Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Branscombe Auxiliary Unit Patrol

This page was last updated at 8:48am on 4/7/14

Thank you for selecting information on the Branscombe Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Devon CIO Nina Hannaford. cartdevon@gmail.com

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.

Branscombe is a very scattered village spread over 1 ½ miles on the East Devon coast.

Some of the 9 Patrols within Group 6 in East Devon were based very close together. Due to this there maybe some confusion over Auxiliers and their exact Patrols.

Research suggests that this information on Branscombe Patrol is accurate but we welcome any corrections.

From the very first meeting in Whitehall in July 1940 the Intelligence Officer for Devon and Cornwall (named Auxiliary Units SW Area) was Captain (later Major, then Colonel) J W Stuart Edmundson, an officer in the Royal Engineers. He liaised with the regular army and received supplies and equipment and formed all the Patrols. He was assisted by Lieutenant (later Captain) John “Jack” Dingley who became IO for Cornwall in 1943 though he may have assumed the roll before that.

In November 1943 Devon and Cornwall were separated and Edmundson was succeeded in Cornwall by Captain John Dingley and in Devon by Major W W “Bill” Harston who would remain in command until near stand down. At the end of Harston's command he would cover “No 4 Region” being the whole of the South West Peninsular and Wales.
The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 leaving the Area and Group Commanders.

After 1941 a “grouping” system was developed where some patrols within a demographic area would train together under more local command.

At Stand Down, Devon is recorded as area16 and Branscombe is part of group 6 along with nine other patrols, including Sidbury, Newton Poppleford , Beer, Bovey and Seaton.

The East Devon Area Commander was Captain Leonard Howes of Colyford. The Group 6 Commanders were Captain S B “Woody” Wood of Seaton and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur W Pope of Newton Poppleford.

 Currently unknown.

Original Sergeant Basil “Dick” Tedbury. Left the area and the nominal roll records him as “Untraceable” in October 1944
Sergeant Morgan Selley, a farmer, succeeded Tedbury
Philip Selway, a farmer.
Walter Hutchings, a farm worker
Arthur Irish, a farm worker
Stanley Dunn, a carpenter
Edward Collins, a gardener
Francis “Frank” Coles, a farm worker and trapper.

A newspaper article in The Sidmouth Herald 29th April 2005 has Morgan Selley recalling his time in the Home Guard and later as “Sergeant in charge of the village demolition squad”

Morgan Selley from an article in The Sidmouth Herald 29th April 2005

Phil Selway from the same article.

Sgt. Morgan Selley: “There were only seven of us and we were out at Blackbury Castle so no one would find us. The army had dug this big hole for our shelter in the ground out there. You got into in by what looked like a big badger hole which we would always cover over with turf and leaves when we left.

“Dick [Tedbury] was a bit of a roamer who used to climb down the cliffs collecting seagulls eggs and when he left Branscombe I was put in charge of this demolition lot.

We used to go out on Sunday mornings to look at things and make sure we knew how to put them together.
By then we had a proper uniform, even great coats, we were as pleased as punch to get that.”

The Operational Base is located in a wood called Castle Down, known locally as Blackbury Plantation, just below the iron age hill fort / settlement Blackbury Camp.

Though quite below the brow of the hill, the location is easily accessible through pasture and track ways so as not to attract suspicion.

A local community exercise called “The Branscombe Project” was started around 1994 by locals aiming to record Branscombe's past. This has lead to an excellent resource of the history of the village and can be seen here.

The Branscombe Project have kindly allowed us to use excerpts of interviews, taken over the years, remembering the Auxiliers and their actions.

The wood has public access.

The nearby fields are covered with flint, so it is assumed the army found digging hard work. There has been a suggestion that they made use of an old badger set to make work easier but therefore dictating the location and orientation of the OB.

The minimal covering of vegetation allows for the out line of the main body of the OB to be seen.
Built on the side of a slope it is possible that erosion could mean the depth of soil coverage is now very different from where it was in wartime.

The roof section of the main body of the OB appears to have collapsed along the rivet lines of the “Nissen” structure leaving either end block wall intact. Without excavation it is unknown if this section has been properly filled in or just filled to a level with collapsed debris.

 

Looking from the entrance shaft along the length of the OB chamber. Block wall is just beyond fallen tree.

The entrance chamber to the east was excavated to a degree in 2012 revealing what looked like a metal grill set in concrete.

 

Entrance area

At the west end of the main chamber is a block wall with squared opening with a wooden lintel intact and a square ventilation block to the left. This leads through to an unusually narrow second chamber which is only around 1 ft wide.

