of the British Resistance Organisation (BRO) is dedicated to the men
and women of the innocently named Auxiliary Units of World War Two and
was established in August 1997. The
Museum is housed in associated
Quonset (Nissen) Huts adjacent to the 390th Bombardment Group Memorial
Air Museum Control Tower.
museum was formally opened
on 30th August 1997 by Col J.W. Stuart Edmondson and is the only museum
in the UK dedicated to all the men & women who served in the various
sections of the Auxiliary Units and who would have become the British
underground resistance should the threat of invasion have been realised.
of the Auxiliary Units were the highly-trained and very determined 'stay
behinds' who were to remain undetected in carefully constructed 'bunkers'
(Operating Bases - OBs) as the invading German Army made its way through
known as 'operational bases', the word 'hideout', the officers who ran
the Resistance soon decided, suggested a more passive purpose than that
for which these bases had been constructed, and if overheard by the Germans
or their friends, would not alert them to their intended use.
There is a
reconstruction of an under-ground OB in the museum based upon an example known to
have been at Stratford St Andrew, Suffolk. Visitors are
able to tour the OB allowing them to appreciate the cramped and
dismal conditions that the Auxiliers had to work in. The exhibit has been brought up to ground level for
ease of access and landscaped over. The OB was officially opened on Sunday
July 4th 2004 by the Museum's patrons, Lord and Lady Ironside. The museum secured grants
from Awards For All and Suffolk County Council to aid with this project. Everyone connected with the
museum would like to express their thanks for the support given for
The inside of the OB
Lord & Lady Ironside at the official opening
of the OB - 4th July 2004
The museum includes a rare collection of exhibits including photographs of the officers and men of the Auxiliary
Units, information of their weaponry and original examples of the time
pencils, fuses and crimping mechanism of the explosives with which they
were familiar. There are also examples of dead-letter boxes and intelligence instruction
dossiers employed by the Special Duties Section; and as far as possible
practical details of the radio communications network installed by the
Royal Corp of Signals.
and propaganda reasons and their own security the 'stay behind' Auxiliaries
were a closely guarded secret. It would not 'do' for the general population
to know that an organised resistance movement was in training and in
place ready for the unthinkable. This meant that the museum faced immense
difficulties in researching the background of the Auxiliaries and other
aspects of the UK's resistance organisation. Some files do indeed exist
and others have yet to be found. Former members of the Auxiliaries are
very reluctant to talk about their wartime activities but are becoming
more prepared to do so as the word gets around about the museum.
A breakthrough came when
a Ministry of Defence official deemed some material on the Auxiliaries
to be of "limited residual sensitivity" and with the paperwork
to hand to this effect, the job of tracing the structure and work of
the BRO could gain some impetus. Around 5000 people were trained to
work in groups of six and it is believed that some 400 0Bs were created.
The Museum is now the focal
point nationally for Aux.Unit information and has benefited from the
most willing and helpful co-operation from supporters throughout the
United Kingdom. They have also been able to supply advice and
information to the media whenever they have enquired, in an effort designed
to produce accurate programmes rather than the over-dramatised and speculative
work which had so often previously misrepresented the true role of the
GHQ Auxiliary Units of W.W.II.
1938, with the increasing threat of Germany's militancy, the idea was
conceived by a Major in the Foreign Office of organising some form of
resistance by civilians in the event of invasion. After the outbreak
of war explosives and other stores were dumped around Britain but with
no co-ordination, hopefully to be used by any persons willing to carry
out sabotage behind the German occupation.
In June 1940
the selection and training of the patrol members began in earnest. Auxiliary
Units, the cover name given to the organisation, comprised of two parts.
The first consisted of specially
selected civilians with a good knowledge of their local area and physically
capable of living rough and fighting and harassing enemy forces. The
second part consisted of local wireless networks operated by Royal Corps
of Signals personnel with outstations near the coast, each having a
A system of spies and runners
would supply information of enemy activity to these operators for relaying
to the Signals control stations who would in turn transmit the information
to the Area HQs attached to Brigade/Corps of the conventional forces.
Each control station had from five to ten outstations, Southern England
having a larger number as the more likely area to be invaded.
The Auxiliary Unit HQ and
training centre was at Coleshill House, a Palladian mansion, about 10 miles
from Swindon, with large parklands and woods very suitable for guerrilla
training. Every Thursday evening large numbers of patrol members would
arrive, accommodated in the large stable block, to spend the next two
days receiving instruction in the use of modern explosives and weapons
and unarmed combat during the day, while at night they were transported
several miles into the surrounding countryside and required to find
their way back in the dark
They were the first troops
to be issued with stick pencils, a simple mine stuck in the ground and
known later by Eighth Army soldiers as 'castrators'. They were also equipped with tyre-bursting mines,
phosphorous hand grenades, Piat anti-tank guns, and Thompson sub-machine-guns
imported from the United States.
