Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Taunton Auxiliary Unit Patrol

This page was last updated on 6/12/16

Thank you for selecting information on the Taunton Auxiliary Unit Patrol and Operational Base. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Somerset CIO Chris Perry and Devon CIO Nina Hannaford.

Research into this patrol and its training is ongoing. The information below is published from various sources and is by no means conclusive. If information is not listed below it does not necessarily mean the information is not out there but normally means CART researchers have not found it yet.

If you have any information on this patrol or can help with research in this area please do contact us.

Alan Crick was one of the original Officers that were sent out on reconnaissance. He surveyed Somerset and
Dorset.

Captain Ian Fenwick (Kings Royal Rifle Corps) was the first Intelligence Officer covering the county of Somerset along with the City of Bath. During his command he was billeted at Nerrols Farm near Taunton with a HQ in Bridgwater. He went on to join the SAS and was killed in action in France in August 1944.

By August 1942 Captain L Strangman (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) was Somerset's IO based at Sherwood House, Goathurst near Bridgwater. A move of HQ to The Lodge at Bishops Lydeard preceded a change of IO to Captain John W Holberton who was, in turn, succeeded by Captain J M Martin (MC) in February 1944.

At a meeting held in July 1944 it was decided to group all the counties into 4 regions. The Somerset Patrols became part of “Region 4” under the command of Major W W Harston based in Ashburton, Devon. As the final Intelligence Officer, Harston's command would cover the whole of the South West and South Wales.

The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 onwards leaving the Area and Group Commanders.
After 1941 a “grouping” system was developed where various patrols within a demographic area would regularly train together under more local command.

At stand down there was only one Taunton Patrol which was part of Group 5 along with 4 other patrols. They were under the Area Command of Captain Thomas A Baird, a cider merchant from North Petherton, Group Command of Lieutenant James “Jim” Stafford Bent of Haygrove, Shoreditch near Taunton and his brother 2nd Lieutenant Charles Reichel “Bill” Bent of Rockdene, Shoreditch Road, Taunton, both quarry owners.

At present it is thought there was ONE Patrol with frequent changes in personnel and two OB locations
but there may have been TWO Patrols one having been stood down early and then merged with the other.
Please contact us if you have any further information.

The Auxiliary Units distribution around the Taunton area changes quite frequently during the war years leading to a confusing situation to now document.

Patrol members recorded at stand down:

Sergeant Owen Clifford Hawkes of The Yews, South Rd, Taunton. Joined October 1942.
Dennis Job Venn of Newley Farm, Upcott, near Taunton. Joined March 1942.
Arthur L White of Millhouse, Staplegrove, Taunton. Joined March 1942.
Cecil Goddard of Ladymead, South Rd, Taunton. Joined May 1942.
John Ernest R Grose of Manor Rd Taunton. Joined January 1941
Edward James Lovell of ‘St Michaels’ Lyngford, Taunton. Joined February 1941.
Theodore Lyndall Whitby of Ivor House, Tower Lane, Taunton. Joined December 1940.

At Stand down, when stores and equipment are being returned it is recorded that Sergeant Hawkes returned 9 revolvers and sets of Denims along with other equipment. This could indicate that there were 9 members in the patrol at stand down. The 7 recorded by Hawkes, along with Stanley White and Gilbert Kennedy, who are not noted to have left on the nominal roll.

Stanley White of Millhouse, Staplegrove, Taunton. Joined October 1940
Gilbert J Kennedy of Rose Hill, Broomfield, Taunton. Joined March 1941

Other Auxiliers who could have been part of this patrol at different times (or an earlier Patrol stood down early) are:

“Mort” Edward George Mortimer White of Nerrols Farm. Joined October 1940.
Discharged December 1942. S.N.L.R (Services no longer required)

Edgar John Tout of Sidbrook, West Monkton. Joined October 1940
Transferred to 2nd Somerset Home Guard April 1943.

