One of our main aims for the new website was to get as much information on individuals was possible, including images. A good example is that of Airlie Abinda Campbell a member of the Special Duties ATS.
One of the most remarkable stories associated with Airlie, is how she met her husband, George Gascoyne (https://www.staybehinds.com/george-archibald-clive-gascoyne) an Auxiliary who accidentally stumbled across Airlie’s wireless bunker, descended down the ladder and was confronted by her pointing a revolver at his head (photo attached of their wedding day)!
If anyone has any images of any other ‘Secret Sweeties’ (what the members of the Special Duties ATS unit were, rather politically incorrectly called), we would love to see them.
Indeed, if anyone has any information on the Special Duties branch we would love to hear from you!
We must be now very near to losing all members of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties, but we are more determined than ever to remember them and the sacrifice they were willing to make for the country.
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!
When looking at an Operational Base, a plan can helpful to understand what can be seen in specific photos. It is often difficult to understand a structure from a single image or series of images. But a plan, or series of plans, can only show two dimensions at once.
The simplest way to address this is with a sketch, that adds the third dimension. Our Admiralty 4 (Prior Park) Patrol report contains an example of this. The sketch makes clearer how an underground structure is arranged, when that cannot be easily seen from the images alone.
Software has made it possible to build virtual 3D models from measurements of an Operational Base. Once the realm of specialists, there are now entry level software options to build a virtual 3D model and colour it to create an accurate reconstruction of an OB that may be collapsed or overgrown. An example of this can be seen with theseimages of a very overgrown OB at Portesham in Dorset, with a simple 3D model showing much more clearly than any of the image the layout of the operational base.
We have been fortunate enough to have a professional showing us how it should be done. Matt Brazier kindly produced a couple of models of Operational Bases for CART and has animated these into a walk through which further improves the understanding of design. We have seen his model of the Salisbury In-station already. He produced another of Operational Base of the Drellingore Patrol. The OB in this instance was collapsed, though the shaft and escape tunnel remain intact. The reconstruction video allowed the original structure to be visualised as it would have been. There is always a risk of introducing interpretation into a model and making assumptions. The initial model of the Binnegar OB seen in the report, assumed the shaft was a rectangle shape. However, once excavated it became clear it was narrower at one end than the other, as can be seen in the images. Experience has shown that you can’t take too many measurements and it is is also worth planning a follow up visit to repeat the measurements that were overlooked the first time!
More recently archaeological recording has advanced to incorporate 3D scanning technology. Issues of missed measurements are overcome as the laser scanner takes thousands of measurements to create a point map. This plots each measurement in three dimensions to create a virtual model of the structure. This model can be rendered with either illustrations or photographs mapped onto the images. Recently, AOC Archaeology were contracted by Forestry and Land Scotland to record an Operational Base that came to light during felling works. This was an OB in a relatively good state of preservation, belonging to the Beattock Patrol in the Scottish Borders and ideal for this technique. Of particular interest was the linking of scans above and below ground to generate an illustration of the location of the structure in the landscape. As these structures are vulnerable to rust and other natural damage over time, this has to be the modality of choice to record these structures where possible. We are grateful to AOC for sharing the final report and the images. These images are very effective and certainly captured the imagination of the press, resulting in numerous articles including one in French!
Investigating buried structures using geophysical techniques has been increasingly common in recent years. It allows large areas to surveyed relatively quickly and uses differences in the responses generated by the buried archaeology and natural or fill materials to locate structures and identify their extent. If you have ever been confused by what it involves, Historic England have a straightforward explanation in their guide to research techniques.
The use of such techniques on Auxiliary Sites has been relatively limited. This may relate to the belief that the sites are identified and not recognising that elements of the structure may extend beyond the immediately visible OB, as we saw with the ventilation systems at Binnegar and Bromyards Downs in previous pages. Many structures are in woodland, where the application of the techniques are more difficult.
