Jul 312013
 

UPDATE – CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE ABOUT THIS EVENT. 

The team behind the British Resistance Archive will be unveiling a new panel detailing the history of postmistress Mabel Stranks and her remarkable war

Mabel StranksDuring the dark days of 1940 with the Nazi army poised across the Channel a secret resistance force was being set up across the country. Scores of volunteers who were in jobs considered too important for the war effort for them to be called up to the regular forces were being asked to undertake what amounted to a suicide mission in the event of an invasion. It is difficult to imagine what role the sleepy market town of Highworth and its postmistress, Mabel Stranks, could have played in this drama but over the last few years their considerable significance has been revealed, and now a new panel is being placed at the former post office in Highworth commemorating their part.

The aim for the resistance force, or Auxiliary Units as they were officially known, was to have small groups of highly trained, well armed men who in the event of an invasion would disappear to their operational bases hidden beneath the British countryside.  They would wait for the invasion to literally pass over them and then appear at night to disrupt the enemy supply chain, destroy transport and supplies, ‘deal’ with collaborators and generally make a nuisance of themselves to allow the regular army to counter-attack.

In order to get the level of skill needed a training camp was required and Coleshill House, less than three miles from Highworth was selected as the perfect location. All of those that volunteered signed the Official Secrets Act and had to be properly vetted before being allowed near Coleshill. To maintain this secrecy and to ensure that those who had not been selected and vetted did not get through to the camp, recruits were ordered to arrive at Highworth and report to Mabel Stranks.

Highworth Post Office in 2012.

The post office was the perfect ‘go-between’ with strangers visiting all the time and the postmistress known for her unassuming nature and discretion. When they arrived the recruits would ask for Mrs Mabel Stranks, give a password

and be told to wait. Mabel would then go into her office and make a series of phone calls. A car would then arrive and those ‘screened’ as official by Mrs Stranks were driven to Coleshill House by the most indirect route. Those suspected as being unofficial by Mabel were taken elsewhere. The Highworth post office proved to be such an effective tool that it was aptly given the name the ‘Auxiliary Gateway’.

After arriving at Coleshill volunteers would be trained to do everything from blowing up bridges to slitting throats. They were even taught how to booby trap toilets in the grand country houses that the German heirachy would no doubt have taken over had they invaded.

Now a panel has been created by the Coleshill Auxiliary Research team (CART) the team behind the British Resistance Archive, a group of researchers dedicated to finding out more about the Auxiliary Units. The panel provides information about the Auxiliary Units and the role that Highworth post office and its postmistress played.

Tom Sykes, founder of CART said. “This is a remarkable story of an incredible woman and the part she played in one of the most secretive organisations of WWII. The bravery of Mrs Stranks cannot be underestimated. The life expectancy of an Auxiliary Unit member was just 14 days, and she was all too aware of the reprisals that had been meted out by the Germans to anyone found to be resisting or helping those that were. She never accepted recognition for her part in this secret operation and like many of those she screened, never talked to anyone about her role until her very last days.

“The panel gives the public a real insight into the role the Mabel Stranks played and adds to the blue plaque that is already placed at the former post office. We are much indebted to current owner Matthew Walker who has not only given us permission to place the panel on his property but helped us with the cost and logistics as well. We hope that the panel will act as a permanent reminder to the bravery of many ‘ordinary’ members of public during the Second World War.”

The panel is due to be unveiled on 20th August at 2pm at the Old Highworth post office. Justin Tomlinson, Swindon North MP and long time supporter of CART will be unveiling the information panel, Matthew Walker, current owner of the property will be attending alongside CART county information officer for Coleshill, Bill Ashby. All will be available for interview.

*** ENDS ***

About CART & The British Resistance Archive.

The Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) publishes its findings on the British Resistance Archive (BRA) website.

CART also provides an internal network for serious and dedicated researchers who focus on the British Resistance and agree with CART’s core value of making the research public.

  • CART is made up of select volunteer historians and published writers known as County Information Officers (CIOS) and also public members.
  • CART is not a business or an academic body of professional researchers.
  • CART is non-profit making and has no financial support from any company or organisation. It is funded solely by donations and the revenue it makes from the sale of various items sold in the shop.
  • Since CART’s birth in June 2009 the website has seen over 110,000 unique visitors and has attracted TV, Radio and national press attention.

