Site Records

Site Name: Bathampton Patrol (Auxiliary Units) Operational Base (OB)

Bathampton Wood
OS Grid Ref: ST778651

Date of visit: 2000

[Source: Bob Millard]

The Bathampton Patrol had its hideout in one of the disused underground stone quarries on Hampton Rocks. Although the adjacent area has changed following collapses, the original entrance can still be identified.

The entrance to the operational base (OB) was disguised by leaning a metal fence against the stone face. This was then covered with stones and earth to simulate a fall. A hole just large enough to squeeze through was left, this was covered by a large stone that could be pushed outwards. Inside there were more stones that could be piled against this when the OB was occupied. Once inside the entrance there was a narrow opening to the right leading down a stone scree slope to a large cavern. The entrance now appears to have collapsed a short distance in preventing further access.

The targets for this patrol were the railway junction at Bathampton and Claverton Manor, if occupied by the Germans. Secondary areas for possible sabotage were the engine sheds at Green Park station and Colerne airfield.

Photo:Entrance to the Bathampton Operational Base in 2000
Photo by Bob Millard

Besides its hideout, the patrol had an arms/explosives dump in what had been the explosives store of a disused quarry on the edge of Claverton Down, near the top of Widcombe Hill (OS Ref: ST769639). This store was damaged in the raid of 26 April 1942 and its contents were then transferred to Manor Farm, Swainswick.

The original Patrol Sergeant, Jack Wyld, formed the patrol and located the hideout; he was a former quarryman and was familiar with the underground quarry workings in Bathampton Wood.

The following are known members of the patrol :-

A. Bentley Hunt Tony Beckford Gardens, Bathwick - Joined 1940
W. J. Denning Donk  
J. Giles John Sgt. after J. Hill - Joined 1941
A. C. Hannah Buster Widcombe Hill - Joined 1941
G. James Jimmy First Avenue, Oldfield Park - Joined 1942
J. M. Jones Mike Hayesfield Place, Bear Flat
R. W. Millard Moon Rockcliffe Avenue, Bathford - Joined 1940
J. G. Wyld Jack Bathwick Street - Original patrol sergeant

One weekend in September 1940, the Bathampton Home Guard. Platoon was put on standby at its post near the Dry Arch on the Warminster Road because of the fear of an imminent invasion. It was during the stand to that I had my first experience of Auxiliary Units. Late in the Saturday evening a small explosion occurred in the wood behind the post and a person in Home Guard uniform, who was talking to the officer in charge, remarked that the sentries were not much good as he had just blown up the post. This was my first encounter with the timer pencil, a delayed action fuse with which I later became very familiar.

A week or so later I was approached by Anthony Bentley Hunt, another member of the platoon, who asked me whether I would like to join something more lively than the Home Guard. I agreed and he took me to meet a John Garnet Wyld who lived at 42, Bathwick Street. I was questioned thoroughly about myself, my relatives and my geographical knowledge of the area and then told to come back in a week. When I returned I was sworn to secrecy and told about the Auxiliary Units. J. G. Wyld was the initial patrol sergeant with J. W. Denning, J. M. Jones, A. Bentley Hunt and myself being the other members. A.C.Hannah and G. James joined later. I never knew how A. Bentley Hunt was contacted by the Auxiliary Unit's. J. G. Wyld was replaced as sergeant by J. Giles from Tadwick in mid-1941.

Bob Millard in 1940

The patrol would meet two evenings a week and at weekends for training and construction work on the operational base (OB). Initially meetings were more frequent to get the OB into a habitable condition. Training took two forms, familiarisation with the area and practice with explosives and sabotage devices.

Familiarisation involved walking the area time and time again until each gap in the hedge, barn, and possible hiding places became familiar. It also involved the urban area to find where each alley lead or where a short cut might be taken. During these excursions we were delighted to discover the OB's of two Admiralty patrols, one in the wood above the Warminster Road and the other in Prior Park.

We also familiarised ourselves with the old stone mines under Combe Down. Other exercises were to lie up in the grounds of Claverton Manor to observe the movements of the military and to thoroughly explore the local railway to determine where demolition charges might be placed. Explosives training took place in the remoter areas of the woods lining the Limpley Stoke Valley. This was limited because of the noise and to conserve stocks. Jack Wyld was, I believe, a quarryman; in any case he was very knowledgeable in the use of explosive and the construction of basic charges. We were supplied with plastic explosive and gelignite together with delay fuses (time pencils) and pull and pressure switches to construct booby traps. We also received training from the army at Coleshill House near Swindon, the AUs’ H.Q., where we were instructed in field craft, explosives and booby traps; I went there twice. Instructions would be received to report to the postmistress at Highworth and on arrival she would examine your orders and then telephone Coleshill who sent transport for you, thus keeping the exact location of the base secret.