Donald Maximillian Power of Fistral, Manor Rd, Taunton. Joined January 1941.
Transferred to 2nd Somerset Home Guard July 1943

Denis Kirk of The Croft, Hoveland Lane, Galmington, Taunton. Joined August 1940
Transferred to 2nd Somerset Home Guard April 1943

Maurice Kirk of Cranleigh, South Rd, Taunton. Joined December 1941
Transferred to 2nd Somerset Home Guard April 1943

Harold “Reggie” W Husbands of Forde House, Upper High Street, Taunton. Joined December 1941
Transferred to 2nd Somerset Home Guard October 1943

George J Lovelock Joined June 1940
Discharged S.N.L.R, Change of residence

Note many seem to “leave” in mid 1943.

Captain Ian Fenwick was billeted with “Mort” White at Nerrols Farm and his batman was billeted in the village of Cheddon Fitzpaine.

The Operational Base is on PRIVATE LAND and was accessed by kind permission of the Farmer. The site can be seen from Maidenbrook Lane.

The initial men to be recruited in the area were brothers Jim and Bill Bent and “Mort” White. Their first “base” was a slate water tank in one of the out buildings at Nerrols Farm which was used as a store.
They were given a large box of explosives and fuses which were all covered in water proof wrappings. Issued with a training manual, disguised as a 1937 Calendar, they were told to study it and learn as much as they could.


                                                                             Nerrols Farm

Lt Bill Bent remembered that they did not build the OB originally but had an “emergency base” built for them hurriedly by the Royal Engineers. A few months later they uncovered the original base and built it twice as big. He recalled “it was built over a stream, with a room each side. It was not damp and had bunks”.

The OB was sited in a field, approximately north of Nerrols Farm near Cheddon Fitzpaine; the war time home of Mortimer White.
It was built on the south east side of a stream by a bridge. The OB was entered by climbing under the bridge with the entrance being a hole on the east side of the support wall which you turned into to access the entrance chamber.

       

   Looking North under the remains of the bridge.               The OB “doorway” in side wall of bridge.

The roof of the southern part of the bridge has collapsed exposing the OB entrance”doorway”.

The OB has now collapsed and been destroyed so there is very little remaining, only a very small piece of corrugated metal sheeting.

Corrugated iron OB structure in situ.

During the war, a hedge line ran across the bridge east to west giving the OB cover from the north and the village of Cheddon Fitzpaine. This has since been removed making the site far more open.
It was camouflaged under a mound which is understood was meant to resemble a mangold clamp (beet, often used for cattle feed). This too has been removed.
Construction must have been obvious from Maidenbrook Lane and the farm and especially to the farm workers though maybe explained away as maintenance of the bridge and water course.

Looking over the OB site from Maidenbrook Lane. The OB is just to the right of centre in the middle of the field.

The OB was discovered by local children in 1947 and consequently filled in. Later collapse of part of the bridge and more recent excavations have revealed the entrance way into the structure of which very little appears to remain.

Looking north up the stream towards bridge. OB entrance on right, under bridge. Mound is from more recent excavations.

The entrance hall ran from the stream to the main chamber and was accessed from under the bridge. The the main chamber ran parallel to the stream going south from the bridge, on the east bank. It was hidden under a mound so that the living area floor was above stream level.
On the left off the ‘hall’ was an area for storing ammo and explosives.

On a recent excavation the roof of the entrance hall appeared flat and a wooden post and 6” nails were found. This would indicate a rectangular, wooden framed structure, lined with corrugated iron terminating in a right turn into a more regular “Nissen” structure main chamber.

As the mill stream ran to the west (now the irrigation lagoon) it was possible to regulate the flow of water along the OB stream.

Looking from the west side of bridge into excavated entrance “hall” of OB, main chamber was on the right.

The span of the bridge was 2ft 4 inches. Originally the entrance way would have been 6ft 6inches in from the start of the bridge, under the bridge and up stream. This roof section of the bridge has now collapsed. The OB entrance was 2ft 3 inches wide and the entrance “hallway” would have been around 5ft 4 inches long.

During the war, there was a track that ran with the hedge line which went over the stone bridge. This would have allowed covert routes both along the stream from the north and south as well as east to west routes along the hedgerow track.

As Nerrols Farm had electric they decided to run a electric cable from the piggery at the farm to the OB to make things more comfortable in what must have been a damp and cold OB. It was noted afterwards that the sheep in the field walked up and down the trench line for the cable between the piggery and OB, so possibly marking the OB's position.