For further information about CART please go to this page http://www.coleshillhouse.com/about-us.php or call 0872 045 9940 or email hq@coleshillhouse.com

Jul 062013
 

by Wesley Rock. Hampshire Chronicle. July 5th 2013.

They were to be Churchill’s top-secret last-ditch weapon.

Now after more than 70 years, a Hampshire man is spearheading the project to reveal the hidden secrets behind the British resistance – and the search has revealed several operational bases in the Winchester District.

Known at the time as Auxiliary Units, they were made up of civilian volunteers whose work was considered too important for them to be called up to the regular forces.

Having signed the Official Secrets Act they told no one of their involvement – they would have disappeared as the invading German armies approached, only reappearing at night to sabotage Nazi efforts and “deal with” collaborators.

Researchers know that there were patrols in Eastleigh, Soberton, Droxford and Bishop’s Waltham.

But the problem for Tom Sykes, founder of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART), is that it seems they were all a bit too good at their job and have generally remained silent.

“The important thing to remember is that this was a suicide mission. These guys, when they signed the official secrets act, were not military men, yet they were signing away their lives. If we had been invaded, sooner or later they would have been smoked out. Asking a man to go into a bunker and sit there and then come out and cause as much damage and sabotage as possible, and then return to the bunker and know that sooner or later you’re going to be killed, that to me is a story that needs to be told.

“Some of these men’s families were being sent white feathers, when all the while they were training for this – but they could not say anything.”

CART researchers have also been making important discoveries about the Special Duties Branch.

Also made of local volunteers, their role was to gather information about German troop movements and aeroplanes in the event of an invasion, before passing it on to the defending forces.

Mr Sykes says he knows of at least one radio bunker in Winchester, but says the owner of the property does not want the location to be made public. There were also outstations at Wickham and Denmead.

CART were also involved in successfully lobbying the Royal British Legion for the remaining Auxiliary veterans to march past the Cenotaph in November as part of the Remembrance Sunday parade – it is the first official recognition they have received.

They are appealing for anybody with any knowledge of, or involvement with, the Auxilliaries or the Special Duties Branch to come forward.

“These men have the opportunity to march at Whitehall but they have to come forward to us,” he said.

If you were involved in any of the units mentioned, you can contact CART on 0872 0459940.

 

Jul 062013
 

By Dave Robson – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette. July 5th 2013.

Philip Dawson’s daughter was shocked to discover her dad was trained as part of Britain’s last line of defence against the Nazis

1

He was a kind, gentle man who loved sport and family life.

But Philip Dawson of Marton had a secret he kept from even those closest to him – he was a trained killer, prepared to be Britain’s last ditch line of defence during World War Two.

Philip was an Auxilier – one of Churchill’s secret armies. He and several friends were members of the Marton Patrol on the outskirts of Middlesbrough.

2

The Auxiliers were to be the last line of defence in the event of a German invasion. And an invasion in 1940 following the Dunkirk evacuation seemed a case of when, not if.

Described as guerrilla-style troops, and with a life expectancy of only two weeks, they were trained to disrupt supplies, kill collaborators and enemy troops and destroy strategic targets.

But none of his family knew.

His daughter Lesley Ann told the Gazette how she only found out about her late father’s heroic secret role after watching a TV programme about the Auxiliers with her 91-year-old mother Mary.

Mary, who married Philip in 1943 at Danby, recognised the name of Coleshill, the Auxiliers’ Oxfordshire base, and remembered her husband regularly trained there, often returning home shattered.

Intrigued, Lesley Ann contacted Coleshill – now a National Trust property – to ask if Philip had been involved.

3

And sure enough, volunteer Andy Gwynne of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) confirmed that Philip had been a member of the six-strong Marton Patrol, alongside the likes of life-long friends Harold Wilton and Stan Boynton.

Now, having learned more about Philip’s secret, Lesley Ann and family members are inquiring about marking his, and the Marton Patrol’s, selfless devotion to their country by having a tree planted and a plaque installed in their honour at Coleshill House.

Lesley Ann, who has lived in London for 40 years but was born in Middlesbrough and attended Middlesbrough High School for Girls, said she was astonished to learn about the role played by her late father, who died in 1999.

