.....At the wedding we met
some of the other officers who were to form the nucleus of the Small Scale Raiding Force.
Senior among them was Major John Gwynne of the Sussex Yeomanry, in charge of
teetotaller and vegetarian, obstinate, unwearying and fearless, he fretted constantly under
the restraints of his sedentary occupation; eager to lead an operation in the field, he was always
planning for himself some desperate venture into enemy territory. With his lean, dark,
ascetic face, gleaming eyes, thinning, almost tonsured hair, he had the look of some medieval
inquisitor; he always shaved in cold water.
In October the Chiefs of Staff
gave orders for the expansion of the Small Scale Raiding Force. It seemed that March-Phillip’s
dream was coming true. Four more large houses were requisitioned to provide bases for us along the
South coast-one in the New Forest, another near Dorchester, a third near Paignton and the fourth
between Falmouth and Truro. Bill Stirling, recently returned from Cairo, arrived to take command of
the whole force, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; Appleyard became second-in-command and field
force commander; John Gwynne was at last allowed to train a party of his own to operate into
Northern France. Two motor gunboats were put at our disposal, but on operations we preferred to use
M.T.B. 344 because she was smaller, more difficult to see, and easier to manœuvre. Two navigating
officers were added to our establishment.
......the only person with the
prospect of any action for the moment was John Gwynne. He refused, quite rightly, to give us any
details of his proposed mission beyond the fact that it was not planned by Stirling and had nothing
to do with Combined Operations Headquarters. He spent much of his time away from Anderson
visiting SOE experimental stations, in particular one concerned with camouflage. He
reappeared at the end of his tour with two unusual pieces of equipment. One was a lifelike
cow’s head mask in papier mȃché with holes pierced through the eyes; the other was a curious
arrangement of fine meshed camouflage netting. He was good enough to reveal to us their purpose.
The mask was for road watching: in other words, he would lie up in a field beside a main road and
push his head, enveloped in the mask, through the hedge; thus disguised, he would be able to keep
watch on the road and observe the number and nature of the enemy troops using it.
The person of the netting was even simpler , ‘It enables a man to disguise himself at will’
explained Gwynne, as a rubbish heap or pile of sticks.
Not all the products of the
extensive research organisation maintained by S.O.E. were camouflaged exclusively for
protection; almost the whole range of children’s joke toys was exploited for some destructive
purpose. For instance, imitation turds of horse or camel dung contained small explosive charges
which would destroy the tyres of any vehicle that drove over them; and sickeningly realistic dead
rats apparently in the later stages of decomposition, were dropped by the gross over occupied
Europe to be smuggled into German barrack rooms and offices. Anyone picking them up by the tail-the
natural method when throwing them away-would automatically release a pin, exploding a small but
We were concerned with Gwynne’s
operation only in that the Small-scale Raiding Force was to transport Gwynne and his party over to
the Brittany coast and provide an escort in case they ran into trouble on landing; once they were
safely ashore we should return to England. In early December I spent a week at Paignton with a
party that included Appleyard, Ogden Smith, Lassen and Warren, waiting for a chance to land
them in France. Once again, however, the weather defeated us, and we all returned in disappointment
to Anderson. And so went out 1942.
|1943 March 24th
Returned to the UK.
There followed a period where Major Gwynne was seeking an active posting in the Middle East.
Initially he was turned down and it took a letter like this to support his request:
Gwynne is a fully trained guerrilla warfare officer, having spent a
year in Auxiliary Units where his two Scout Sections came out first and second out of a total of 24
in a competition for the general operational efficiency by day and by night.
He was also with the Small-Scale Raiding Force, and with Brandon
when his section was sent off on a special operation.
I feel you are turning down a very able and gallant officer, who is
fully trained in both boat and parachute work, who knows the Middle East, and is a real
fighter. I would therefore ask you to reconsider the matter. The only thing I have
against Gwynne at all is a certain fussiness in the preparation of operations, as he goes in for
almost too much detail, which is a fault on the right side, e.g. the weighing of rations, the
division of loads on bodies, etc., etc., I myself would not hesitate to take Gwynne with me on any
operation on which I was proceeding. If you still have any doubt, I suggest you speak to MT
who is in London now.