Approximate plan of Nerrols Farm OB site.

It is assumed this base would have been emptied and abandoned when Mort White left the Patrol in December 1942.
Though it is unclear whether the OBs at Nerrols and Hele Hill were in use simultaneously or consecutively.

A newspaper article of the OBs “discovery” in 1947 explains the site was empty of any “dangerous” equipment and was soon filled in.

Newspaper article from the Somerset County Herald. May 3rd 1947.

Mortimer White was obviously well aware of what the “ammunition dump” actually was and the fact it was there. Having been discovered by local children he had little choice in informing the police who then filled it in.

In February 2012 a dig was started at the Nerrols Farm OB site, by friends of the landowner, with the help of a digger. Several parts and remains of the OB was found during this dig, including a section of the concrete floor. Please see the recently updated report here for more details and photos.

We do not have the full details on how much of this OB was excavated, and how fully was this excavation recorded.

Operational Base – Hele Hill

It's on PRIVATE LAND and the site is well maintained by the owners. It was accessed by their kind permission.
It was built by the Royal Engineers.

The OB at Hele Hill is located in a small wood to the south west of Hele overlooking a bend in the River Tone.


Approximate sketch of Hele Hill OB – Chris Perry.

What is thought to be the entrance shaft is constructed with corrugated iron sheeting around a wooden frame or support. Now almost crushed by land movement and tree growth it is difficult to measure the width of the shaft but it would have been fairly narrow, around 2 ½ ft square. A tight squeeze for a large man and his kit.

The crushed entrance shaft. Nail hole in the sheeting on the left for attachment to wooden frame.

Looking down the entrance shaft where it meets the horizontal corridor at the bottom.

The shaft appears to end in a horizontal corridor made again from corrugated iron within a wooden frame. This too would have been narrow and most likely crawled through on hands and knees. It was around 6ft 10 inches long.

Horizontal corridor with vertical entrance shaft beyond.

Due to infill and land slippage it is difficult to know if this joins the main chamber at floor level or if there was a drop down to the main chamber.
From the corridor an narrow 2ft entrance leads through the first structural brick built wall into the main area made of a Nissen hut structure which served as the main chamber. This was 16 ft 9 inches x 6ft 8inches.

Corridor sheeting leading up to brick opening. The metal arch of the Nissen structure beyond.

This Nissen chamber seems to join directly to another section with its walls built of 9 inch hollow concrete blocks. No evidence could be found for a separating wall between the two structures and due to the general collapse it was not possible to locate the join between the two. Certainly the two block side walls showed no evidence of a return to create two separate rooms. This block section is 7ft 4 inches long making the full length of the main chamber approximately 24 ft long.

Corrugated corridor in foreground. Buried Nissen structure with block built area beyond before ground slopes away to stream.

The roof for this area seems to be built of 2 inch steel tubing for the roof supports, set into slots in the top row of blocks.
Flat corrugated iron sheets are on top of this, running the length of the OB and not its width, for strength.

Looking into the block area. Roof collapse shows corrugated sheeting and square paving slab. Entrance to escape tunnel in the bottom of the trench.

Roofing felt (Zylex) was then placed on top. It was all then covered with 2ft square, 2 inch thick paving slabs. Over time the roofing felt has become stuck to the bottom of the slabs.

Roof collapse showing metal sheeting below and black roofing felt and paving slab above.

Approximate sketch of south west corner showing roof structure – Chris Perry

The block built area.

The escape tunnel is in the nearest right corner and the “shelf” is in the top corner. Note the 2ft spaced notches in the near and far wall for the roofing bars to sit. Also note there is no return on the left side so it does not look to be a separate chamber.

There is what seems to be a metal shelf in the left corner of the OB measuring around 3ft square and would appear to be around half way up the chamber wall.

Collapsed roof in corner of OB with what appears to be a metal shelf.

In the block built chambers right hand corner is an escape tunnel which runs more northerly from the OB. It appears to exit the structure quite close to the floor level but this is impossible to confirm without full excavation of the site.
It is built of 2 concrete pipes running down the slope towards the river and then levels off where the second half becomes a concrete block constructed tunnel.

