Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Ditchling 'Hind' Auxiliary Unit Patrol and OB located at Wivelsfield

This page was last updated on 13/6/17

Information kindly supplied by Stewart Angell, author of 'The Secret Sussex Resistance' 

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.

Ditchling Patrol code name was "Hind".

GEORGE THOMAS (Former A.U.Patrol Leader) with PETER LONGSTAFF-TYRRELL

Don Atkins, a farmer
A J "Bert" Holmes, a farmer
Sam Holmes, a farmer
Arthur Sharman, a coleman and George Thomas's brother-in-law
Harry Wood, a farm manager.
 
Aiming to place all Auxiliers in their Patrols, CART has used the home addresses recorded on the nominal roll to include:

A Barnes of Hayward Heath, E J Gould and N A Gue.

  - A song about George Thomas. Kindly donated and performed by Stuart Leon.

The video below was uploaded by YouTube member IKS Exploration. CART was not involved with the filming and did not have any knowledge of it taking place. CART would advise anyone wanting to view any Operational Base to ensure correct permission is obtained from the landowner.

At the bottom of the 9ft deep bricked entry shaft to our OB, half-a-mile into West Wood beside One Hundred Acre Lane at Wivelsfield (TQ 345 193 south of Haywards Heath in West Sussex) were two 30-gallon water tanks. Storage space for two weeks' stock of tinned rations, cooking and lighting provision, explosives, fuses and detonators, booby-trap devices, incendiary and time-delay pencils, together with ammunition for rifles, revolvers, Sten and Tommy guns filled the OB. The base comprised a floor area 19ft long by 9ft wide with offset entrances. There were barrack-type beds-cum-seats for eight men on either side of a central table. Glazed ventilation pipes ran out to root clusters of hazel which concealed them. A vital aspect of our OB was a length of 33in diameter concrete drainage pipe which acted as a waste outlet for the base, and also as a 25ft long escape route to a lower level of the wood: this camouflaged exit could only be opened from inside.

Ditchling Operational Base 1

During construction of out hideout a double layer of chestnut fencing was used for each wheel track. After completion we had to remove it to keep the site secret - consequently our farms received a great deal of free fencing.


Ditchling Operational Base 2The hideout was entered via an earth-covered wooden hatch. This could only be opened by pulling a release wire, which then allowed the hatch to spring up. A counter-balance weight assisted the hatch to move to a fully open position.

This revealed a brick shaft going down 13 feet with a ladder made of scaffold poles set into the brickwork.


 

 

Ditchling Operational Base 3

Ditchling Operational Base 5

 

At the other end of the hideout was the emergency exit consisting of a concrete tunnel 2 feet 8 inches wide and 28 feet long (See above). This terminated in another earth covered wooden hatch that was hinged at the top. It was set at an angle of 45 degrees to emulate the slope onto which it opened out. Ventilation was provided by a network of glazed drainage pipes, four inches in diameter. These came to the surface underneath surrounding ferns and bramble bushes.

 

 

The hideout contained food, ammunition, explosives, bunk beds, a cooking stove, and a chemical toilet. Water was stored in two 30 gallon galvanised tanks. The bunk beds, when not in use, could be folded flat against the wall to create more space. A table stood in the centre of the hideout.

Former patrol member Arthur Sharman remembers they tried not to visit the hideout too often, in order to keep its whereabouts secret. Burt Holmes recalls that localised training always took place at night and involved simulated attacks on surrounding military installations. One such attack involved the patrol having to enter a guarded radar station, either Truleigh or Poling, and laying dummy charges at the base of the aerial pylons; this they managed successfully. Another memorable attack took place on Ford Aerodrome where they had to get in and place coloured stickers on various planes to simulate attaching explosives. Some of the patrol were caught and taken to the guardroom. Once inside, the men were treated very roughly, being told to lie face down and not attempt to get up or they would be hit with a rifle butt.

 Ditchling Operational Base 6

 

 

 

Condensation was a major problem inside the hideout. George Thomas remembers having to get the Royal Engineers back and fit a false ceiling to try to alleviate the condition. He also used silica gel crystals to absorb the moisture. Because of this he used to keep a lot of the patrol's equipment in his own house. It was only a few years ago that George Thomas finally got rid of the explosives he kept there. He called in the army to assist in this task and they destroyed them harmlessly on his land. George Thomas' favourite explosive charge was a five gallon drum of petrol with a ring of Cordtex and a detonator. This combination gave, as he put it, "a spectacular explosion". 

The patrol's main target, in the event of an invasion, would have been to blow up the underground fuel tanks on nearby Chailey Airfield although Ian Clayton (added on 19/3/10) says this cannot of been the case as the airfield was comissioned in April 1944, long after any threat of invasion. The petrol was not stored underground but in two long cylindrical metal tanks above ground next to the brick pumping house which can be seen in photos on the Chailey website. As a boy Ian lived just up the road from the airfield and watched it being built.

Our main target would have been the temporary grassland airfield No. 131 which had been laid out across Bower Farm and Great Homewood Farm, North Chailey. It was used as an Advanced Landing Ground during the move into enemy-held Europe towards 1944, as a fighter base for Polish-piloted Spitfire IXs. Their squadrons (Nos 302, 308 and 317) arrived in late April from nearby Deanland. The site was also used as an Emergency Landing Ground for aircraft damaged in operational flights.

