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Chuchill's Army

The Thursford Auxiliaries
(1940-1944)
Can you help?

Included:
A brief reminder of who they were, why they were recruited and what they were trained to do. The names of some of the men can also now be revealed for the first time. We have included previously documented statements by the wife of one of them and by the family of another. The story is now falling in to place. It is hoped that you might recognise some of these families, particularly those about whom we know so very little. If so, the Thursford Archive would be pleased to hear from you.

Background:

Let us take you back to 1940. Churchill is now convinced that German land forces will eventually land on British soil, despite the best efforts of the regular army and the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV). The latter became the Home Guard and were to be the country’s eyes and ears, watching out for threats from the sea, but particularly from the air. Men who were over 70 and even under 17 applied in their thousands, such was the enthusiasm to protect the British way of life and their own homes. Many had experience from previous conflicts. People from all classes, ages, and occupations enrolled. Professional men, artisans, factory and office workers, shop and farm workers, vets, doctors, jewellers, lorry drivers and even vicars to name but a few. It was a real citizen’s army, comprising the employed, the retired, those too young to join the regular forces, those who were too old and of course, those in “reserved occupations” who could not join the regular forces because of the vital nature of their work at home. Initially they were poorly equipped but later on they were allocated uniforms and guns and training was an essential aspect of Home Guard operations. Many were determined to engage with the enemy but their chief responsibility was surveillance.

All this seemed reassuring enough, but Churchill had yet another, more controversial idea. The plans were so secret that not even his government knew what he had in mind. It was to be the country’s very last opportunity to defend itself, preventing invading forces from roaming about unchallenged. This top secret resistance force was to be based underground, fully equipped with explosives and hand-held weapons, which could take on the might of The Third Reich should the Nazis ever slip under the Home Guard’s net and occupy this country. These men would be specially trained in guerrilla tactics and able to live for weeks on end underground in what they called an Operational Base (OB). Once the Nazi war machine passed overhead they would pop up and cause acts of sabotage and destruction. They were recruited by personal contact only. They had to be men of character, fitness and uncompromising loyalty. They had to sign the Official Secrets Act. This meant that no-one would know of their existence, not even their wives and close family. Many were chosen from the Home Guard. If they were ever caught they could expect no mercy as they were not protected by the Geneva Convention and would likely be shot on site. Finally, the War Office expected their existence, their names and their exploits to never be revealed in the future. They would never be decorated for the part they played in protecting us from the evil of Nazis occupation. Only because of statements from family members now is the truth about them slowly leaking out.

Thursford Auxilliaries base Auxilliary base 2
Left: The Base lying next to the outer wall of Thursford Hall.
Right: One of the secret exits, among nettles

The top secret nature of their existence remains a secret to this day. The Thursford Archive was given permission to film an Operational Base, found within the Parish of Thursford. Mistaken for a garden storage facility by those who knew of its existence, the truth is now being established. Many of these OB’s were built by the Royal Engineers who didn’t really understand their purpose. Many, however, were built by the men themselves. One of the statements described confirms that the first site was in Thursford Wood. However, it often flooded and a second site was chosen. A second statement confirms that this one was built and equipped with essential equipment and food to allow men to stay undetected for up to 4 weeks at a time. It had food stores, bunks, a heater, a cooker and a radio or telephone for contact with the outside world. The entrance to our Base was beneath an outside toilet seat and escape tunnels ran along the Thursford Hall boundary wall. The tunnels housed ordinance, including explosives. The design of these bases was cleverly constructed with air intakes and ways of venting cooking smells to evade detection. These vents often ran up inside hollow trees, for example. They trained at secret facilities and locally.

Update:

Researchers are now digging into the personal memories of people closely associated with the Auxiliaries. What they have to say both confirms the facts as we describe and highlights their quite remarkable story. The two following accounts are of particular interest to us, as the families are well known locally. Sadly, both sources have since died. The people described have also passed in to memory. There are other names mentioned. We would love to hear about their activities from anyone who knew them and these accounts were collected just in time. There has been considerable interest in the possibility of a Memorial to them all in St. Andrews Church. The Auxiliaries were just one branch of the Local Defence Volunteer forces and it is hoped that more can be learnt about the Thursford Home Guard too.

The Thursford Archive recognises the vital contribution made by these men in the defence of this country in time of need. They were never called upon, however, and were disbanded in 1944.

The personal memories of families who knew the Thursford Auxiliaries and what they contributed:


Mr. Anthony Bailey.

Mr. David Bailey lived at the Rectory in Thursford Road and was once Leader of Thursford Parish Council. Sadly, he too died recently.

“Our first OB was built in Thursford Wood by the army, though they didn’t know what it was for. Because it was near a spring it got flooded, so we dug our own OB near Thursford Hall, camouflaging it with trees over the top. The entrance was beneath an outside lavatory seat with a trapped door contraption. In the OB was a gas stove, telephone and escape tunnel. We trained around Thursford and South Creake, and we also went to Coleshill in Suffolk”. Coleshill was where most of the Auxiliaries were trained in guerrilla- style close combat. “The men in my patrol were T. Brock, E. Davies, Alfred Smith, Bernard Flint, A. Smith and A. Scargill”. There is a repeated name here which may be a mistake.

Mrs. Mary Davies.

Mary lived in North Lane but sadly died last year. We were told by Heather Plumbly that Mary once lived at Heath House, Brick Kiln Lane. This account certainly makes more sense if that were the case. Mary’s vagueness about her husband’s activities is also very interesting and fits many similar recorded testimonies. Eventually, the local Auxiliaries were made part of ‘202’ Battalion, which covered the North East and Eastern England. In addition to the uniform, the badge which the Home Guard principally wore was their main protection from being shot on site. The men of each Auxiliary unit only knew members of their own unit.

“My husband was in the Auxiliaries as well as the Home Guard. I have his ‘202’ badge. Edward was a carpenter and he and his mates built their own OB at Thursford, dug into the chalk and sand pits on the Thursford/Cley road. There was enough ammunition in our bedroom to blow up the whole village! I was not to touch it, of course. I didn’t know what was going on except that my bag was already packed and in the event of an invasion, I had to leave.
Edward was a quiet man and didn’t say much. At the end of the war all their ammunition and explosives were handed in”.

References:
(i) The Archive is grateful for the cooperation of Countryside Books who granted permission to use the names and the two accounts above. The book, “Standing up To Hitler”, by Adrian Hoare is the story of Norfolk’s Home Guard and “Secret Army” 1940 – 1944.

(ii)
All original photographs included here were collected by Thursford Archive.
        
(iii) A second book, Churchill’s Underground Army, by John Warwicker was used to compile the first article written for the Thursford web site. John provides a drawing of what an OB might look like. It fits the one discovered in Thursford to a tee.

(iv)The British Resistance Organisation Museum at Parham in Suffolk has a reconstruction of an Operational Base that again looks very similar to the one in Thursford. The OB was the principal weapon of the Auxiliary Units.