Escape tunnel from the OB

Again this tunnel is narrow, with the pipes being just over 2ft wide. The block constructed section is floored by 2ft square paving slabs and is 2 ½ ft high. There are two courses of brick, laid side on, at the base and the top of the side block walls. The ceiling being the same paving slabs as the floor.

Escape tunnel from the exit.

The complete length of the tunnel is 12 ½ ft, approximately half pipe and half block construction.
Where the block tunnel ends the blocks have been cut to follow the contour of the hill side slope. Here, there is remains of a wooden frame and nails. This would indicate the tunnel was covered and disguised with a hatch set into a wooden frame.

Exit of escape tunnel

There are various small sections of ventilation pipe scattered around the site but none could be found in situ.
Orientation of OB: The OB runs from east to west, entrance to exit.

The OB is now mostly in a state of collapse. The Nissen part of the structure may have been filled in during
the past but it appears the entrance shaft and corridor and the end block structure have just been allowed to decay over the years.
It is known that two local girls played in the OB after the war so it was not destroyed post war.

The house which now has the woods as part of the estate was owned by Captain L Gregory (RN) during the war.
The large house almost overlooking the wood was owned by Mr Herbert Stevens, the owner of Avimo Ltd which made
aeroplane parts.


Taunton is the County town of Somerset and a hub for many transport links out of the South West.
Blocking of roads and rail would considerably hamper advancing enemy and supplies from the South West. Targets could then include: Railways near Norton Fitzwarren and the branch lines coming off this, the A38, the road between Taunton and Wellington heading down to Plymouth and onwards to Bridgwater and Bristol, the A358 from the Minehead area and the A361 going east from Taunton.
There was also the Bridgwater and Taunton canal.

OS New Popular Edition sheet 177 dated 1946.

This 1946 map shows Taunton being a strategic centre for transport links of both road and rail.

There were also many military camps in the Taunton area which could have been utilised by an invading force.

The Patrol met at least once during the week and at every weekend. They carried out many all night training exercises against the Home Guard, regular Army and local RAF aerodromes. It is recalled their duties were long nights and hard work, often starting their day jobs soon after finishing training.

Dennis Venn's family recalled being told the men did a night exercise against North Petherton Patrol where each group aimed to land navigate to take a control point. Taunton Patrol won and at the control point, Canonsgrove Farm, the owner Mr Palmer gave them all a pint of cider in the cellar.
A story was also told that the Patrol often used Mills bombs for more practical purposes. Thrown into the nearby stream the stunned or killed fish would float to the surface to be collected for the table.

Bill Bent remembered a night attack on Bridgwater Brickworks where they “took the whole town”. They used 1-2oz sticks of Gelignite to simulate bombs which were ready primed with match head fuses.

Jim and Bill Bent along with a number of others attending training at Coleshill House. They also trained at HQs at Goathurst near Bridgwater and Bishops Lydeard near Taunton. They were instructed in unarmed combat, concealment and penetration of defences.
Locally they trained in old Mendip quarries with Thompson sub machine guns. They may also have made use of the nearby military training area and rifle range at Buckland Wood near Angersleigh.

Lt Jim Bent remembered there were two bad accidents during training: a dentist lost 4 fingers on one hand and another stepped on a primed pressure switch.

Jim Bent had a 15 page handwritten Auxilier test paper. Questions ranged from: What is the distinctive point about 808 –
Answer - A strong smell of almond oil. To: How would you destroy a Petrol Dump.

The Patrol members met in pub one night after training. Staying until well after midnight, they helped themselves to drinks but made sure they washed up the glasses before they went home.

Lt J Bent's Auxilier test paper.

It is assumed they had access to the standard arms and equipment.
Bill Bent recalled that they had “a number of Tommy Guns [Thompson sub machine guns], revolvers and nearly every type of fuse, detonators and explosives listed in Highworth Fertilisers and Calendar 1938”. He had a fighting knife, which was kept down the side of his rubber boots, and a truncheon. The Auxiliers carried revolvers, Thompson sub machine guns and garottewires. Certainly one Auxilier had a cast metal knuckle duster.