 

Far end wall of main chamber

 

Far end wall of main chamber showing  possible ventilation hole with wooden lintel of doorway below.

 

Possible ventilation hole in end wall looking through to small second chamber.

This then has another squared opening which should lead through to the escape tunnel which would then open out around a third of the way down the steep slope.

The main chamber appears to be around 20ft long and could be around 10ft wide at the base. The smaller area is equally as wide but only around a foot long. Being this narrow it is difficult to understand the practical use of this area.

 

 Very narrow “second” chamber between main chamber and escape tunnel.

Orientation of OB: The possible entrance hatch is in the east and the escape tunnel runs to the west. The nearby steep slope downwards runs, downhill, north to south.

As Selley suggests that the entrance looked like a badger hole it is possible they used the escape tunnel more than the entrance.

 

Looking from escape tunnel, over block walls (void is into small second chamber) and down length of OB. Backpack is around the entrance shaft.

Looking from void into small second chamber down route of escape tunnel and down the slope beyond.

Observation Post: Currently unknown

Other physical remains nearby: A small section of glazed ventilation pipe was on the ground surface nearby though not in situ.



Assumed targets in the area would include:

RAF Branscombe Chain Home Radar at Kings Down Tail, where the buildings straddled the (present) A3052, was certainly a training target (see below). Off limits to the local people it was shrouded in secrecy.

Blocking roads from the beach at Branscombe Mouth up to the main coast road could have slowed supply routes.

Branscombe Mouth, a possible supply route.

In 1941 the firm of C. Nestlē & Co. Ltd relocated from London to Branscombe to escape the blitz. The company continued to make hairdressing products but this was predominantly a front for a munitions factory.
Though clandestine, the factory was an open secret in the area and would have been advantageous to an invading army especially if allowed to continue working.

Munitions Factory

Though there is no evidence that individuals were targeted, Branscombe was the home for Lucy Temple Cotton and her son Rafe. Lucy had become friendly with Oswald Mosley and by the late 30s Rafe was the lead organiser for Devon and parliamentary candidate for the British Union of Fascists, the “Blackshirts”.

It is known they made trips to Germany and met Hitler and were hosts to Von Ribbentrop when he visited Devon.
Arrested in June 1940 they were fairly quickly released and allowed home, though kept under surveillance.
Lucy's youngest son Paul was shot down and killed while serving in the RAF.

In 2005 Jack Denslow of nearby Bovey Patrol was interviewed by the history department of Colyton Grammar School.
He recalled that many of the local Patrols would meet up near Seaton Water Tower and train together in the area.
Within the interview he talks of Thorverton where the Devon Scout Section trained Auxiliers on weekend courses from all over Devon.

Jack Denslow: “There was a hall there [Thorverton] and seven patrols met there and when we got there they gave us a map. On the map there was just North, South, East and West and just a red dot and in the middle of the night we had to find that dot. Strange countryside...black...It was very different.

I had to lead Branscombe Patrol, not my own...I led it where I thought I would find it...they only had about half of us found our targets.”

Dave Seward – talking about the Patrol's raid on the RAF base: “Well, to test the security of the place, I think it was the Home Guard Commandos were detailed one night to enter the place if possible, leave their calling card and give themselves up.

I would think Arthur Irish might have been part of it [and] Phil Selway. Anyway, they got in through the barbed wire fence, they left their calling card and they disappeared, no trace was ever found of them. After that the security was considerably tightened. That's when they put up all the extra concertina wire about 20ft deep instead of 3ft.”

RAF Branscombe.

Bill Carpenter: “The Home Guard once took part in manoeuvres with the army and this gave rise to an incident which was described many times over the years. The Guard's most formidable member was Dick Tedbury who, although not a man to provoke a fight, was always ready to oblige anybody who wanted one.

On this occasion Dick was armed with a rattle representing a machine gun post behind a hedge in Margells Orchard.
Soldiers were deployed to deal with Dick and his rattle, which Dick found to have no stopping power.
Dick however, had very considerable stopping power, as the soldiers discovered when they tried to remove him by force.

After the fight , Dick declared an armistice and invited the army to come and collect their “dead”. “

On one occasion, during explosives training, one Auxilier managed to pull a pin without throwing an explosive device far. “Flat” called the officer in charge as there was an almighty explosion. The squad managed to hit the ground, just escaping shrapnel injury.

Unknown but it is assumed they had access to the standard equipment and arms.