Several B17 Flying Fortresses landed at Chailey ALG and once a Lockheed Lightning made a forced landing on the east-west runway and jumped the road at the end of the runway to finish up where the 'Plough' inn had been sited prior to the building of the airstrip. The rebuilt Harvey's 'Plough' at Plumpton (TQ 365 182) opened on March 16, 1956 after a temporary Nissen but hostelry sufficed for the loss of the original inn.

Nationally there was a double ring of OBs constructed right round the country, units being about 10 miles apart and 10 - 15 miles inland. The Home Guard personnel to man these sites made three Battalions numbered 201, 202 and 203. We all had to sign the Official Secrets Act forms, and the fact that Auxiliary Unit operations did not become generally public knowledge until 1990 shows how effective the Act was. Ironically, perhaps, in view of the highly dangerous role of Auxiliary Unit members, no official recognition of awards were ever made and they were informed by letter that units were standing down. Often personnel wore dark blue working tunics instead of their Home Guard uniforms and their status as saboteurs and not Servicemen, in contravention of the Geneva Convention, could have led to them being executed if captured by enemy troops.

The headquarters of the whole underground operation was Coleshill House, near Highworth, Swindon, secluded on the Berkshire Downs. All personnel, about 60 at a time and 1 or 2 each from different patrols, attended for intensive training in the best way to destroy all types of enemy vehicles and aircraft, as well as killing invaders.

Ditchling Operational Base 7

The Army Operational HQ for all the Sussex Auxiliary Units was at Tottington Manor (TQ 216 116) near Small Dole, Henfield in W Sussex, beside the road to Edburton under Truleigh Hill. The officers and personnel came from a wide range of regiments and it was beneath Tottington Manor that they constructed a secret cellar with a hidden entrance from the existing cellars. The cellar led to an escape tunnel leading to an inspection cover for the toilets, which raises-up for entry or exit on the release of a catch.

We did much of our training at Tottington Manor but officers also came to our own areas and organised inter-patrol competitions. They transported us on two-hour journeys, either east or west, to test the security of radar bases, aerodromes, camps etc. We never failed to enter any of them and place dummy charges, but how hard it was to keep awake the next day whilst making hay!

All the houses and farms on the Downs had been evacuated and the area was used as training grounds for the forces, mainly Canadian troops after 1940, and we practised booby-trapping the house at Standean Farm north of Brighton. There was a Nissen but built halfway up Ditchling Beacon to service drums of incendiaries slotted into the bank sides. Guns on Ditchling Common kept shells whistling overhead to targets in the Downs, with occasional shells falling short on the northern slopes of the Downs.

Frank Mayston, who was born in Ditchling, was in the Royal Engineers stationed at Small Dole in charge of the construction of all the county's OBs and in keeping them supplied. Frank recruited all of the Ditchling patrol members and carried out the initial training in our own homes.

At our first reunion in November 1994, 50 years after standing down, members of different patrols recalled officers who had served in their area training. Our main officer was Captain Bradford of the Devonshire Light Infantry who, just prior to D-Day, asked most of us to volunteer to be dropped with him in France behind the German defences. We were to have two weeks' parachute training first. Fortunately we were not called upon for sadly Captain Bradford and his batman were killed when they ran into a German patrol after three weeks of operation in France. His brother, who was in one of the Sussex Home Guard companies, showed us a photo of his grave which was well looked after by local people.

A Black Watch officer sometimes helped in our training. We also met officers of other regiments during inter-patrol competitions elsewhere in Sussex, although we were often not sure where we were without a map reference as all signposts were removed in the first months of the war.

If we had been invaded, all patrols would have taken on their code name for all intelligence messages, for added security. Our Ditchling code was 'Hind'; Offham Patrol was named 'Weasel' and the Patrol Leader was Frank Martin of Allingham Farm; Ringmer Patrol was named 'Fox' and their Patrol Leader lived at Clayhill Farm; Mr Willett led the Bishopstone Patrol called 'Badger One', that later absorbed the Firle Patrol called 'Badger Two' (Firle was the smallest p with just four members); Frank Dean, the village blacksmith, led Rodmell Patrol; Percy Tulley led Hurstpierpoint and Frank Masefield Baker led the Bolney Patrol.

At the reunion in November 1994 around 40 people attended and a radio link-up was made with the Monmouth organisation that had arranged reunions for their members every year since standing down. Seeing all exmembers, most in their 80s or 90s, it seems hard to think of us crawling in the dark through the triple Dannert wire and double apron wire that defended most of our potential targets, but practice had proved it to be quite easy.

Tottington Manor is now a popular restaurant and hotel and the once-secret cellar has been incorporated into the existing cellar for storage of beers and spirits. Farm buildings have been erected alongside and a farm road runs over where the escape exit inspection cover used to be.

The national reunion in Berkshire had to be held in an hotel as the elaborate Inigo Jones-designed Coleshill House that was the wartime Auxiliary Units' training centre was accidentally burned down shortly after the war. Those who attended the function visited Coleshill Estate to revive old memories, where more recently the administering National trust authorities have planted trees in commemoration of the Auxiliary Patrol members.

After the war the hideout was emptied of its contents. Due to the shortage of building material at the time the corrugated iron sheeting that had made up the roof of the hideout was removed and used on George Thomas' farm.

Page info supplied by the Pillbox Study Group and Stewart Angell.

Imgaes supplied by Jim from 28 Days later.