Along with other arms and equipment, Sgt. Hawkes returned 324 .380 calibre small arms ammunition at stand down. Almost twice as many as any other Patrol in groups 5 and 6.

Knuckle Duster from Taunton Patrol.

Jim and Bill Bent had the task of distributing a lot of the equipment to the local Patrols in their own cars. Fortunately they were never stopped.

Neil Bent, the son of Lt Jim Bent recalled:"I remember my father telling how detachments from the Royal Engineers would on occasion come to the house in the middle of the night and start digging up the garden. My mother didn't have a clue what they were doing, but of course my father did: they were burying armaments in the garden for recovery by Auxiliary Unit personnel in the event of invasion."
Some of these munitions continued in hiding even after the war and Neil remembers as a child that there was a large metal box in his father's garage full of hand grenades !
Nothing remains on the site today.

“Haygrove” home of Lt Jim Bent and distribution centre for Group 5.

One of the photographs taken in the February 2012 dig shows what looks like a early war designed, and badly rusted tin, full of 30 - No 10 Mk1 time delay switches (Time Pencils).

A Time Pencil is a pre-set timed delay device for setting of explosive charges. These were pre-set for a delayed action of ether, 30 mins, 1.5 hours, 4 hours, 12 hours, 20 hours, before they set an explosive charge.

Also found with the time pencil tin were two 'fog signal relays'. These fog signal igniters were clipped to the top of railway lines. As the train went over them, they were crushed, this ignited the connected fuse cord, which in turn ignited the explosive charge set on the railway line.

With this find, this must prove that this patrol would have attacked railway lines or trains, if needed, to slow down the enemy advance and its resupplyment. The nearest railway line to the OB is still to the south of the site, and it runs from Taunton going eastwards.

Jim Bent and his brother Bill were both quarry owners, their brother-in-law was Mort White who farmed the first OB site at Nerrols Farm. Bill recalled that the three of them were the first to be recruited by a Mr (L or R) Preston, an ex Royal Navy man who was a fishing friend of Mort's. At present it is unknown who this was.
By the time the OB was being enlarged Bill remembered there were 6 or 7 in the Patrol.

Both the Bent brothers were made 2nd Lieutenants in September 1943 and by stand down Jim Bent was a Lieutenant as a Group Commander with his brother Bill as 2nd Lieutenant and Deputy Group Commander.
Lt J S Bent was also granted the honorary rank of Lt (Home Guard) on 1st July 1946 by the Berkshire Territorial Army
Association at Reading.

Neil Bent, the son of Lt Jim Bent recalled: “My father lived until he was 98 but never really shared his experiences with me until after my mother died. Like many people of that time, he was very modest about his work in the unit. We don't think about it because the invasion, thankfully, never happened, but the reality is that if it had, we were prepared for it."
Jim recalled that they had Home Guard and 203 but not SOM (Somerset) on their arms and they wore home-made balaclavas.
He was an engineer and after joining the Auxiliary Units had a letter to go to Bristol for a interview with the Army, presumably to be called up. He was told to wear his uniform and was interviewed on his engineering knowledge and experience. They asked Jim who his Home Guard officer was to which he replied “as far as I know we haven’t got one”. He was told that he would hear from them in due course, but heard nothing concerning any call up. “I think it was the 203 on the sleeve” he explained in later years.

Jim had a certificate that stated : Lt J S Bent has been qualified to supervise the firing of live No 36 grenades by the Southern Command weapon training school, Devizes.

Lt Jim Bent.

The training manuals of Lt J Bent.

Jim Bent's Lapel Badge.

Sergeant Owen Hawkes ran the family business, ‘Hawkes & Sons Ltd’, which had a large ironmongers shop in East Street,
Taunton and also had the main distributorship for ‘Fordson Tractors’. He also had agricultural premises at Galmington, Taunton. He joined in October 1942 and remained in charge of the patrol until stand down.

Hawkes & Sons

Dennis Venn was a farmer and joined the Patrol in March 1942, remaining until stand down. He talked very little of his war time roll. Drawn from the Home Guard, Dennis was known as a good shot.

Dennis Venn.

