Site Records

SiteName: Shipley (Sussex) Zero Station

West Sussex
OS Grid Ref: TQ14232288

Sub Brit site visit November 1997

[Source: Stewart Angell]

The Special Duties Organisation, branch of the Auxiliary Units, was formed after the sabotage side of the resistance had already been established. Its members were never told of the many patrols in existence all around the country. The Special Duties Organisation's role involved radio communications and spying. The headquarters for the unit was located at Hannington Hall, Hannington, Wiltshire. The section's personnel consisted of spies, cut-outs, out-station radio operators and the people who would operate the control and zero stations.

Unlike the sabotage-minded patrols both men and women could be chosen for the task of spying. The main people recruited for this role were people whose jobs allowed plenty of movement - doctors, midwives, postmen, vicars and farm workers. These people were trained separately in their own areas, being taught how to make simple intelligence reports. In the event of a German invasion they would have carried on their usual business or routine, making reports of any German troop movements, or anything else of interest they had observed. Once a report was completed the spy needed to pass the information on to a radio operator. This was achieved by use of a secret 'letter box'. This could take many forms. For instance an old tin can, or hole in a tree or under a rock could be adopted. All that was required was a place where the report could be hidden and be accessible to the radio operator.

Photo:The main chamber - the entrance shaft is beyond the doorway
Photo by Nick Catford

If the radio operator did not pick up the report himself, someone known as a 'cut-out' would pick it up and transfer it to a second secret letter box where it could be retrieved for transmission. The use of this system kept the identity of the spies and cut-outs from the radio-operators and vice-versa.

Some wiring still remains

A radio operator along with his equipment was classified as an out-station. The radio's whereabouts had to be kept totally secret. This was achieved by siting most of the radios in underground hideouts. The radio used by the Special Duties Organisation was purpose built to be basic in design and simple to use. The radio sets measured approximately 15 inches long, 6 inches high and 5 inches wide. They worked on the, then rarely used, frequency between 60 and 65 megacycles that was probably not even monitored by the Germans. A six volt car battery was used to power the radio set.

This needed a 40 feet long aerial to be able to transmit its messages. Had the Germans landed the radio operators would have carried on with their normal occupations, only visiting their out-stations to transmit short reports of information. These out-station operators would all be transmitting to their local control stations, of which Sussex had three. The purpose of a control station was to relay information gained from the various out-stations back to headquarters at Hannington Hall.

Survey by Stewart Angell

A control station was operated by three specially trained women of the ATS Auxiliary Unit, each station having two transmitters and two receivers. One set was for everyday use whilst the whole radio network was in training, the other to be used in the event of an invasion. The training set was often housed in a surface building. The other set would have been close by in an underground hideout known as a 'zero station', so-called because when the station's code-name was used it was always followed by the code suffix 'zero'. There were no transmitting schedules for the out-station operators to keep so the women would have to listen for messages coming in for long stretches of time. The purpose of a Zero Station was to receive coded information from the many out-stations in the surrounding area, passing on the details via a direct phone line to the Special Duties headquarters at Hannington Hall. Sussex had three underground Zero Stations, one in a wood in Heathfield, East Sussex, and two in West Sussex: the better-known of these was in the grounds of Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly, and the other near Shipley, about ten miles west of Haywards Heath, close to the A272 road.

Photo:View of the hideout as you enter its main chamber from the entrance shaft end. To the left of the doorway are the two ventilation pipes. The shelf inbetween supported either a manual or diesel generator to be used when more fresh air was needed; a facility none of the sabotage side of the Auxiliary Units hideouts had. Beyond the doorway the start of the emergency exit tunnel can be seen.
Photo by Nick Catford

All three were built to the same plan, the only variant being the length of the emergency exit tunnel. The women operatives of these Zero Stations were members of the ATS with Beatrice Temple as their Senior Commander. Miss Temple would often visit the underground sites around the country to check that the women were all right and generally monitor how the system was working. The Royal Corps of Signals were in charge of checking and maintaining the radio equipment.

Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Stewart Angell]

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