Don't miss a story sign up to Sidmouth Herald's FREE daily newsletter CLICK HERE

Unrecognised but not forgotten - East Devon’s Auxiliers

13:03 15 August 2014

Nina Hannaford at the entrace to an operational base near Newton Poppleford. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4158-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Nina Hannaford at the entrace to an operational base near Newton Poppleford. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4158-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Archant

In a quiet copse, two miles outside Newton Poppleford, lies a clue to one of the best kept secrets in the British military.

Tom Sykes inside an operational base near Newton Poppleford. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4165-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24Tom Sykes inside an operational base near Newton Poppleford. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4165-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

Down a muddy track and buried some eight feet underground is a World War Two bunker.

It’s empty now, but in 1940 it would have been packed with explosives, ammunition and provisions.

That’s because in the event of a German invasion, this is where a group of highly trained men from the covert Auxiliary Units would have launched their resistance.

I’d come to the bunker – or operational base (OB) – with Tom Sykes and Nina Hannaford from the British Resistance Archive to learn more about the men of this secretive force, who thankfully were never called on to wage the guerrilla war they were trained for.

The inconspicuous lapel badge awarded to Auxiliers after the war gave no indication of their unit or role. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4170-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24The inconspicuous lapel badge awarded to Auxiliers after the war gave no indication of their unit or role. Photo by Terry Ife. Ref shs 4170-32-14TI To order your copy of this photograph go to www.sidmouthherald.co.uk and click on myphotos24

In the face of a very real threat of invasion from Nazi Germany in 1940, Churchill ordered a clandestine civilian force be formed, with the sole task of resisting the occupation that would follow.

The men of the Auxiliary Units – or Auxiliers – would have been selected for their local knowledge.

People like farmers, gamekeepers and poachers, who could live off the land and knew every shortcut and hiding place.

After signing the Official Secrets Act, they were ‘assigned’ to local Home Guard units, issued with the uniform as a cover story and expected to keep their role secret - even from their closest family.

Recruits were formed into cells – or operational patrols – of seven or eight men, who received training in stealth and sabotage and were first in line for the latest weaponry and kit.

Their orders were to emerge from their OB at night to destroy supply dumps, block roads and assassinate German officers.

“If they derailed a train in a compact area, it could take weeks before it was cleared and cause massive disruption,” explained Nina. “Just look at what happened at Dawlish when the train line shut – it caused chaos.”

The OB is accessed down a narrow shaft which would have been completely hidden from view by a camouflaged hatch.

Once inside, any noise from the surface is barely audible and, in the near darkness, the base, which is no more than 15 feet long and eight feet high, would have been quite claustrophobic.

Nina explained that unusually, the Newton Poppleford OB didn’t have an escape tunnel, although it appeared that the men had started to dig one before blocking it up.

She said: “Possibly the ground was too solid for them to dig through.

“It probably wouldn’t have been much use if the Germans had found the OB anyway.

“The escape tunnels in other bases were probably more of a morale booster than anything else.

“The thing they were probably most worried about was sniffer dogs, because if they were tracked back to the OB they would have been in real trouble.

“They had no chance really – they probably had two weeks at the most if the Germans had invaded.”

And their actions, although vital to the resistance effort, could have had serious consequences for the local population.

“There could have been reprisals,” added Nina. “If a bridge was blown up or a road blocked, the Germans would have started asking questions in nearby villages.

“They could have shot anyone they suspected of being part of the resistance or helping them, and it could have easily been family or friends of the Auxiliers.”

The Auxiliary Units were formally stood down in November 1944 and, thanks to their specialist training, many of the men made ideal candidates for the newly formed Special Air Service.

But because of the secrecy of their work, they received no formal recognition when the war ended, apart from an inconspicuous lapel badge.

“As far as their families and friends were concerned, they were in the Home Guard,” said Nina. “Local people might have looked at them after the war and thought ‘you didn’t do much’.

“It’s a shame because when the Home Guard had the official stand down marches after the war, the Auxiliers had nothing.”

