Bideford (East the Water) Auxiliary Unit Patrol and Operational
This page was last updated at 9:15am on 27/8/15
Thank you for selecting information on the Bideford (East the
Water) Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Devon CIO
Nina Hannaford with the help of Louise Howell, a researcher contributing to part of Bideford 500. She conducted interviews with an Auxiliers son who
wishes to remain anonymous. He is known here as "D". Her full research can bee seen here.
From the very first meeting in Whitehall in July 1940 the Intelligence Officer for Devon and Cornwall (named Auxiliary Units SW Area) was Captain (later Major)
J W Stuart Edmundson an officer in the Royal Engineers. He liaised with the regular army and received supplies and
equipment and formed all the Patrols. He was assisted by Lieutenant (later Captain) John “Jack” Dingley who became
IO for Cornwall in 1943.
In November 1943 Devon and Cornwall were separated and Edmundson was succeeded in Devon by Major W W “Bill” Harston who would remain in command until near stand
down. At the end of Harston's command he would cover “No 4 Region” being the whole of the South West and South
The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 leaving the Area and Group Commanders.
After 1941 a “grouping” system was developed where various patrols within a demographic area would regularly
train together under more local command.
Group 1 consisted of Bideford (East the Water), Torrington, Tawstock, Braunton and Snapper (Barnstaple) patrols
and the Group Commander was Captain Gerald W Slee.
Most of the men were recruited from existing volunteers in the town's 5th Battalion Home Guard, many being from
Against the Patrol members names on Home Guard records is written that they were 'taken off strength' from their
platoons and were 'to be considered on Battalion HQ duty'. A note was made against some of the names as “M.A.U.”
which we understand could have stood for 'Member of Auxiliary Unit'.
Most of these notes are dated 1942 as this is when The National Service Act was introduced making enrolment
compulsory and an order was issued that Auxiliary Units would be designated as Home Guard Battalions. We assume
this was recorded to explain their absence from regular Home Guard duties.
Bideford is a sea port incorporating a market town. The Auxiliers addresses and their bases are all on the East
side of the estuary of the River Torridge in East the Water.
Sergeant John Woolf
William “Hedley” Hoare, brother-in-law to Sgt Woolf
Walter Johns, a plumber.
Herbert James Turner, a timber merchant and a First World War veteran
Reginald Chave Parsons, a dairyman and and Army veteran who had served in Syria, Egypt and Palestine in the
James Ayre joined August 1942
Frank James Knight, a blacksmith who served in France in the First World War. Transferred back to 5th Battalion HG
William Rowland Elliot joined August 1942 just to leave and join HM forces May 1943
All apart from Johns and Ayre were originally registered on the 5th Battalion Home Guard rolls.
In an oral account, taken in 1995, and stored on the Defence of Britain Database, it is recorded
that there were three Operational Bases and a bomb store used by Bideford Patrol. It is not known if all OBs were
in use at the same time or if each was discarded after being compromised and a new location sought.
D was a young boy of 10 when his father told him about him being in the Bideford Auxiliary Unit. His father took
him to where two of the three OBs were located, however D was unable to pin point their exact locations. He was
able to recall them as having been located at Cleave Wood and Eastwood and he believes that one of the three
locations is still in the same family ownership.
After the war, each unit had been instructed to remove all evidence and completely destroy the OBs, which D says
did take place in Bideford. He is certain that they had all been totally demolished some years after the war had
Operational Base One at
This OB was destroyed some time after the war ended. It was located on the edge of a small copse at Eastwood, to
the west of what was formally Parsons Farm.
Operational Base Two at Pillhead
Pillhead Copse is to the North East of East the Water. Parts of the area have been used for
landfill over the years so it is assumed that any remains of OB materials are long buried.
This OB was also destroyed after the war.
The OB was known to have been accessed via a shaft through the remains of a hollow tree trunk
(Left: General view into Pillhead Copse.)
Operational Base Three at Stone
Was sited in a old quarry on the edge of a copse to the South
West of Stone Farm.
The OB was Destroyed after
Size of OB unknown but it is known that the entrance was
concealed by tipped rubbish.
Bomb Store at Cleave
Wood Mine (or Paint Mine Woods)
Within the old mine and quarry workings at Cleave Wood Mine
there was a bunker used as a phosphorus bomb store. It is known to have been blown up and filled in after the
One substance mined there was a stiff black clay known
locally as Bideford Black and as this was chiefly used to make black pigments – hence the name ‘Paint
Bideford Black is
probably most famous now for being the source of the black paint used for coating the hulls of sailing ships
in the 18th and 19th Centuries. However, all sorts of other products were later made from it, including tank
paint, colourings for rubber boots and even mascara !