At Coleshill, a metal detecting survey and magnetometer was used to identify metallic targets for investigation. A ground penetrating radar was briefly trialed over the known demonstration Operational Base at Coleshill House and showed that it was detectable to the technique.
Subsequently a formal magnetometry survey was conducted by the short lived Churchill’s Underground War Group, at Langrish House in Hampshire, in an attempt to identify a possible Operational Base in the grounds. Nothing was found though documentary evidence has subsequently suggested the OB was elsewhere.
The Buckland St Mary In-station was known to have been built at Castle Neroche. The Castle was an Iron Age Hillfort converted into a Motte and Bailey Castle during the Anarchy period. Sergeant Arthur Gabbitas who documented the role of his Royal Signals colleagues in the Auxiliary Units Special Duties Branch was stationed there for a while. He left a brief description of the site. Historian and former Royal Signals Officer, David Hunt, visited the site in 2008, obtaining a useful first hand account of the location of the Operational Base, a “Zero” station for the the Chirnside Network, from a local resident who remembered it. His account included the presence of ventilation pipes showing like rabbit holes in the side of pits in Castle grounds. No remains could be found at the time but the site was recorded on the Somerset Historic Environment Record. There are separate records for the above ground Met Hut, which David remembered as still present during his own childhood visiting the site, and the Operational Base.
In 2017, CART arranged a visit to the site, to see if any evidence remained. David’s reports provided a focus for the search. The Met Hut base was measured and photographed. The location of the door could be identified. A search of the surrounding area found a small fragment of wire on the adjacent bank, twisted as if to connect to a terminal, perhaps for a battery. At the location identified for the Operational Base, fragments of glazed earthenware pipe were found, a feature often seen at such sites. A very careful search found a small hole near the edge of the bank with the top of two earthenware pipes just visible at its base, just a few centimetres below ground level. The earth had washed down into the pipes over the years, creating the hole. The pipes were almost certainly part of the ventilation system previously noted. Nearby an aerial tree was identified with fragments of the aerial feeder cable projecting from the bark. Because the entire site is a scheduled monument, no excavation of any sort was possible.
A report was prepared and submitted to the County Archaeologist who fortunately was interested enough to arrange for a further non-invasive investigation after obtaining the necessary permissions. Liz Caldwell from GeoFlo (www.geoflo.co.uk) was commissioned by the Southwest Heritage Trust, which was organised by Chris Webster, to survey the site. We think that this report represents the first time that an Operational Base was located by such techniques. With permission we include images from this report in an album of images form the site. The survey was conducted with a Fluxgate gradiometer (Bartington Grad 601-2 ) and Resistivity meter (TR/CIA Resistance Meter) processed with Geoscan Geoplot 3.00v software. The survey showed with a high degree of confidence the location of a structure underground, with a high magnetic signal, consistent with an elephant shelter structure. The ventilation pipes were not visible using these techniques.
On a repeat visit visit to the site, with a change in the conditions, a very shallow regular depression could be identified at the site identified by the non-invasive techniques. A further hole with a pipe junction was identified, in line with the first, supporting the interpretation of a ventilation system. Two aerial trees were identified. We do not believe there is a third extant tree at the site, though there is another tree with a lightning scar, an appearance that can look similar to an aerial scar. As both aerial trees and lightning strikes are located on high ground they can exist in close association.
Coming right up to date, a group from Keele and London South Bank Universities have published a pre-print paper utilising several techniques, namely, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Resistivity, Conductivity and Metal detecting across three Operational Base sites, one intact, another collapsed and a third destroyed to test the modalities. Metal detecting proved valuable in locating the site of the structures, with GPR showing extant chambers and depths. The other modalities also produced useful information and allowed the construction materials to be identified. This is an interesting proof of concept study and suggests that the study of buried structures of the Auxiliary Units with non-invasive techniques is both useful and practicable. We look forward to further investigations of this nature.
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