October 7, 2013

Aux unit

The Auxiliary Units were a very secret unit of guerrillas operating from within the Home Guard and it was their task to take on the enemy after an invasion in areas of enemy occupation.

The tasks would be similar to those of the French Resistance, namely destroying lines of communication and supplies, assassinating key enemy figures and causing mayhem behind the enemy lines. Maybe it was a blessing that they never had to be used because the German’s usual means of retribution after an assassination of a high ranking soldier was to take a hundred or so civilians from a local town and execute them. Old men and young boys, women and children, no one would be spared.

Aux Unit badgeThe Auxiliary units in Eastern England were assigned to the 202 Battalion although they were still officially listed as Home Guard members and served with their local Home Guard units.  Men would discreetly be invited to join a local Aux unit because they possessed a valued skill, such as marksmanship or a knowledge of the lay of the local land. They would then have to sign the Official Secrets Act and have their own, and their families’, backgrounds checked for security. On parade their only distinguishing difference from the Home Guard would have been the 202  Battalion flash on their shoulders.

Operating Bases

Each unit would have been responsible for their own ‘patch’ and would have operated from an Operation Base (OB). These bases very often operated from underground bunkers and these bunkers had walls of 2 feet thick and set 12 feet into the ground and were hidden. Over 500 bunkers were dug in 1941 across the nation and at that time over 3,500 civilians volunteered for service in the Auxiliary Units.

Each unit would be well supplied with munitions, perhaps such as – booby traps; grenades; time fuses; mines; explosives and detonators;  Sten guns; pistols; sniper rifles;

 After the war

Because of the secrecy surrounding these units the British Government did not acknowledge their existence until recently and therefore no medals were awarded to any Auxiliary Unit servicemen. This changed in 1996 when the Ministry of Defence authorised the award of the Defence Medal for those men who served at least three years.

Brandon’s Aux Unit

The following is sourced from research by Steve Woods, of Brandon Country Park.

Brandon was chosen to site an OB because it was thought any invading German Army would rest up and regroup in the cover of the Thetford Forest. There was also a need to control the strategic road junctions between East Anglia and the Midlands along with Brandon’s excellent rail links and the large flat expanses of Breckland heathland around Brandon would have undoubtedly made an ideal landing area for parachutists. Brandon’s OB would have been expected to wage a guerrilla war against the resting enemy.

Primus Stove

Primus Stove

In July/August 1940 Brandon’s first hideout, was built in the Forestry Plantation and was sufficient for fifteen operatives, but this base was prone to flooding and so a second base had to be constructed and this one contained sleeping accommodation for eight men in bunks. The hideout was 12-foot underground and trees were cut and used for the rafters, corrugated iron laid for the roof and earth covered over with a final layer of leaves and pine cones to disguise the underground base.

There was an air vent that ran up alongside a tree. Cooking was carried out on a Primus Stove.

An Observation Post (OP) was also built on the edge of Lingheath along the Bury Road.

Training

Training was carried out every Sunday.  On 15th September 1940 Brandon’s Aux Unit carried out their first training day, which was a joint effort with Lakenheath OB, and 12 men reported to a chalk pit on the Elveden to Bury St Edmunds road. Over the coming months they were taught by the regular army to prime and throw Mills bombs, dismante fuses and more especially the seven second fuse, which was commonly known as “count to five and duck”! They were also taught how to wrap plastic explosive around rail tracks to cut 3-foot lengths of rail.

A second joint training day was carried out in November 1940 and participants were taught about tank sabotage, how to keep low, revolver use using the New York Police Department preferred .38 revolver and how to track their target. The unit also used the rifle range at Cawston in Norfolk with .303 packed in grease that had been stored since the previous World War.

Brandon’s OB was given a dozen Mills bombs, High Explosive plastic (like a yellow putty), twenty minute pencil fuses, detonators, five and ten minute fuse wire (for railway sabotage).

