Hutchins Wiltshire Scout Section.
This account has been kindly provided by John’s daughter Mandy. It is hoped to further develop this section
of the site in due course, to cover the activities of the Dorset Scout Sections in more detail.
John Hutchins pictured during his time with Auxiliary Units.
See the account of Jack Blandfords service for the rest of
the Scout Section.
Henry George 'John' Hutchins was born 13 May 1923 in Norfolk Square, London, the eldest son in a family of three
boys and two girls. Not long after his birth, his parents moved to Swindon, Wiltshire, in search of work.
John spent his childhood and early adolescence in Swindon, which was then still a small market town, with the
Great Western Railway works dominating the new part of the town. He was happiest helping out on the neighbouring
farm, where he learned a great many of the country skills which would later be of considerable use to him during
his Auxiliary Units service.
His father had volunteered for the 1914-18 war, seeing action in the first few months where he and his comrades
earned themselves the famous 'Old Contemptibles' label, and then later on the Somme where he was almost fatally
wounded in the throat. Invalided out of the war in 1917, he was keen to see his son avoid the threat of trench
warfare, and encouraged John to join the RAF. For administrative reasons the enrolment didn't happen, and John
joined the 4th Wiltshires, in January 1941. He was sent on an Officers Training Course at Cheltenham, where he was
offered and turned down a sniper's course and a commission in the Guards. At that time the Guards were becoming
armoured and John preferred to take his chances outside rather than inside a tank.
Returning to barracks he noticed a small card on the board calling for 'volunteers for special duties', and
signing up soon found himself treading the now well-chronicled path to Highworth Post Office thence to Coleshill House. Lord Glanusk this
time running Coleshill, and the atmosphere was one of comradeship and much 'derring-do'. All the men, like soldiers
everywhere, had to learn to reverse the instinctive recoil from doing harm to another human-being to one of
automatic aggressive action. So successful were the Coleshill methods that, one night on leave at home, blackout
being in place, he found himself in reflex combat with a brick wall into which he'd walked!
Training completed and issued with all sorts of exciting special equipment such as a Minox subminiature camera
and tripod, revolver and non-reflective dagger, he took the train to Bridport and then onto Duntish Court where he met up with friends such
as Ron Handford, John Miles and Jack Blandford. Soon he was again picked as a sniper and given a small brown
envelope, inside which, he was told, he would find a name. In the event of an invasion, and only in the event of an
invasion, he was to open the envelope, read the name, find whoever it may be, and shoot him (or her, presumably),
as this would be someone already marked down as a Nazi sympathiser.
He took part in numerous training operations around the Bridport area, including the 'attack' described by Denis
Blandford on Lord Lovatt's commandos, of which he and Jack were particularly
proud. In this operation he had to photograph all the documents which an enemy would have snapped, and mark them
all with a cross, so he was able to use the Minox and to see it in action. He was very impressed by this little
machine and always regretted dutifully handing it in with all his other kit (including the unopened brown envelope
of course) when Aux Units were stood down and he returned to 43rd Wessex in 1943/4!
The Minox Riga subminiature camera dates from 1936 and was made in Latvia, so would have been a
very special issue for a British soldier.
Photo from Wikipedia reproduced under Creative Commons Licence.
Soon after returning, he was sent back again to Hampshire,
this time to work with Combined Operations on Hayling Island. From here he was dispatched with sand-sampling
equipment towards the Normandy beaches ear-marked for the invasion. From the RN vessel he rowed ashore in a canoe
and took some samples by driving tube-shaped devices into pre-arranged spots in the shoreline. Returning to the
canoe he was hit in the lower jaw by a ricochet - fortunately it was close enough only to bloody his face and
loosen his teeth, and he returned safely to Weymouth not long after dawn.
He applied with his Unit for SAS training, but before he could set out was involved in a serious car accident in
which he sustained a head-injury. This kept him in hospital for too long to take part in the planned pre-invasion
activities, and instead he crossed to France in June 1944, now attached to 4th Wilts Reconnaissance Corps. He saw
action at the Battle for Caen with 43rd Wessex now part of XXX Corps under General Horrocks, at the notorious Hill
112 (part of Operation Jupiter), Mont Pincon (Operation Bluecoat), the Falaise Gap, and at Vernon, crossing the
Seine as part of Operation Neptune. Northern France had now fallen and they headed relatively briskly towards the
Escaut Canal on the Belgian Border. This journey took him and his comrades across the old Battlefields of The Somme
where his father and many of theirs had fought not twenty years previously; they were able to see in the distance
the sad brooding silhouette of the Thiepval Memorial, the paradox of which must surely have evoked some poignant
questions. There was more action than on the Belgian border, after which the next stop was Nijmegen for Operation
Market Garden. Travelling towards Arnhem he was now in charge of a Scout Car and supposed to be in full
Reconnaissance mode, but the famous traffic jams in the corridor meant that he and the rest of the 43rd Wessex were
virtually paralysed, bogged down by the narrow road and sodden terrain. Finally they moved on, to some of the worst
fighting of the war, at Nijmegen and Eindhoven.
The Thiepval memorial seen in the distance, as described by John Hutchins.
Exhausted, they were taken out of the line and billeted in a barn where, settling down for a well-earned rest,
they were suddenly called to the Ardennes. Weakened by cold - they'd been sleeping in slit-trenches cut in
the snow - but doubtless fortified by a Christmas dinner of meat, vegetables, gravy, Christmas pudding and custard
all served up on the same plate, on 27 December XXX Corps managed to push the 2nd Panzers out of Celles. From
here John moved on with the Division and took part in more heavy fighting before crossing the Rhine at Xanthen.
After the crossing, there was a good deal more opportunity for scouting and on one of these missions John was
able to photograph a strange-looking aircraft which, years later he discovered to be the first rocket-fuelled jet
Members of the 43rd Wessex Reconnaissance Corps were among the first to enter Belsen Camp. Even the horrors of
battle had not prepared John or anyone else for what they found there. He said afterwards that no matter how many
reports one read, nor how many films and programmes one saw on the Camp, nothing came close to the shock of
entering the place for the first time and, of course, no amount of reporting could reproduce the terrible, terrible
smell. He was among a team writing reports on cannibalism, and photographing the site for official records. His
papers were later passed to the Imperial War Museum. He remained throughout the clear-up operation, living in the
former SS barracks, and taking part in the mass burials, fumigation, organisation of surviving camp inmates, and
the organisation of the forced viewings implemented on the local populace; eventually he witnessed the final firing
of the Camp buildings.
John was at Bremen on 8th May and Peace was announced. From there he was moved to Hannover and from there to Bad
Oeyenhausen with the Allied Control Commission, in charge of Transport. He was demobbed at the end of 1946 and
returned to the UK.
Like almost all those who fought in and survived the war, he remained haunted by what he had seen but said
comparatively little about it. Particularly, of course, he said next to nothing about Auxiliary Units. In the late
1990s he was closely involved with the Coleshill Memorial Trees project, and in 2000 passed most of his papers and
photographs to the Imperial War Museum as part of their millennium celebrations.
John stayed remarkably fit and active right up until his final illness. He died on 11 March 2012, not long
before his 90th birthday. He is very sadly missed.