CART’s Andy Chatterton returns to talk with the ‘History Hack’ ladies – this time it’s about the Special Duties side of Auxiliary Units – this was the civilian spy network that was put in place to report enemy troop movements once the country had been overrun by the Nazis.
The Family is rightly very proud. George was part of the St. Keverne Operational Patrol (www.staybehinds.com/patrol/st-keverne-patrol) based on the Lizard Peninsular. CART pointed the family in the right direction for how to claim.
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 !
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.
When it comes to Auxiliary Units excavations in Sussex, CART has been fortunate to receive information from others doing the hard work on the ground.
The Operational Base for the Warningcamp Patrol is a rather unusual one, with a box like structure of corrugated iron let into solid chalk, with heavy steel joists supporting the roof. Though there is no documentary evidence, the general consensus has been that such box like structures represent the earliest phase of Operational Base (OB) construction. The more familiar Nissen hut like elephant shelter appears to date from late 1941 based on a plan dated to the end of that year.
In 2014, the Sussex Military History Society conducted a comprehensive excavation of the site. This revealed a good deal of the structure and fittings of the OB. We can’t bring you the full report on this one but there are a few photos on our report on the Warningcamp Patrol provided by one of the diggers. There is a photo of one of the others mid-dig here, but please don’t be distracted by his excellent website on the Pillboxes of Sussex!
A couple of videos give a good overview of the site.
And mention of the Last Cowboy in Sussex, means we really have to share another Sussex link with you, not least as as it shows what the CART website once looked like. It can justifiably be included here as it shows a single find from the site!
The National Nature Reserve of Kingley Vale had been rumoured to be home to an Operational Base for the West Stoke Patrol. The South Downs National Park project “Secrets of the High Woods” utilised volunteers to investigate further. Oral history and a map marked up by a former site ranger provided clues for further fieldwork. An early report includes an images of the Observation Post.
Section 5.4 Modern on page 54 of the report documents the findings. The oral history account has moved since the report was written, with the extract, “They are the size of a house underground.”, discussing the OB while still accessible. The full Secrets of the High Woods document contains very little about the Auxiliary Units, but plenty of archaeology, with great LIDAR images from the project. It is included here for one CART member with a particular interest in OB water tanks – pictured on page 152.
You may have noticed the name of Mike Kallaway in the previous reports and he appears again as pone of a team from the Chichester and District Archaeology Society to bring us a very detailed report on the OB in Houghton Forest, most likely to have been used by the North Stoke Patrol. We have also been provided with an series of additional images of the OB showing more of the details described in the report. Note the very detailed LIDAR data with 0.2 m contours, but that the OB remains undetectable.
This OB differs from the Binnegar OB we saw earlier in the week, though shares an apparently similar basic structure. The main elephant shelter is set on a low wall. A shaft provides an entrance. The end walls are built from corrugated iron, and as is the case in the Hougton Forest OB, these tend to collapse more readily under the weight of soil. Both have ventilation systems, though at Houghton this appears limited to just four pipes. The drawings show all entering the top of the OB, though design elsewhere might suggest that perhaps those in the missing end wall might have run to nearer floor level. In addition they are made of cast iron rather than the glazed pipes seen at Binnegar. This seems to point to a slightly more basic design, perhaps suggesting an earlier build. The Sussex Auxiliary Units were among some of the earliest patrols to be set up. Alternatively this may simply represent the differences between different units undertaking the construction work, using the materials they were familiar with. In some parts of the country, escape tunnels appear to have been a later addition. In this case the loss of the end wall makes it difficult to determine if this was an original feature or later addition. There remains much to be learnt from a careful study of the construction of Operational Bases, matching that with the limited records of construction, to try and understand the development of their design over the period 1940 to 1944. The level of complexity varies widely, not withstanding local solutions to specific problems such as the waterproof box designs used on the low lying Romney Marshes in Kent. Plenty of scope for further research, which will be aided by careful recording of what remains available for study.
Tomorrow we will take a look at a the use of geophysical techniques to search out Operational Bases.
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