She said: “None of us, including Mary, his wife of over 50 years, had the faintest idea about this totally hidden part of their lives. My father was a lovely man, very gentle, very modest, quite shy.

“Auxilier volunteers operated under the cover of the Home Guard, and all had to sign The Officials Secret Act. This would explain my enduring bafflement that an extremely fit young man – he captained Middlesbrough Cricket Team and was also a fine footballer – was counted as reserved occupation and a member of Dad’s Army. This was because it was all a front.”

Since discovering about her dad, Lesley Ann, 65, has joined friends on a fascinating visit to Coleshill, where they learned how the person who checked the trainees for security, using a secret code, was the village postmistress at neighbouring Highworth, Mabel Stranks.

On her visit, Lesley Ann crawled through a camouflaged tunnel into a replica of an Operational Base, and looked around a part Heritage Lottery-funded original Guard House with explanatory boards and photographs about the site – “a nice touch, given that I work for The National Lottery operator, Camelot,” she said.

Last stop was a wooded bank on which nine trees with commemorative plaques in memory of different Auxilier units were planted.

Thanks to a CART campaign, representatives of the Auxiliers will, for the first time, march at next year’s Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph in belated recognition of their contribution to the country’s defence. But Lesley Ann and her family would like the Middlesbrough unit remembered at Coleshill too.

She said: “It may be 73 years after the event, and we would just love to have heard Philip talk about it, but this is the next best thing.

“The idea of our very gentle and delightful father as a trained guerrilla killer is jaw-dropping. Who would have guessed?”

For more information about CART and the Marton Patrol, visit www.coleshillhouse.com

May 172013
 

By Martin Neville (Full Article here

Remains of the auxillary unit hide-out (since collapsed) at Kemp Hill Farm on the outskirts of Ryde in 1989. Picture copyright Ben Houfton/Adrian Searle.

Remains of the Auxillary unit hide-out (since collapsed) at Kemp Hill Farm on the outskirts of Ryde in 1989. Picture copyright Ben Houfton/Adrian Searle.

THEY were sworn to absolute secrecy about their existence when ‘stood down’ at the end of 1944.However, in remote areas of the countryside, it is possible to find the relics of the most secret of all the military forces which operated on the Island during the dark days of the Second World War.

The IW was a strategic zone for the defence of Britain. Consequently, in addition to many military units and Home Guard, there was a well-organised band of ordinary people involved in what would have been the British resistance.

Little was known about the shadowy ‘secret army’ — a well-trained corps of men specially selected to undertake ‘terrorist’ activities in the event of a German invasion.

John Riddell, whose late father, L/Cpl Jack Riddell, was one such man, said: “These were the men who, at the time of invasion, would have simply ‘disappeared’ from their homes and workplaces to purpose-built and fully supplied covert underground operational bases.

“The patrols were issued with high-quality equipment, explosives and weaponry to fulfil the role of a British resistance.”

Selection was undertaken by recommendation followed by personal contact without the actual task being disclosed or recruitment formalities.

Normal civilian work was retained with secret training and operations taking place during evenings and weekends.

Those recruited into what were known as Auxiliary Units were given Home Guard uniforms and told they had secretly been assigned to one of three special battalions of the Home Guard — the 201st in Scotland, the 202nd in the north of England and 203rd in the south.

Mr Riddell explained: “As not formally enrolled in anything military, these men could never claim protection by the Geneva Convention as afforded to all other uniformed fighting men.

“The German authorities would have regarded them as terrorists and treated them accordingly if captured. They would have faced torture and execution when detected, if not killed in combat.

“In the event of invasion and occupation, the men of the patrols were aware their operational life would be short-lived.

“Their understanding of the situation when recruited was that their activities would probably last no longer than two or three weeks, at best, before detection by the German authorities using tracker dogs.”

So who were the members of the IW Auxiliary Unit?

Historical author Adrian Searle said the man selected to make the initial contacts was Sammy Watson, a well-known estate agent and valuer, who also had a useful part-time role as secretary to the local branch of the National Farmers’ Union.

In his book, The IW at War 1939-45, Mr Searle includes an account by Eileen Foss, who lived during the war at Godshill Park Farm, home of her father-in-law, another auxiliary unit member, who described the progress of Mr Watson’s secret army.

She revealed those approached were mostly drawn from the farming community and known by Sammy to be trustworthy, discreet men.

