially uncovered during the dig. Metal detecting and ground penetrating radar were both deployed in the initial stages to locate the buried structures. The former found the water tank with its concealed filler cap, whereas the latter was better for finding the shaft and the disturbed ground of the ventilation system. We are grateful to Gary Sterne of Maisey Battery for bringing his expensive kit and helping us out. Do check out his site in Normandy, for some very extensive digging and some remarkable associated historical research that is rewriting one of the central stories of D Day.
Our attempts to have a formal unveiling of the new interpretation board and the remains deliberately left extant were unfortunately foiled, first by severe storms this spring, then by the coronavirus pandemic! We would like to put on an event to show off the finds but perhaps that will have to wait for the 2021 Festival of Archaeology!
And as an extra bonus here is our colleague, John Wareham, instrumental in setting up the Ferndown excavations, with his video of the Auxiliary Units display built for a show season that won’t be happening. John is definitely our experimental archaeologist, learning how to remake items not built since the war.
Finally we bring you a short report from the Coleshill Estate. The team there have continued their investigation of the training structures at the site and have identified a new Operational Base there. This appears to be of a much earlier type than the previously known elephant shelter, being a box-like structure of corrugated iron on wooden beams. This may suggest that the design of OBs developed officially during the war, perhaps as more experienced Royal Engineer Officers became involved.
We hope you have enjoyed our brief tour through the archaeology of Auxiliary Units. CART continue to research the Auxiliary Units and new information has been forthcoming even during this week. New material is now being regularly add to our website, so do keep coming back to see. We would be keen to hear from anyone investigating Auxiliary Units sites of all types, anywhere in the country, to share what we have found and to help learn from our mistakes. We are grateful to those archaeologists, both professional and amateur, who kindly shared their research with us to share with you. Please contact us if you have any information about Auxiliary Units that you don’t see on this website already. We think we have included everyone who was involved, but we know there must be missing names.
Investigating buried structures using geophysical techniques has been increasingly common in recent years. It allows large areas to surveyed relatively quickly and uses differences in the responses generated by the buried archaeology and natural or fill materials to locate structures and identify their extent. If you have ever been confused by what it involves, Historic England have a straightforward explanation in their guide to research techniques.
The use of such techniques on Auxiliary Sites has been relatively limited. This may relate to the belief that the sites are identified and not recognising that elements of the structure may extend beyond the immediately visible OB, as we saw with the ventilation systems at Binnegar and Bromyards Downs in previous pages. Many structures are in woodland, where the application of the techniques are more difficult.
At Coleshill, a metal detecting survey and magnetometer was used to identify metallic targets for investigation. A ground penetrating radar was briefly trialed over the known demonstration Operational Base at Coleshill House and showed that it was detectable to the technique.
Subsequently a formal magnetometry survey was conducted by the short lived Churchill’s Underground War Group, at Langrish House in Hampshire, in an attempt to identify a possible Operational Base in the grounds. Nothing was found though documentary evidence has subsequently suggested the OB was elsewhere.
The Buckland St Mary In-station was known to have been built at Castle Neroche. The Castle was an Iron Age Hillfort converted into a Motte and Bailey Castle during the Anarchy period. Sergeant Arthur Gabbitas who documented the role of his Royal Signals colleagues in the Auxiliary Units Special Duties Branch was stationed there for a while. He left a brief description of the site. Historian and former Royal Signals Officer, David Hunt, visited the site in 2008, obtaining a useful first hand account of the location of the Operational Base, a “Zero” station for the the Chirnside Network, from a local resident who remembered it. His account included the presence of ventilation pipes showing like rabbit holes in the side of pits in Castle grounds. No remains could be found at the time but the site was recorded on the Somerset Historic Environment Record. There are separate records for the above ground Met Hut, which David remembered as still present during his own childhood visiting the site, and the Operational Base.
In 2017, CART arranged a visit to the site, to see if any evidence remained. David’s reports provided a focus for the search. The Met Hut base was measured and photographed. The location of the door could be identified. A search of the surrounding area found a small fragment of wire on the adjacent bank, twisted as if to connect to a terminal, perhaps for a battery. At the location identified for the Operational Base, fragments of glazed earthenware pipe were found, a feature often seen at such sites. A very careful search found a small hole near the edge of the bank with the top of two earthenware pipes just visible at its base, just a few centimetres below ground level. The earth had washed down into the pipes over the years, creating the hole. The pipes were almost certainly part of the ventilation system previously noted. Nearby an aerial tree was identified with fragments of the aerial feeder cable projecting from the bark. Because the entire site is a scheduled monument, no excavation of any sort was possible.