Individual members were issued with
a Fairbairn Commando dagger, having received instruction in silent killing,
where German sentries could be approached silently and stabbed before
they had time to warn others. Pistols and rubber truncheons also formed
part of their equipment and they wore thick rubber-soled boots. In some units certain members
were issued with a special .22 rifle fitted with a telescopic sight
and silencer, capable of firing high-velocity bullets which could kill
a man a mile away.
Returning to their local
areas, the patrols continued their training several nights a week, although
not in the official Home Guard, the patrols were formed into three special
Home Guard battalions as a cover - 201 for Scotland, 202 for Northern
England, and 203 for Southern England. In
some cases it was noticed that these men were not taking part in normal
Home Guard exercises and, sworn to secrecy and unable to explain their
absence at night, they came under suspicion of being engaged in nefarious
or extra-marital activities! The patrols’ area of activity extended
from the north of Scotland down the east coast and round to the south
of Wales. About 3,500 men were trained at Coleshill and, with a number
trained locally, a total of nearly 5,000 well-trained and armed men awaited
a possible German invasion.
hideouts were supposed to be merely the places to which Resistance men
could withdraw to eat, sleep and lie low. Some of the
first hideouts appeared to have been built with sieges in mind, with their own early-warning outposts several hundred yards away, connected
to them by hidden telephone wires. By the end
of 1940 about 300 hideouts were already in use around the country and
by the end of 1941 there were 534 operational bases in use. No two were identical, but
most were eventually made large enough to house six or seven men in
reasonable comfort, although many at first were little more than fox-holes
with log roofs, so badly ventilated that candles sputtered from lack
of oxygen and the men who tried sleeping in them all night awoke with
Each hideout was eventually
fitted with bunks, cooking stoves, Tilley lamps and other comforts provided
by the Army, and each was stocked with food and water-in some cases
sufficient to sustain a patrol for as long as a month. Wherever dampness
was a problem the tinned foods were frequently replaced so that there
was never a chance of besieged Auxiliary Units patrols being finished
off by food poisoning.
Most hideouts had plenty
of room for the patrols' arms, ammunition and sabotage material, but
in some areas subsidiary hides were dug near by to hold these and additional
stores of food. Many of the hideouts eventually had chemical lavatories,
and a few even had running water and some rudimentary form of drainage.
The hideouts were so well
concealed that anyone walking over them would not notice that the ground
beneath their feet had been hollowed out, or that it was unusual in
any way. And of course the hideouts had to be made impossible to detect
from the air.
the greatest problem was that of digging the hideouts and disposing of
the subsoil which they had brought up without anyone noticing-not even
the members of neighbouring resistance patrols. Everything possible was
done to keep the hideouts inconspicuous the most common trapdoors on the
hideouts were simply oak or elm boxes filled with a foot-thick layer of
earth. Most of these trapdoors had to be lifted out, and to make this
easier, many of them were mounted on steel springs that, when a hidden
catch was pushed, raised the tray enough for a man to get his fingers
under its rim to open it. Several of
the trapdoors were inadvertently discovered during the war; one of them
in a wood near Great Leighs, Essex, by a courting couple. They suddenly
felt the ground begin to move beneath them. When they found out why, in
some alarm they notified the police who in turn notified the Army, and
that hideout was no longer used.
At the end
of the war Royal Engineer demolition teams were sent around the country
to destroy all the Auxiliary Units operational bases to keep them from
becoming the hideouts of criminals on the run of play places where small
children might easily get hurt. However, a number of the hideouts were
not destroyed and, although most of them have by now caved in, leaving
only rain-washed dents in the ground to mark their positions, a few still
survive, mostly on private land where they are unlikely to become a nuisance.
"CHURCHILL'S UNDERGROUND ARMY"
Written by John
Warwicker, published by Frontline Books
'A carefully researched book on a long-neglected subject which fills a major gap in our Second World War knowledge' - Norman Longmate, author of If Britain Had Fallen
British Secret Intelligence Service officers and others in the War Office were never convinced that appeasement would prevent a Nazi invasion. Defying high-level opposition, they quietly worked instead on preemptive 'Last Ditch' survival plans. These included a secret resistance network known as the GHQ Auxiliary Units. It was the only one in Europe prepared in advance of an enemy assault.
The Auxunits were civilian 'stay-behinds'. One section worked as Patrols, usually consisting of half-a-dozen men in hidden underground operational bases. They were hurriedly selected immediately after the Dunkirk evacuation then trained and equipped with firearms, explosives and booby-traps. Instructed to 'stay-behind' underground as the enemy passed over, they were then to emerge each night to commit mayhem for as long as they could stay alive. Others, men and women, would remain behind above ground, to spy on the enemy and communicate intelligence to the Defence Force by a covert radio network. These Units are still effectively secret and this is the most comprehensive history published to date.
On sale in the museum shop price £18
All net proceeds
go to the Museum, a registered charity.