Ralph Cox: “I remember being shown the contents of boxes in a shed which was on “Pop” Selley's Farm. I now know it must have been used by the Branscombe Auxiliary Unit as a forward supply depot. An immediate use store rather than the OB facility out at the secret site in Blackbury Plantation. If called for, the local unit would equip themselves with the necessary items to carry out the operation quickly.

The shed is not there any more – it's long gone. I remember it back in the mid 50s when I was a teenager. It would have been big enough for two animals and I remember seeing in the boxes: ammunition, time pencils,rolls of fuse cord and trip devices but no guns.

Not stored in metal ammo boxes, just wooden cases. Not in plain view but stored along with the animal food, hay, straw etc and hidden under it....

Another gun kept down on “Pop” Selley's Farm, out the back in the old engine house, was a pump action .22 Remington Rifle. I have since found out it was just like the one issued to Auxiliary Units without its telescopic sight or silencer.

At firework time, with an older group of village lads, we experimented with time delays...but later, when I was older and knowing the contents in the shed...along with the fireworks we had bought and borrowing some items from the shed we were able to create delayed remote displays. Together we would set up mysterious events all by themselves in the village...allowing a remote display to take place after we had gone...

I also remember seeing the last of the issued Noble 808 gelignite being used to blow up a hollow tree stump for my father on the farm one Sunday morning.

I believe the leftover ammunition was buried somewhere in a local farm hedge.”

Sgt. Morgan Selley: “The demolition squad was a different thing altogether [from the Home Guard]. We had theses explosives and goodness knows what, gelignite and stuff, enough to blow up cars or a tank.
We were non-existent. We had to go underground so that if the Germans had landed we more or less had to go out at night, lay out our explosives and time switches, buzz off and it would all go off an hour later....

In fact having started with a stick [Home Guard] I finished up with four guns including a Bren gun and a Luger revolver which father had brought home from the Great War... the bonus was it fired the Bren gun ammo as well.
It was all kept in the house here. There was no lock and key. We didn't bother with that.

Well I had this chest of guns, explosives and booby traps so it must have been a serious business at the time.... We were looking for an invasion if one ever came. But they were never going to come here, not to Branscombe....
Still, had they come I suppose we were, in our way, ready and waiting...”

Sue Dymond, as part of the Branscombe Project, has published a book, “Branscombe's War 1939-1945”, which gives a fine insight into the wartime lives of the villagers.

It appears from Sue's research that certainly Collins, Selway and Dunn seem to have remained in their Home Guard rolls after they were recruited as Auxiliers. They are recorded on Action Station documents dated 1942 as maning machine gun posts around the village and coastlines. They may have decided that within such a small and close community that any perceived lack of civil defence work by able bodied men would be noticed and questioned.
Evidence appears to suggest the locals knew something else was going on anyway !

Frank Chard – talking about Frank Coles who worked on his father's farm at Great Seaside : “They didn't have him in the ordinary Home Guard, he was attached to that lot that...they considered themselves commandos...over at Seaton. There was Captain Woods, I think he was called...and nobody knew where the [bunker] was. It was a hole in the ground somewhere and they were going to stay behind or attack the Germans after everyone else had gone, wasn't it ?  They were going to make life hell for the Germans.

It was difficult because some days he wouldn't come back. He stayed the night...right until the next day and then he'd come home virtually dying. He carried revolvers and things. It was totally different from everybody else.
I would say that those staying behind...they virtually knew that they were going to be shot because apparently anybody that stayed behind like that was classed as something different if the Germans had arrived. That was a shooting job if they'd stayed behind and put explosives out....he'd always got some stuff.
God knows how he got away with it.”

Sgt. Dick Tedbury was remembered as the explosives expert of the group. It is thought he may have been an occasional poacher. One day, for a bit of fun, Dick decided to test a time switch by connecting it to a small explosive and laying it in a bramble bush. The Patrol then went down the Fountain Head and waited. When an hour later the explosive went off there was general panic as everyone thought a bomb had gone off. 
It is not known where Dick went before stand down. Local rumours suggest he may have fought overseas maybe as part of the SAS.

Sgt. Morgan Selley was a fine shot who once won £5 in a Home Guard shooting competition.

Due to his good eyesight Phil Selway would often lead the way when they reconnoitred the cliff edges in the dark. He liked to hide behind bushes then emerge once they had past so suddenly he was at the rear.

Arthur Irish never spoke about any involvement until after many decades honouring the Official Secrets Act.

TNA ref WO199/3390
Hancock data held at B.R.A
The kindness of the very patient Ralph Cox
The Branscombe Project
“Branscombe's War” 1939-1945 by Sue Dymond
Colyton Grammar School.

If you can help with any info please contact Nina by emailing cartdevon@gmail.com