One of Britain’s best-kept secrets of World War II was the Home Guard Auxiliary Units, which used the status of the Home Guard as a cover for their real activities.
In May 1940, Colonel Colin Gubbins formed a tightly structured resistance that was to be supplied with the best weapons available and with modern plastic explosives. He names them the Auxiliary Units, a deliberately nondescript title. Everything about the Auxiliary Units was to be kept highly secret.
Gubbins knew he needed local men to form the small patrols in each area, men who could be trusted and who had a good knowledge of their surroundings. He decided it would be best to obtain his resistance men from the Home Guard. Contrary to popular belief (mainly due to the BBC series ‘Dad’s Army’), the Home Guard was not totally made up of bungling old men. Many younger men who were in reserved occupations joined their ranks. This is not to say that every member of the Auxiliary Units was originally in the regular Home Guard. Potential members were always vetted by the local police before they were allowed to join. All the men had to sign the Official Secrets Act, and, on joining the Auxiliary Units, were issued with Home Guard uniforms bearing the number of their battalion. These battalions were: 201st in Scotland; 202nd in Northern England; and 203rd in Southern England. None of these battalions ever had official recognition, which meant they were not covered by the Geneva Convention. If the men were captured, they would have been shot.
When a patrol was formed, it had to have its own underground hideout. This was known as an Operational Base or OB The hideouts were to be used in the event of an invasion. They were well-hidden and purpose-built to house the patrol along with the necessary food, water, ammunition and explosives. In Sussex there were 23 patrols with 139 men, the smallest consisted of four men and the largest eight.
Each patrol had an underground hideout, the operational base (OB) and in many cases an underground observation (OP) post or lookout was also sited close by. Both the OB and OP were extremely well hidden, usually in woodland or thick undergrowth.
The Stansted Patrol was the most westerly sited unit in West Sussex and consisted of six members. The Patrol Leader was Bill Wolfries, the head keeper for Stansted Forest. The other members were George Huxham, a farmer at Pitlands Farm, Up Marden; Ronald Peel, a farmer at Lodge Farm, Forest Side; Jim Rousell, a driver from the Rowlands Castle area and Mr Butler a gamekeeper from the Lordington Estate.
Localised training often took place within Stansted Forest. This included firing practice with the patrol’s various guns and learning how to make up explosive charges, often joining three together over a given distance so that they would all detonate at the same time.
The patrol’s hideout was sited in a shallow chalk pit in the north-eastern end of Stansted Forest.
It was built of wood and corrugated iron with one small entrance hatch and an emergency exit tunnel which ran out to the bottom face of the chalk pit. About 400 yards to the west of the hideout, the patrol had a small underground lookout. Both were connected by a direct telephone line and constructed by the Royal Engineers. The lookout commanded a good view of the main Stansted road.
Former patrol members Ron Peel and George Huxham recalled using the hideout regularly for overnight stays, and the many visits to Tottington Manor as part of their training. Ron Peel also remembered going to Coleshill and having to set fake charges on a plane as part of his basic training.
The hideout, is very shallow with only a few inches of soil covering the corrugated iron structure. It can currently be accessed from either end. It is difficult to find although quite close to a public footpath that runs through the wood. The emergency escape tunnel has collapsed but its course can be traced as a ditch running from the hideout with two wooden posts at one end where the door was located.
- The Secret Sussex Resistance, Stewart Angell. Published by Middleton Press ISBN 1 873793 820