In his official stand down letter, commander of the Auxiliary Units, Colonel F W R Douglas, told his men: “In view of the fact that your lives depended on secrecy, no public recognition will be possible.

“But those in the most responsible positions at General Headquarters, Home Forces, know what was done; and what would have been done had you been called upon.

“It will not be forgotten.”

The Newton Poppleford base is just one of 32 OBs concealed in woodland across Devon, with other sites in East Devon thought to be hidden near Aylesbeare and Sidbury.

And although Tom and Nina know most of the names of local Auxiliers and where they lived, the exact location of many of the OBs remain a mystery.

Tom said: “We have most of the pieces of the puzzle, we just can’t put them all together yet.”

“We can but guess by their addresses where the rough patrol locations were,” added Nina.

The pair are keen to hear from families of men identified as Auxiliers, to answer any questions about what their relatives did during the war and to improve their knowledge of the units in the area.

Nina can be contacted on 01803 852977, and more information on the Auxiliers is available at the British Resistance Archive website - www.coleshillhouse.com

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Sidmouth Herald visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Sidmouth Herald staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Sidmouth Herald account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Other News Stories

Sidmouth Citizen of the Year Dave O'Connor with his daughter Pauline Denning. Ref shs 17-16SH 2510. Picture: Simon Horn.

A ‘true son of Sidmouth’ and chairman of the town’s branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL) has been named Citizen of the Year.

Read more
06:25
The report was written by the CQC.

The manager of Ridgeway Residential Home in Sidmouth has assured families that residents’ welfare is of ‘utmost priority’ after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) identified certain areas that ‘require improvement’.

Read more
Yesterday, 19:28
Cheque recipients gather before the annual Sidmouth town council meeting and grant presentation. Ref shs 17-16AW 4574. Picture: Alex Walton

Trustees at the Sid Valley Memory Café say the area’s first Admiral Nurse is edging closer to becoming a reality thanks to the support of the local community.

Read more
Yesterday, 16:24
Sidmouth carnival. Ref shs 4171-40-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

Sidmouth Carnival could end if volunteers do not come forward before the annual general meeting of its organisers next week.

Read more
Yesterday, 06:35
Brewery Owner Paul Dimond collecting his trophy from  sponsors Charles Faram Hop Merchants.

Bitter beer produced at Branscombe Vale Brewery has been crowned the best in the South West.

Read more
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Ann Evans, 76, is taking on a four mile run to raise money for PFP

Former nun Ann Evans, 76, hopes to raise £500 by completing a four mile course between Beer and Branscombe.

Read more
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Ron Bennett has primed a piece of sheet steel and is giving it a rub down.  It will be used for part of the cladding of 257 Squadron.

An ambitious £300,000 project to restore a steam locomotive named Sidmouth is now under way - thanks to help from generous donors within the community.

Read more
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Bill Valentine will be taking part in a Aquathon in Dawlish on April 3 which involves a 300m swim followed by a 2.5k run. Bill is keen for others to become more active and take up a sport such as swimming. Ref shs 13-16SH 9353. Picture: Simon Horn

A Sidmouth runner will remember his best friend during his latest race on Sunday.

Read more
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Kirstie is bringing aerial hoop classes to Sidmouth

The Honiton resident has fought against the odds to pursue her love of instructing.

Read more
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Eleven year old Ben Fisher will be taking part in a sixteen mile trek across Exmoor for Sense. Ben has so far raised over £700 for the charity with supports people who are deafblind but hopes he can increase that amount. Ref shs 17-16SH 1681.

Ben, 11, is keen to put his orienteering skills to good use

Read more

Local Weather

Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 14°C

min temp: 5°C

Most Read News

Great British Life

Great British Life

Useful Links

Family notices
Advertise in the paper
Submit a Story
Submit a Story
Buy Photos
Competitions
iwitness24
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus Page
Reader Travel

Family Notices 24

Read Online

Image
Read the Sidmouth Herald e-edition E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

Local business directory

Devon's trusted business finder

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists


Find planning applications