Discovery

Items were found buried in the walled garden of Brandon Country Park which led to Steve Woods’ appearance on the Ken Bruce Radio 2 show on 23rd July 1990. These items included a bayonet, earphones, ammunition, candles, matches, pickled plums, syringe, generator handle, unopened medicines, margarine, miscellaneous food and tubs of grease.

Brandon had an OB situated in Lingheath, an area south-east of Brandon, between the B1106 and B1107, set in scrubland and edging on the Thetford Forest. An eyewitness reports being shown the underground bunker by his father, who had served with the Aux Unit, shortly after the war, but he thinks it has since been demolished as all that is there are craters in the ground. The OB was reached by clearing brush from the ground and opening a trapdoor to the bunker.  Little else is known about this unit due to its secrecy.

The men of Brandon’s Aux unit

They belonged to the Norfolk Area – 10th Group which contained 40 civilians split into an H.Q. and 5 squads. Each squad would have operated from an Operational Base near a town or village without knowledge of who was in the next OB, or indeed if there was another OB nearby, only the H.Q. would have had this information. All would have been recruited from the Home Guard.

The H.Q. Consisted of …

Capt. Walter G. Gentle, M.C. (Group Commander);  Captain Gentle M.C. was awarded the M.B.E. in the 1945 New Year’s Honours List for “services rendered to the 202 Battalion Home Guard”.
Lt. Eric G. Field (Assistant Group Commander);
(both were Brandon men, with descendants still living in Brandon.)
Lt. D.C. Carey (Assistant Group Commander);
Lt. R.F. St. B. Wayne (Assistant Group Commander);

Brandon’s OB members were …
Sgt. Philip R. Field; (Thetford Road, Brandon)
Cpl. S. William “Bill” Baker; (Railway Terrace, Brandon)
Pvt. Roy D. Budden; (Garage owner from Elveden)
Pvt. Albert L. Drewery;
Pvt. George A. Eagle; (Bury Road, Brandon)
Pvt. George H. Holden;
Pvt. D. Smith;
Jack Randall* (not confirmed); (plumber & builder)
Walter Blake* (not confirmed)
Billy Stead* (not confirmed)
Henry Berry* (not confirmed)

Lakenheath’s OB members were …
Sgt. Freddy A. Crowther;
Cpl. Hector W. Crocker;
Pvt. George Palfrey;
Pvt. A.E. Rolph;
Pvt. S.W. Rolph;
Pvt. H.W. Smith;
Pvt. Reg H.T. Young;

Hockwold’s OB members were …
Sgt. W.T. Cooper;
Cpl. A. Maggs;
Pvt. R. Bartlett;
Pvt. J.A.M. Enefer;
Pvt. E.A.A. Hicks;
Pvt. R.C. Rolph;
Pvt. A.E. Starling;

Other OBs under Capt. Gentle’s Command (Do you have any further details?)
Sgt. H.E. Parfitt;
Cpl. M.H. Thompson;
Pvt. R.C. Beck;
Pvt. J. Goram;
Pvt. F.H. Ottoway;
Pvt. E. W. Pratt;
Pvt. B.P. Walpole;
Sgt. B. Warnes;
Cpl. C.J. Williams;
Pvt. G. Brown;
Pvt. R. Fuller;
Pvt. H. Gates;
Pvt. D.F. Gilder;
Pvt. E.C. Huggins;

(Special thanks to the BRO Museum, Parham, Suffolk, for details from the nominal roll stored there.)

Recollections of Brandon’s Auxiliary Unit

“One weekend we were on some sort of skirmish and our section was billeted in a shop. Our ‘enemy’ was what you called the secret unit, we knew them as the Home Guard Commandos. One of the Home Guard Commandos got onto the roof of the building we were in and put a firecracker down the chimney of a pot belly stove we had and ‘blew us all up’.” – Les Bond (Home Guardsman)