[SOURCE: Metro Newspaper Online By Hayden Smith]
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.’