The two men in overall command of the Island groups were Capt H. C. A. Blishen, of Arreton, and Lt J. T. W. Fisk, of Brighstone.

An inaugural meeting was held at the White Lion, Arreton, when guerilla tactics and the making and laying of booby traps were discussed.

She said: “The hideouts were dug with much patience and determination using enamel wash basins to take out the earth after it had been dug with trowels. Hollow tree trunks and natural contours of the land were used to conceal entrances, and a system was set up to warn of approaching friends or foes.”

Other accounts researched by Mr Searle add further detail to the story.

In the book, Charles Holbrook, an auxiliary member, recalled: “Inside the hideout, or observation base as it was known, we had four bunks and the means for cooking, with about 100lb of high-explosive time delays, detonators, both cortex and ordinary fuse — besides the Smith and Wesson revolvers and knives.

“We attended a meeting of all groups at the Drill Hall in Newport, when we were instructed in the art of assassination by Russian guerilla fighters, who had been through the thick of the German invasion in their own country.”

Other men known to have served as group leaders include S. G. Taylor, of Arreton, and C. W. Burt, of Shalfleet.

Mr Searle said there were plans to wholly evacuate the IW in the event of invasion, leaving only the auxiliary units in place to do their bit.

Research by volunteers of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) suggested auxiliary unit patrols existed in Arreton, Shanklin, Godshill, Whitwell, Sandown, Brighstone, Calbourne, Chillerton, Cowes, Newtown and Ningwood.

Mr Riddell said: “From other records, it is evident at least two patrols were operational in the East Cowes, Osborne and Whippingham areas. Information would suggest at least one operational base was hidden on the Osborne Estate.

“Targets for the patrols certainly included Osborne House, which military sources indicate would have been an officers’ mess and a probable control centre for the occupying Wehrmacht and Gestapo.

“Kingston Power Station on the Medina and the Somerton Airfield were the subject of patrol night exercises and therefore probable reconnoitred targets.

“The shipbuilding and aircraft works of East and West Cowes could well have been on their list for attention. Likewise the Whippingham Heights anti-aircraft gun site, which would inevitably have been commandeered by an occupying military force, would have been the subject of ‘investigation’ patrols.”

In May 1944, during the final build-up to D-Day, members of auxiliary unit patrols in Northumberland were issued with railway warrants and told to report, in Home Guard uniform, to a local station.

Following secret movement orders, and travelling in reserved compartments, they began a long trek to the south coast. Similarly, uniformed men joined the train at many stops en route.

Transferring at Portsmouth to a Southern Railway ferry, the resistance men crossed the crowded Solent to Ryde.

It was only then they were told the reason for their journey.

Mr Searle said: “A German counter-invasion of the IW after D-Day was regarded as a very real possibility by the planners of Operation Overlord.

“If this transpired, the auxiliary units were under orders to destroy the invasion force from behind its own lines. In total secrecy, the men scoured the Island for possible landing sites and for the best positioning of their own defences. The exercise completed, they dug in and waited.”

When the counter-strike failed to materialise, the men left the Island and headed for home.

Mr Riddell said the men of the auxiliary units should be remembered for what they did as well as what they might have done.

“More than providing a force to combat German occupation, to defend parts of the country and to additionally test the security of the established forces, it gave opportunity to test theories about modern guerilla warfare for many years to follow,” he said.

Dinner brought unit members together
ON JANUARY 20, 1945, a significantly historical dinner was held at the Masonic Hall, Ryde.
Gathered together for the first time in five years were the majority of the members of the Island’s secret guerilla organisation, which was formed and trained in readiness for the invasion of German forces.
A copy of the post stand-down dinner menu for that Saturday evening offers evidence of the men involved.
Headed ‘203rd (GHQ Res) Bn. Home Guard. Auxiliary Units’, it shows the area group commander was Capt H. C. Blishen MBE.
Patrol leaders:
Lt T. A. Cowley, Lt E. G. Rapkins, 2/Lt S. Taylor, Sgt H. Foss, Sgt J. Blackman, Sgt A. Newman, Sgt F. Buckett, Sgt C. S. Good, Sgt W. Buckell.
Additionally:
Cpl A. F. Le Maitre (admin), Pte C. E. Herbert (shown as musical director for the event).
Other persons named:
Col R. E. Pickering (guest), Lt Col F. H. Fernie (guest), Maj N.V. Oxenden (guest, HQ Auxiliary Units), Lt Col F. Nevill Jennings.
The following names appear as autographed signatures on the back of the menu:
L/Cpl Jack Riddell, A. F. Maitre, C. L…., R. C. Ward, H. R. Watt, Stan Williams, J. Kennedy, W. Buckell, T. H. Farnie, E. S. Barton, N. V. Oxenden, Edwardson, H. Blishen, A. Shearwood, R. Pickering, S. Thompson, C. W. Brannon, J. Blackman, A. M. Long, A. W. Bowden, B. Keegan, R. Casson, J. W. R…., Edward Raphine, C. F. Rayner.