Copyright P Ward. Cleave Wood Mine
Arms Store at
Reginald Parson's family recall there were arms and
ammunition stored at Eastwood Dairy Farm. A wood and iron store and one time church, called Port Mission, was
owned by the Parson's family. Young family members were told to make their way there in times of trouble as
they would be safe in the little old church.
Arms and ammunition was thought to have been stored in the
crawl space under the wooden floor.
Bideford's Long Bridge, a stone bridge of 24 pointed arches, must have been an obvious local target along
with RAF Chivenor.
Bideford Long Bridge looking at East the Water. Photo by Sannse, 14 May
2004. A composite of three photos.
The patrol would have been aware of the “secret” testing of the Great Panjandrum in the nearby Westward Ho !. This, however, was far
from a secret and in fact gathered a large audience.
A particular event D's father liked to recount was when he had been involved in a
specialist operation to invade RAF Chivenor and gain control of the Air Control Tower. All the other North Devon
Patrols were involved in this raid and all had different targets on the base. Where the outcome is known all
The RAF base had been provided with security from both the regular army troops and
also members of local Home Guard battalions.
As the Patrol made their way through the perimeter fencing and across the base, D’s
father spoke of his surprise when he met some of the Home Guard defenders who were work colleagues and friends
Unaware of the Patrol's intentions, the Home Guard simply let them through the various security points.
The regular troops however, proved to be more difficult and the Patrol did actually have to draw on their stealth
and camouflage skills before their mission was a success and they finally took control of the Air Control
Copyright IWM and E C Kidd
A wartime aerial view of RAF Chivenor next to the Rivers Taw and Caen.
Note the attempt to camouflage the airfield as hedged fields.
It is assumed that the Patrol would have access to the “standard” Auxiliary weapons
and explosives along with regular equipment seen here.
D recalls that his father had been issued with time pencils, a revolver and a knife.
Rubber soled boots and a rubber truncheon were issued for ‘silent nights’ as they made less noise. It was
considered that a rubber truncheon would not make as much noise when making contact with a person’s head !
Due to the secret nature of the Auxiliary Units, neither D’s mother or sister were
ever aware that his Father was a member of this secret organisation. Nor were they aware that Father stored his
issued weapons and some other items in various sheds on their own land which was very close to one of the
D thinks it could have been the Police that were told to remove any hidden
incendiary and booby trap devices after the war. Due to their clever concealment, many were left undiscovered in
the original clear up and D and his Father, on quite a number of different occasions, came across them many
D explained how his father's uniform was similar to that of the Home Guard. He
stated that they were issued with a small badge to wear on it. He could be referring to the 203 arm title though
this could also be being confused with the post stand down enamel badge worn after the war.
He thinks this would have identified them to those who were in the know but to the uninitiated they looked like any
other Home Guard member.
There is a Triangulation Pillar ( “Trigpoint”) on Eastcott Hill, over looking
Woolacombe Sands to the North of Bideford. It carries a plaque dedicated to the Auxiliary Units of the area.
At Stand Down: Devon is registered as area 16. Bideford is part of
Group 1 which is under the area and group command of Captain Gerald Walter Slee who's contact address was
Nutberry Works, Bideford, (Telephone 15) though he seemed to live in Barnstaple.
All Auxiliers still active in the Patrols in Devon an Cornwall were presented with
their lapel badges and a letter of thanks in a ceremony held in Exeter after stand down.
On March 7th 1945 a bomber appeared in difficulties as it passed low over Bideford Bridge. Just missing houses, it
crashed into the hill behind the gasworks and burst into flames.
Working on a welding course at the gasworks, Walter Johns rushed to the scene and was first on the spot. One of the
crew of four was thrown just clear of the aircraft and was badly injured. After pulling this man away to safety,
Walter entered the burning plane to rescue who he could. In the cockpit he found an unconscious man who he was only
able to release by getting him on his own back and crawling through the burning plane. As he did this the
structure of the plane collapsed under him but he continued to struggle to crawl clear, carrying the man out until
help arrived. All the time ammunition was exploding. The airman did not survive and the others in the plane were
beyond human help.
The survivor was Flight Officer Izenberg of the Royal Canadian Air Force who later married a North Devon girl.
Walter Johns was awarded the British Empire Medal (B.E.M).
Louise Howell who kindly allowed her research to be used.
Personal interview with D (son of Auxilier who wished to remain anonymous) by Louise Howell
Hancock data held by B.R.A
TNA ref WO199/3390, Stephen Chambers, Western Morning News 7/9/1945, The family of Reginald Parsons.
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