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
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.
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.
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