A report was prepared and submitted to the County Archaeologist who fortunately was interested enough to arrange for a further non-invasive investigation after obtaining the necessary permissions. Liz Caldwell from GeoFlo (www.geoflo.co.uk) was commissioned by the Southwest Heritage Trust, which was organised by Chris Webster, to survey the site. We think that this report represents the first time that an Operational Base was located by such techniques. With permission we include images from this report in an album of images form the site. The survey was conducted with a Fluxgate gradiometer (Bartington Grad 601-2 ) and Resistivity meter (TR/CIA Resistance Meter) processed with Geoscan Geoplot 3.00v software. The survey showed with a high degree of confidence the location of a structure underground, with a high magnetic signal, consistent with an elephant shelter structure. The ventilation pipes were not visible using these techniques.
On a repeat visit visit to the site, with a change in the conditions, a very shallow regular depression could be identified at the site identified by the non-invasive techniques. A further hole with a pipe junction was identified, in line with the first, supporting the interpretation of a ventilation system. Two aerial trees were identified. We do not believe there is a third extant tree at the site, though there is another tree with a lightning scar, an appearance that can look similar to an aerial scar. As both aerial trees and lightning strikes are located on high ground they can exist in close association.
Coming right up to date, a group from Keele and London South Bank Universities have published a pre-print paper utilising several techniques, namely, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Resistivity, Conductivity and Metal detecting across three Operational Base sites, one intact, another collapsed and a third destroyed to test the modalities. Metal detecting proved valuable in locating the site of the structures, with GPR showing extant chambers and depths. The other modalities also produced useful information and allowed the construction materials to be identified. This is an interesting proof of concept study and suggests that the study of buried structures of the Auxiliary Units with non-invasive techniques is both useful and practicable. We look forward to further investigations of this nature.
After having presented some large scale projects, its time to recognise that not every archaeological excavation needs to be on this scale. The two projects described here are on a smaller scale, but produced very useful findings.
In Herefordshire, the Bromyard Downs Project undertook an investigation of two possible Auxiliary Units hides identified from oral accounts. One consisted of nothing more than a depression in the ground. The other was only approximately located. Metal detecting revealed a possible locaiton for the latter and the presence of some concrete blocks.
The findings confirmed the oral history of the area. In this project we saw that even the history of the site from the 1970s and 1980s had been lost. One OB had been intentionally destroyed. However, with only the entrance shaft excavated, it is not impossible that some significant part of the main structure remains. A number of sites have been found where the entrance shaft was lowered and filled in, while leaving the main chamber of the structure intact.
CART undertook a small excavation on private land near Puddletown Forest, near Dorchester in Dorset. The location of the Operational Base had been identified by the landowner, who invited CART to investigate, though there were few visible remnants to see at the start. This excavation identified a section of brick wall, at the entrance to the OB. In other areas there was little apparent, but careful excavation revealed the remains of corrugated iron sheeting placed vertically. Groups of nails were found in clusters with occasional fragments of wood preserved where the iron had leached into the wood from the nails, slowing its decay. The original wooden framework had rotted away, as had the majority of the corrugated iron. Changes in colour and texture were all that identified the edges of the structure and where the corrugated iron walls had been.
Nearby in a large hollow, a number of .45 calibre cartridge cases and bullets were found. Possibly from a Thompson Sub-Machine gun, these might have been the result of practice by the Auxiliary Units men. However, the US Army also trained in the area and used the same weapon, so could also have fired this weapon here. The presence of 1942 dated .300 rifle rounds supported the latter interpretation.
Excavations are not complete at this site, but current findings suggest that the structure was a box like underground hide built with a wooden frame. When the area was planted as forest, after the war, the weight of the trees above the OB appear to have caused it to collapse.
We have a small gallery of this excavation for you to view.
Tomorrow we look at Sussex and the work of Chichester and District Archaeology Society there.
We have been working tirelessly for the past few years on a new website, and are now in a position to launch. The official date is the 9th of July, but as email subscribers you get a sneak preview from the 7th July: www.staybehinds.com
While it’s not quite the finished article, we have compiled more Auxiliers in one place than has ever been achieved anywhere before (we’re quite proud of that). We have over 6000 names, and if you know someone we’ve left off, please get in touch.
We’ll be adding information over the coming months, including photographs, info on the Special Duties Branch, Coleshill House & Estate and Auxiliary Unit links with the SAS and SOE. If you notice any errors on the new site please contact us.
A huge shout out of thanks to everyone who has supported us over the years, and continues to support us. It really is appreciated – CART is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation run by just a handful of enthusiasts. Thank you one and all.
To whet your appetite, here’s a brand new video brought to you by CART highlighting some of the archaeological projects we have been involved with:https://youtu.be/WCJjan8CWLo
We’ve chosen our new website launch to coincide with the digital Festival Of Archaeology running from the 11th to the 19th July, hosted by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA): https://festival.archaeologyuk.org
They are including a piece on the Auxiliary Units covering everything from the creation of the very first units (initially named the XII Corps Observation Unit) under Peter Fleming (brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond), to how they were trained in ‘thuggery’ and the types of weapons that made up their rather impressive arsenals! Make sure you pick up a copy!