Churchill's Secret Army
Little is know about Churchill’s Secret Army, but they would have been a force to be reckoned with if Germany had invaded Britain. Without attracting any attention, various military intelligence organisations set about creating a network of 500 Auxiliary units all over Britain.
The men recruited for this were trained in the art of sabotage and survival, there was a handbook produced called The Countryman’s Diary which contained a catalogue of ideas for killing, maiming and blowing up.
Although attached to the Home Guard they were called the Home Guard Auxiliary Units, the Home Guard name being used to cover their activities.
The men in the units were issued with Home Guard uniforms, although they had different shoulder flashes.
These units had secret underground bunkers which as well as providing storage and shelter also contained the weapons of war should the threatened invasion take place.
I first discovered about the Coldingham site in the 1960s when discussing the war with Jimmy Greenlaw who lived on the Fishers’ Brae. Jimmy was a member of this unit and had been recruited because he was the explosives master at a quarry he told me where the underground bunker was positioned and what the purpose of the unit was.
The secrets of their existence and operations even now after sixty years are little known, due to secrecy and the passing of time.
Each patrol consisted of six men, who were very familiar with the local district, mainly made up of farmers and gamekeepers and were specially trained to be brought into action in the event of invasion.
Using their heavily camouflaged underground bunker as a base, they could surreptitiously attack the invading German army occupying “their” area by blowing up bridges and railways if necessary.
As well as their supplies of ammunition and explosives, they had ten days’ supply of food and water and were expected to live off the land afterwards. The specialised weapons included four Sten-Guns, a Thompson sub machine gun, two rifles, fifty grenades, 3,000 rounds of ammunition, time fuses, plastic explosive and gelignite.
If the Germans had invaded, there is no doubt that if the brave Auxiliaries had been taken alive, they would have faced the firing squad, for posters already prepared by German printers spelt out the harsh penalty British saboteurs would receive.
Three Battalions were created to provide a cover for the units: 201 in Scotland, 202 in the North of England and 203 in the South of England. The names of the men in the units were never officially recorded and as most of them were mostly middle aged in the 1940s, their activities are unlikely to ever be fully revealed or understood.
When the threat of invasion seemed to be over these Auxiliary units were “stood down” in 1944.
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.
My friend George Ross and I visited the site in 2006 and rediscovered the entrance to the bunker. Our first view inside looked very promising but when we dug out the entrance and scrambled inside, the roof of the building was in poor condition and unsafe. There were remains of various articles including a chair, an oven, a paraffin lamp and part of an old bed frame.
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Initial training-in all the preceding weapons and equipment was given, either at Coleshill House or locally, by the Regular Army support troops, and such knowledge was passed on, largely by word of mouth, and in the interests of security, no written training manuals were prepared.
However, in July 1942, membership of the Auxunits had grown to such an extent that some form of essential sabotage information was necessary as an aide-memoire for the volunteers. This was issued as a 42-page booklet, put together by a captain in the RE and which contained all the reminders that a well trained saboteur would need in practice.
As a doubtful concession to security, it was given a cover title which would not look out of place on any farmer's bookshelf, The Countryman's Diary- 1939. It was humourously issued 'With the Compliments of Highworth and Co' and stated that 'Highworth Fertilisers do their stuff unseen, until you see results!'
This could well have become the operational motto of the three Auxunit Battalions!
As well as giving details on the packaging, characteristics and methods of use of the various explosives and equipment, the handbook also contained many useful hints and tips, including the 'dos and don'ts' of handling explosives.
A chapter was included on the best methods of attacking certain targets, and how to calculate the amount of explosives required, followed by the admonition that 'if in doubt, double the calculated charge!'
Sketched drawings indicated how to destroy railway lines, petrol dumps and stores, and where to place charges to do the most damage to parked aeroplanes or vehicles.
Advice was also given on how to make improvised mines. 'Aim at killing by splinters, not by blast!' The use of an old motorcycle cylinder was highly recommended - 'The fins fly well!'
Apart from the standard government caution relating to the disclosure of information to unauthorised persons printed on the fly-leaf, there was no indication for whom this publication was intended.
Please note: Acees to the bunker is not possible as the roof has now collapsed.