Jul 312013

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.

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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 or to tell us something new, please Contact us on our main website.