Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Corporal Eric Grey R.A.S.C at Coleshill
GHQ Memories researched by Bill Ashby CART Coleshill Information officer.

Page last updated at 8:43am on 4/1/13

Eric GreyBefore the war Eric Gray was living in Ilford and working at the Electric Wire Company, doing costings and he was taking Costings exams and had already passed his Chartered Institute of Secretaries Exams. His call up was deferred a couple of months so that he could complete his costing exams.

In July 1940 he arrived at Aldershot. Where he had a medical and was interviewed. He wasn’t given any choice of Regiment but as he could drive was told that he would be joining the Royal Army Service Corps. 

Private Gray completed his basic training and moved on to Burford where he finished his technical training.  He was waiting for a posting when someone told the Commanding Officer that he could type and do shorthand. This led to Eric working in the C.O’s office where he helped to process postings. Six months later a posting request arrived on the C.O’s desk for a Technical/Mechanical Transport Clerk with Auxiliary Units.  It came in as “must be personally recommended by the O.C. and will be made up to Corporal right away”.  While the CO was running around trying to find someone to send, Eric volunteered. His C.O. agreed saying “why not you’ve earned it”.  Regular drivers were also wanted.

Eric Grey at ColeshillA lorry transported the group, which consisted of Eric (MT Clerk), Corporal McCulloch, (who was going to be in charge of all the drivers) and 3 or 4 drivers.  None of them knew where they were going or anything about the Unit.  The lorry driver had been given instructions to report to Highworth Post Office.  The driver went in alone to find Mabel Stranks and received instructions.  He was back out again in a couple of minutes and continued on to Coleshill.  It was March 1941.

When the men first arrived they were put in a room over the stables.  They had some rations left over but in the morning the rats had been all over them and eaten all the rations.  The Stable block was built in the 1830’s and conditions were primitive.  There was no electricity anywhere not even in the main building Coleshill House. There was only one phone line with the number Highworth 85.  Later on the Army brought in a generator and eventually Royal Signals personnel arrived and installed a switchboard and more phones.

A Driver had been doing the job Eric had been recruited for but was not a technical clerk and had made a real mess of it.  Although he had been told that he would be made up to Corporal immediately Eric had to prove himself first.

 

Coleshill Stableblock

He was allocated an office in the corner of the stable block on the first floor, above what had been the carriage house.  Corporal Banks (Royal Engineers) was sleeping in there but moved out and went off with Major Beyts to build Operational Bases.

Although Corporal Banks knew what the Unit did, nobody was ever told directly but learned more as time went on.  Unlike the Auxiliers he was never instructed to sign the Official Secrets Act.

Eric spent about 9 months sleeping in that room. Then moved into a hut which he shared with 15 others and met Arthur Gabbitas (Royal Signals).  When he was made up to Sergeant, he and Sergeant McCullough bunked together in a room that was found for them above the washrooms.

When Eric arrived, the Staff Officers at GHQ were Colonel Major (who had taken over Command when Colonel Gubbins had left) Major ‘Bill’ Beyts who was his deputy and Captain Anderson who was Camp Commandant. Captain Oxenden was also there.  Captain Oxenden had his wife and daughter Joy with him in a house he rented in the village and Captain Harston had his caravan down at the bottom of the hill.

Harston was the Transport Officer and so in charge of the small RASC contingent.  Each of the Officers had a driver/ batman, Corporal Mapping was a Driver and batman to the Colonel, There were 2 dispatch riders, 6 or 8 regular drivers plus 3 others who came with Lorries that were attached, but not part of the unit.

There was an incident involving Oxenden's daughter Joy, who was a baby at the time.  She was being pushed down the road to Highworth by her nanny.  Captain Anderson was having a car delivered by Lance Corporal Mappin who decided to go out on a joy ride in it taking 3 or 4 of the others with him and he was returning from Highworth.

Captain Tracy was also on the GHQ Staff and had a nice little sports car and heading in the opposite direction.  Corporal Mapping braked to avoid the pram but the car swerved and they had a head on crash which put the whole lot of them in hospital. Tracy ended up with a broken leg.  This was about 2 days before Christmas.  At that time, Sergeant Major Twelve had got the unit classified as a school, so because it was a school, it closed down at Christmas and personnel could go on leave. Half of the drivers had gone on leave before Christmas time and so when Sergeant McCullock came back, he found he had no drivers because they were all in hospital or on leave.
 
Major Henderson was there some of the time but Eric remembers him mainly because he was given a lift in his Rolls Royce.  He was a Director of Gordon’s gin and when one of the other Directors came in as a Driver he was sent down to his home on the south coast.

The Staff officers had rooms in the Main House but the Pleydell-Bouverie sisters and their dogs occupied the rest. As they had most of the house, to reach the officers Eric went round the back way and up the back staircase, so the sisters still had their privacy. One of the very big rooms, like a “hall” was sometimes used.

When temporary lighting was being installed all the cables were hung along the rooms so as not to damage the ornate ceilings.

The RASC contingent was responsible for driving the officers around and delivering stores all over the Country.  Towards the end of 1942 lorry loads of weapons, weaponry and explosives were sent to the Kyle of Lochalsh, Isle of Skye.  On one particular occasion after Captain Delaware had arrived at GHQ he warned that drivers mustn’t drive more than five hours a day and mustn’t go at more than thirty miles an hour, so it took about three days to get up there.  A Scottish corporal was detailed to take a load and took the opportunity to park up in an army base somewhere near his home and then went off for two or three days. The unit Commander found the lorry loaded with explosives and reported it to Coleshill - the corporal returned to GHQ to find himself on a court marshal.

The Camp was fairly quiet through the week. Thursday was a day off because weekends had to be worked.  On a Friday things changed.  Drivers were sent off to the railway station and Highworth Post Office to collect ‘Auxiliers’ reporting for weekend training.  Normally having collected their men and deposited them at Camp the drivers stayed out of the way until needed and did not get involved with the training. 

However once when Lord Delamere came, he insisted that everybody at Headquarters should go over the same course as the Auxiliers and Eric was then taught unarmed combat by a Russian.  He was sent out on a night Patrol and then had to get back into camp undetected.  There were sentries guarding broken down planes and he managed to get to one without being seen and put a mark on it.   There were ranges nearby for firing small arms and grenades.

The use of explosives was exercised in a nearby quarry.

Training courses ended on Sunday afternoon and the attendees dispersed. Some were transported to local stations while those heading back to Scotland were taken to Leighton Buzzard to pick up their connection which saved them the hassle of changing trains in London. On one occasion an auxilier from Bath was taken home.

There were ATS working at Coleshill and Captain Lord Delemere arranged for one to assist in running the RASC Section.  They were billeted at Hannington Hall in a village 5 miles away.  A truck was sent to pick them up and take them back every day.  Major Petherick ran the SDS (Special Duties Section) from Hannington.  When the ATS subaltern SDS radio operators were not out at their control stations they also stayed at the Hall.  Senior Commander Beatrice Temple was in Command.

Hannington Hall 

Hannington Hall

Sergeant Eric Gray’s posting to Auxiliary Units ended in April 1943. Reverting to Corporal he was posted out to Heatley Manor, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire.  In 1944 he was in Antwerp attached to the Belgium Army showing how to indent for Army Stores, Army motor parts.

Eric sadly died in 2012.