New Forest Scout Section
This page was last updated at 8:05am on 23/3/14
Information compiled by Dr Will Ward (CART CIO for Dorset)
John Marchant was the commander of the Scout Section for the New Forest in West Hampshire from approximately
March 1942 to October 1943. He had been commissioned at 20 years of age into the Wiltshire Regiment in April 1940
and spent the early part of the war training recruits at the depot in Devizes, Wiltshire. Rather bored, he jumped
at the offer from his CO to be posted to alternate duties and found himself at Burley, with a unit of 15 men from
the Wiltshire regiment, including a Sergeant and Corporal with the rest as Privates. They weren’t local men, but
ordinary soldiers recruited from the depot. This was the New Forest Scout Section.
Lt Marchant was sent to Coleshill to be trained in the
use of explosives, grenades, the Sten gun and other weapons. His unit then trained the Home Guard patrols in the
area. Home Guard patrol members were also sent to Coleshill for training. Although there was an old rifle range
near Burley, he doesn’t mention using this at all.
The unit had two operational bases. According to Marchant, one of these was never really finished. The other had
3 rooms – a main sleeping area and a store and kitchen. He describes a “lift door”, presumably meaning the vertical
rising hatch that has been found on many OBs. The exact location is unknown, though likely was near to Burley in
one of the large tracts of woodland. The only clue is that the area wasn’t waterlogged, which rules out quite large
parts of the New Forest!
Lt Marchant was not very impressed by the concept of the OB and didn’t fancy the idea of “going to ground” in
one. He thought that fairly quickly one would end up being trapped by a German patrol inside. However, he was
impressed at the efforts of some of the patrols.
In October 1943, Lt Marchant was transferred to Milton Hall near Peterborough as an instructor for SOE. He
attributed this to his time in Auxiliary Units, and the involvement of Gubbins, who was running SOE, but brought in
many officers from Auxiliary Units. He then managed to get himself onto more active service as a member of Jedburgh
team “Felix”, dropping into Brittany in July 1944. Soon they coordinated 30 resistance groups, with around 3000
fighters, and were able to attack a column of 600 German paratroopers on two separate occasions, significantly
delaying their progress. At a later date they captured two field guns and shelled the local garrison!
After his return he was then sent to Burma taking part in operation “Character” working with Karen Levies. By
the end of the war he had the Croix de Guerre and two mentions in despatches.
John Jenner Marchant died in January 2013 at the age of 92
An interview with him can be heard here
A transcript of the section relating to Auxiliary Units can be read here