The site of our operational base had been chosen by Jack Wyld and was in one of the old stone mines on Hampton Rocks and, as we discovered later, close to the site of an Admiralty patrol’s OB Although the terrain has changed considerably since 1940 through collapse and weathering the site can still be identified. The entrance to the OB was a narrow opening just large enough to wriggle through and about six or eight feet long. The entrance opened onto a scree slope and a large cavern with side tunnels. A stone slab cut so that it could be positioned either from the inside or outside and which blended in with the rock fall camouflaged the entrance. A living area was partitioned off using the copious fallen stone in a way that simulated the sloping scree of previous collapses. Once the entrance and interior had been organised the OB was only visited occasionally to ensure it had not been discovered and to avoid making tracks.

Tell tale markers were left to indicate if anything had been disturbed. In those days rabbits were plentiful and we would collect fresh droppings to scatter about to disguise any route taken. We had a few weekends living in the OB to check our ability to obtain water from a nearby spring and to see if cooking smells were detectable. A few heavy items such as Mills bombs were wrapped in tarpaulin and buried in the OB, detonators were not left with them.

We operated on the assumption that we would get a few hours notice of the need to assemble at the OB; a code phrase, “the sun is rising” would be the signal. We all had personal knapsacks packed ready, a gallon of petrol and access to a small van that was rarely used.

Bob Millard in 2003

The plan was that when the alert was received two members of the patrol would collect the van and travel via Widcombe Hill to the top of Bathwick Hill. From Bathwick Hill a bridle track ran to a small copse near the reservoir on Hampton Down, a few minutes from the OB. Here the patrol would rendezvous, the others having made their way on foot to the OB, to check it out and dumped their personal kit. A couple of dry runs showed that this worked all right.

As far as weapons were concerned we started with two .300 Ross rifles and in early 1941 a Thompson sub-machine gun was issued together with a personal pistol and Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. I had a 5” barrel .38 calibre Smith and Wesson pistol. We also made “punch knives” which we carried in the slot intended for a cleaning rod on the webbing holster. I recall going a couple of times to a military firing range, possibly near Warminster, for range practice.

Photo:This shows an adjacent quarry chamber similar to that used as the OB. A collapse has recently exposed this chamber
Photo by Bob Millard

In the autumn of 1941 (as far as I can remember) we were instructed to undertake a sabotage exercise against aircraft parked near the perimeter of RAF Colerne. We were given no further briefing except that it was to take place in the early hours of Sunday morning. Four of the patrol took part and as we had previously reconnoitered this area in the vicinity of the Vineyards we thought we had a good idea of the lie of the land. Our plan was to approach the target area as a patrol and then work in pairs.

A signal was prearranged for identification, the Morse letter X (dah dit dit dah), as it could be whispered, tapped or flashed on the pencil torches we carried. We made our rendezvous at the Three Shire Stones on the Bannerdown Road and with John Giles in the lead we skirted Westwood Farm into a small valley and then followed a brook up the rising ground towards the road. On reaching the high hedgerow John signalled us to stop and crawled ahead. However, unknown to us a Lewis gun emplacement had been built below the road and John was spotted. There was a loud shout, “We’ve got one of them” and the sound of a noisy struggle from John. We lay doggo until the noise moved up to the road then crept cautiously forward and discovered a sandbagged gun pit which, to our surprise, was empty except for a Lewis gun and a couple of magazines.

As John was creating confusion on the road we were able to remove the gun and leave in its place a ten minute delay fuse and detonator. We then crawled along under the hedge to a cart track leading to the road from where we could see several people standing in the road and also a small truck. We set up the gun to cover the road and contemplated how best to cross to gain access to the airfield perimeter. In the event it was made easy for us, as there was a shout, ”The bloody gun’s gone,” which distracted the group on the road and briefly afterwards, the detonator went off. The ensuing confusion allowed us to roll across the road into the garden of the Vineyards but unfortunately we had to leave our trophy behind.

In the garden cover was provided by a runner bean fence and as we lay there we observed a person approach the door of the Vineyards, knock, pause, and then enter. Later two figures emerged, one of which was John, still protesting and the other who appeared to be an unarmed escort. They entered an outbuilding and as when the door was opened no light showed we assumed they were the only occupants. As there was no one in the garden area it was simple to move up to the door and knock the Morse letter 'X' on it to alert John. The escort opened the door and was bowled over by us onto a bunk bed. Under the bed we discovered two boxes of Mills grenades so we took a couple each. Leaving one to watch the escort three of us moved towards the door of the Vineyards, again quite easy, as there was no one in the vicinity.

Having previously observed someone knock, pause and enter we tried the same tactic and were greeted with a loud “Come” which we did in a mad rush. Inside were a captain, a flight sergeant and an officer with a white umpire’s armband on. We claimed to have overwhelmed the office and as we had coshes, fighting knives and the stolen Mills bombs; the umpire agreed. Almost at once there was a knock on the door. John signalled to us to stand either side of the door and then shouted, “Come” and flung the door open. In stepped a corporal who said,” Escort for the prisoners, sir” and then we jumped him. The umpire asked what we would do now. We showed him the Mills bombs and said we would lob these at the escort and onto the road, leave onto the airfield by the rear door after damaging the telephone and leaving a bomb to explode in the office. He agreed we had a chance of getting onto the airfield so we told them where the Lewis gun was and leaving the bombs on the desk, began our five-mile walk home.

For more details of Auxiliary Units in Bath area see Auxunit News web site

[Source: Bob Millard]

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