Herne Bay 'Blackberry' Auxiliary Unit Patrol and Operational
This page was last updated at 9:35am on 23/10/13
Thank you for selecting information on the Herne Bay Auxiliary Unit
Patrol and their Operational Base in Kent. The info and images below have been supplied by CART CIO for Kent Phil
The codename for this patrol was Blackberry.
The first I.O for Kent was Grenadier Guards Captain Peter Fleming. He was the man responsible for setting up the Units in Kent under the
name of the XII corps Observation Unit. In late 1940 he left and a Royal Fusilier Captain Norman Field then took over as I.O. At some point in Normans command he
split Kent in two. West Kent came under the command of Captain George MacNicholl and Norman commanded East Kent.
In late 1941 Norman was taken away from the Units and George MacNicholl took over as I.O. for the whole of Kent
for the rest of the war.
The six original members of the patrol were all recruited from “A” Company, Training St.Augustine’s
Battalion of the Home Guard. There are some records of members held at Kew, but these do not include some known
members, and there appear to be many errors in dates of birth, joining, initials, etc. However, details of three
members are known for certain. These are:
E.F.B. Burley d.o.b. 18.02.23. Joined 12.07.41.
02.06.23. “ 12.07.41.
G.A. Newlove “
18.02.23 “ 12.07.41
Others who were probably members, either on formation of the unit or later, include:
Sgt. E. BURLEY (Not the E.Burley listed above.)
C. W. BRIEN (DISCHARGED JOINED HM FORCES 20/11/45)
P. C. WELLS
G. J. HOWELL (DISCHARGED JOINED HM FORCES 04/02/43)
F. W. HOPKINS (DISCHARGED JOINED HM FORCES 21/06/43)
Also J. S. PILCHER (DISCHARGED JOINED HM FORCES 27/10/43) may well have been involved in this patrol although
no hard evidence has been found yet.
The OB was located in woodland off a minor footpath between the villages of Ford and Millbank,, 2 or 3
miles South East of Herne Bay. The entrance was under the floor of a “chicken hut”, which had a removable section
normally covered by straw. It was only visited on 2 or 3 occasions in the early days, presumably to avoid drawing
attention to its location.
The site has been visited and confirmed, but no trace remains, as it is recorded as having been blown up.
(Villagers remember being warned of an imminent explosion).
In addition to the Herne Bay patrol, there were three patrols based on the nearby Isle of Thanet, all eventually
under the command of W G ‘Bill’ Gardner, a farmer, corn merchant and renowned orchid grower who lived in
Birchington. However, Bill Gardner did not take command until July 1941,. The three patrols in Thanet all had the
same target which was Manston Aerodrome. It is not known if the Herne Bay patrol had any targets but the London to
Margate and Ramsgate railway line would have been an obvious one.
Training was limited in the first few months, during which only one visit was made to The Garth. This consisted of morning instruction on the use of explosives and other techniques,
and field exercises in the afternoon. Transport was provided by the regular army.
Geoffrey Newlove on going to the Garth for training
“We were picked up at the Queen's Hotel by an army truck. In my imagination I can still hear the whine of the
tyres as it picked up speed. In the morning there was instruction on explosives, etc. and the afternoon on field
exercises - a big field on a hillside.”
Bill Gardner: “We had every explosive you could think of. I had a pass that allowed me to do anything. I would
drive to the airfield in full evening dress with my car loaded with explosives. If the Jerries took over the
airfield we were to blow the bloody lot up. Jerry was no fool, however. It would be lucky if we did survive. They
would have found us. It was no joke. It was serious. It was frightening.”
After the war Bill Gardner kept some explosives for use on his farm at Upstreet to blow up trees. He once set a
booby trap to stop a thief stealing his broccoli but injured himself in the
arms and groin when the trap went off.
In 1984, Bill Gardner's house, Garfield, in Green Road, Birchington, was sold to a Mr. Eric Griffiths. Mr
Gardner was 77 at the time and had just moved into Turret Court nursing home at Westgate. The contents of his old
house were put up for auction. An arsenal of detonators, explosives, cordite fuse and phosphorus grenades were
found in the garage and garden shed.
Two hundred people were evacuated from neighbouring streets while bomb disposal experts made the area safe. The
munitions were moved to Grenham Bay, Birchington, where they were destroyed by controlled explosion.
A document has come to light recently that was made by Group Leader Bill Gardner during the war. It lists all
the patrols under his command, men involved, patrol code names and stores. This has been a great help in finding
out more about the patrols in his group.
Nothing at this time.
Kind thanks go to Herne Bay patrol member Geoffrey Newlove who has spent a lot of time and effort getting facts
right and for his contribution to this report for which I am very thankful. Also thanks go out to Adrian Westwood,
Norman Bonney and Ron Stillwell for helping me put the patrol report together and providing Information. Other
information is from Phil Evans own research into the patrol.
If you can help with any info please contact us.