Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

The Secret Life of Mabel Stranks - Highworth Postmistress

This page was last updated at 7:44pm on 20/8/13

See the information board that CART has installed in the Post Office here

Mabel StranksMabel Stranks was the Highworth postmistress, the dependable face of village life who sorted the stamps and telegrams for over 25 years. During WW2 however she became an essential part of the Auxiliary Units by security checked all trainees.
 
Mabel vetted approx 3,000 Auxiliers before sending them on to their secret training at Coleshill House, Mabel played a significant part of the highly-secret campaign from 1940 to 1944.
 
Coincidentally this was all happening just minutes away from Sevenhampton, where Bond creator Ian Fleming wrote some of his greatest stories.

The Highworth post office was aptly renamed the 'Auxiliary Gateway'.

Aux senior staff knew that their entire operation would be compromised if anyone found out what was going on at Coleshill House. They needed complete secrecy and a different address.

And this is where the trustworthy and unassuming Mabel Stranks came in.

The Post Office was a perfect 'go-between' with strangers visiting all the time and the postmistress known for her unassuming nature and discretion.Highworth Post Office in 2012.

The official address of the Auxiliary Gateway therefore became GHQ Auxiliary Units, c/o General Post Office, Highworth, Wiltshire and became the first port of call for all personnel visiting the Coleshill HQ.

When they arrived, they would ask for Mrs Mabel Stranks, give a password and be told to wait.
 
Mabel would then go into her office and make a series of phone calls (very often making visitors wait for hours).
 
A car would then arrive and those 'screened' as official by Ms Stranks driven to the Auxiliary Gateway by the most indirect route.
 
Those suspected by Mabel of being 'unofficial' were taken elsewhere.

After arriving at Coleshill they were then trained to do everything from blowing up bridges to slitting throats. They were even taught how to booby trap toilets in the grand country houses that the German heirachy would no doubt have taken over had they invaded.

The story even goes that when a certain Field Marshall Montgomery arrived he too was asked to wait in his car while Mrs Stranks checked his credentials!

The bravery of Mrs Stranks cannot be underestimated when one considers that the life expectancy of any of those involved in the Coleshill operation was just 14 days, and that she herself was all too aware of the reprisals that had been meated out by the Germans to the French resistance fighters.

Mabel's Plaque HighworthIn fact, what is equally remarkable is she never accepted recognition for her part in this secret operation and never spoke of her experiences until her death in 1971 at the age of 88, three years after her involvement was brought to light in the book 'The Last Ditch'.
 
Following the book's publication she was asked to take part in a documentary about Auxiliary Unit but declined.

As one of her six grandsons, Brennan Stranks, said during the unveiling of the plaque on what is now a charity shop , 'My grandmother never said a word to me about it. We only know from what different people have told us over the years'.

So, although it took over 60 years to recognise the contribution made by Mrs Mabel Stranks there is now a lasting memorial to an extraordinary lady and the 5000 brave men and women whose first contact with the 'Auxiliary Unit' was the 'Auxiliary Gateway' c/o Highworth Post Office.

'The Postmistress Who Was A Spy. It was part of the BBC's 'History Mysteries' series and was aired on BBC2 on the 24/12006.

Post office then and now

Much of this text has been supplied by Swindon Web and edited by Tom Sykes of CART.

READ ALL ABOUT THE SECRET BOY SCOUT WHO DELIVERED MESSAGES FOR MABEL HERE