Apr 042016

Article by Ray Duffill

secret-army-posterBy daytime in World War II, Charlie Mason was an aircraft engineer at Brough, but this just provided cover for his covert membership of Britain’s secret resistance organisation. Charlie’s role, in an invasion by foreign enemy troops, would be to fight the invaders from behind their own lines with a campaign of espionage, sabotage and disruption.

Charles Arthur Mason was a member of the South Cave Patrol of the secretive Auxiliary Units set up on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940. This secret army was established with two key roles during an invasion by forces of Nazi Germany; to collect intelligence on invading enemy forces and to organise a guerilla offensive behind enemy lines. Nominally part of the Home Guard, this was certainly no ‘Dad’s Army’.

An exhibition at Hedon Museum, which opened on Saturday, reveals much about the secret life of Charlie Mason who along with his comrades trained and prepared to resist the invaders. Because of the secret nature of its organisation, the story of this ‘underground’ resistance army remains largely untold, and for most of his life Charlie, bound by the Official Secrets Act, kept his wartime role secret.

Jo Mulhearn with display boards about her father Charles Mason.

Jo Mulhearn with display boards about her father Charles Mason.

“He didn’t tell us much at all about his secret activities,” said Charlie’s daughter Jo Mulhearn at the Hedon Museum on Saturday. “He’d told us that he worked for a section of the Home Guard, and during the war, he said to Mother ‘if the invasion starts, let the chickens out of the coop, then go to the church and make sure the bells are rung to warn people. I’ll then be going away… and may not be back for some time.’“

During an invasion, Charlie would have made his way to his operational base, a hide-out in the countryside stocked with knives, guns and explosives from which his unit would conduct operations against the enemy. Some of those items, safely decommissioned, are on display in the exhibition.

Maggie Sumner from the Hedon & District Local History Society was particularly interested in one commando knife in the exhibition which she believes was the one that Charlie brought with him when he gave a talk to a meeting of the Society, perhaps 20 years ago. “The presentation stands out, even after all this time because of the interesting subject matter, but also because of Charlie holding this big lethal looking dagger!” Apparently, in peacetime, the knife was used for nothing sinister but merely as a gardening trowel by Charlie!

Alan Williamson, author and researcher, and Jo Mulhearn.

Alan Williamson, author and researcher, and Jo Mulhearn.


Alan Williamson’s book

Alan Williamson’s book

Jo Mulhearn opened the exhibition on Saturday, but introducing her was Alan Williamson who has spent 22 years researching the local Auxilary Units – work which he says is ongoing. Alan has written a book, East Ridings Secret Resistance, which was published in 2003. Much of the research for that book was undertaken by both Alan and Charlie – “Charlie was always keen to re-discover the sites of the former Operational Bases,” said Alan “he would be the first one down into any forgotten underground bunker.”

There was a real threat of invasion in the early part of the war, and whilst that did not take place, the Auxilary Units were kept in active service until finally ‘stood down’ in November 1944.

The “Secret No More” exhibition currently showing at the Hedon Museum reveals much about the membership and wartime activities of this secret army and draws heavily upon the experiences of Charles Mason (1914 – 2008) and other veterans of this most secret army.

The story of East Riding’s secret resistance army 1940-44 at Hedon Museum is open every Wednesday and Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm until Wednesday 4th May 2016. Refreshments are available. Please seek out the signs and notices in Hedon town centre to find your way to the museum which is behind the town hall complex.

A ‘must-see’ exhibition!

Jul 062013

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

May 122013

onairOn Monday 13th May from 10 am Andy Gwynne, CART CIO for East Yorkshire, and his assistant Martyn Owst, will attempt to broadcast a  series of LIVE video reports from an Operational Base near Bridlington.

As far as we know this will be a world first and could change the way we choose to report on this research.

The video reports can be viewed here. 

Sep 132012

Just added Yorkshire’s Hart Auxiliary Unit Patrol to the site.

The patrol’s operational base is yet to be discovered but our researcher has managed to obtain a really insightful audio interview with Harry Moore, one of the patrol members.

You can see the report and listen to the interview here

Sep 122012

Another brave group of men have been added to our website. This time East Yorkshire’s Cottingham NORTH Patrol.

The Operational Bunker was hidden inside a Boiler House.

Our researcher Andy Gwynne has prepared a report on the men here

Sep 042012

Today we have added a page including pictures and video on the Beverley South Auxiliary Unit Patrol from East Ridings in Yorkshire.

Andy Gwynne has made a cracking video inside the Operational Base and the full report can be seen here