Having joined in October 1940 Stanley White most likely recruited his younger brother Arthur who joined in March 1942.
Stanley and Arthur were motor engineers trading initially as Cross Keys Service Station which they sold just before the war.
They became chief dealers for Ford Motors and had to travel around other dealers in the area.

Donald Power was managing director of Messrs A.E Power & Son Ltd., a provisions store in Taunton High Street. He had
married Stanley and Arthur White's sister Doris in 1932. In 1939 they were all registered at the same address at Staplegrove Mill.

Cecil Goddard, a farmer, joined in May 1942 from his home at Quantock Farm, West Monkton. He moved to “Ladymead”,
South Road, Taunton in April 1943 after his marriage and remained in the Patrol until stand down.

Edward Lovell was the district officer of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Theodore L Whitby MC, MRCVS was one of three veterinary surgeons in the Patrol and appears to be the longest serving
recorded Auxilier from December 1940 to stand down.

A World War 1 veteran, 2nd Lt (acting Captain) L. T. [T. L.] Whitby was awarded The Victory Medal and The British War Medal. He served in France, first in theatre 24th October 1916 aged 18.

THE LONDON GAZETTE 18 JULY 1917 announced his award of The Military Cross:
Temp. 2nd Lt. Lyndall Theodore Whitby, Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. The enemy made a heavy counter-attack on the flank of our position. He, by his energy and coolness dispersed the enemy within twenty yards of the position. This was solely due to his prompt organising of machine gun sections, which inflicted heavy casualties.

Second-Lieutenant L. T. Whitby was awarded a bar to his Military Cross for the gallant leading of his company, his Cross having first been won near Wancourt on the 9th of April 1917.

SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 9 JANUARY, 1918.
T./2nd Lt. Lyndall Theodore Whitby, M.C.,Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his company with great energy and determination in the attack, and remained with them, though wounded early in the operations. He showed great ability and inspired great confidence in his men. (M.C. gazetted 18th July 1917.)

E. G. Mortimer “Mort” White was a War Office Agricultural Officer and a tenant farmer at Nerrols Farm and where the first OB was constructed. He was married to Elizabeth Bent so was the brother-in-law to Lt. Jim and Bill Bent.
Part of the original group he was recruited in October 1940. His services were “no longer required” in December 1942 so it is assumed the OB at Nerrols Farm would have been abandoned at that time to maintain secrecy.
“Mort” was a long time Chairman of the local National Farmers Union and a Rotarian.

Edgar Tout was a threshing machine owner and agricultural engineer.

John Grose was a pattern maker and in 1939 was living in Hampshire with his young family.

George J Lovelock was a builders foreman and in 1939 was living in Chippenham with his wife and family.

Gilbert Kennedy was an agricultural and horticultural agent and in 1939 was living in Totnes in Devon.

Denis Kirk MRCVS and his brother Maurice Kirk MRCVS were the second two Veterinary Surgeons in the Patrol. Both
transferred out in April 1943
Maurice Kirk joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and was awarded the rank of Captain. He was killed in March 1945 aged 31 and is buried at Lille Southern Cemetery, France
Denis Kirk had an aeroplane and post war became known as the Flying Vet by using it to visit farms.

Dr H Reginald W “Reggie” Husbands FRCS Edin., MRCS Eng., LRCP Lond. was in practice with his brother Roland at
Husbands, Husbands & Phelps, Forde House Upper High Street and North Town House, Staplegrove Rd, Taunton.
Bill Bent suggested he was also involved in the Special Duties Branch of Auxiliary Units.

TNA ref WO199/3390 and WO199/3391
Hancock Data held at B.R.A
Neil Bent son and nephew of Group Commanders Lt. Bent
The family of Dennis Venn
The Landowners Mr and Mrs Rigby and Mr Ashton
Donald Brown and his research for “Somerset vs Hitler” and “Defence of Britain” project.
Somerset Heritage Centre ref DD\SLI/12/2/26 and ref A/DIF/101/7
Somerset historic environmental records PRN 31627-16527-16680
1939 Kelly’s Directory
Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Various newspapers and 1939 register on Findmypast.
The London Gazette
David Hunt
Dr Will Ward
Miss E White