Reporter: martinn@iwcpmail.co.uk

May 122013
 

onairOn Monday 13th May from 10 am Andy Gwynne, CART CIO for East Yorkshire, and his assistant Martyn Owst, will attempt to broadcast a  series of LIVE video reports from an Operational Base near Bridlington.

As far as we know this will be a world first and could change the way we choose to report on this research.

The video reports can be viewed here. 

Apr 242013
 

bbc-oxford-logoToday we have been featured in this weeks Country Life magazine and also our founder gave a radio interview to BBC Radio Oxford.

You can see the magazine article here and listen to the radio interview on our radio page here

Also today we set up a Twitter account for our Press Officer to use. You can follow him @CARTPress.

Apr 032013
 

[SOURCE: Metro Newspaper Online By Hayden Smith]

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Members of a top-secret civilian army who signed up to mount last-ditch resistance strikes if Germany invaded Britain during World War II are to be honoured publicly for the first time.

In 1940, when an offensive on British soil by Adolf Hitler’s forces looked inevitable, thousands of volunteers pledged to risk their lives by ‘staying behind’ and attempting to destabilise invaders in any way they could.

Now, after a campaign highlighted by Metro last month, those recruits who are still alive will take part for the first time in the traditional march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day later this year.

As Germany surged through France and efforts to halt their advance abroad faltered, Britain’s high command began making secret preparations for what Churchill described as ‘guerilla formations’.

The Auxiliary Units would convene in hidden underground bases and attempt to mount strikes on the enemy’s supply chain and reserve troops, while the Special Duties Branch would help relay messages between groups about German movements.

Together the organisations became known as Winston Churchill’s ‘secret army’ and the title is apt – they signed the Official Secrets Act before joining and could not even tell their families.

Their mission carried enormous risks and they were given a life expectancy of just two weeks in the event of an invasion.

But despite the sacrifices they were prepared to make, until now there has been scant official recognition for the veterans in the decades that followed the war.

The Royal British Legion confirmed it has offered 12 places at the march-past to the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team, which has been uncovering information about the two groups since 2009 and spearheaded attempts to get them recognition.

CART founder Tom Sykes expressed his delight at the outcome and thanked the Legion.

He said: ‘After over 70 years of silence November sees the chance for all of us to thank an up until recently forgotten group of civilian volunteers who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us, during this country’s darkest hour.

‘It will be a proud day when we see those remaining veterans that are able to take part march past to the cheers of the British public.’

Many of the veterans were in reserved occupations during the war meaning they could not join regular forces.

But Mr Sykes said: ‘When the call came they did not hesitate to join what essentially would have been a suicide mission to confront the enemy invader.

‘Thankfully the invasion never came which means those that did join up often feel that they did not contribute, nothing could be further from the truth in our mind and I’m sure a majority of the country would agree.’

Swindon North MP Justin Tomlinson, who supported CART’s work, welcomed the decision.

He said: ‘As more information has come out about these brave men and women the clearer it has become that some form of official recognition was needed.’

Robert Lee, of the Legion, confirmed the decision, saying: ‘We trust this will bring some due recognition to this often-overlooked contribution to the nation’s defences.’

 

Mar 282013
 

the_mail_on_sunday_logoThis Sunday Valerie Elliot from the Mail On Sunday plans to run a story about the Cenotaph march in November and on Wednesday the Metro Newspaper Online also plan to run an update.

Please do buy a copy to read more and an interview with Auxilier Trevor Miners from Perranporth Patrol. Find out more about how CART campaigned to make this happen here.