Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Brixham Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base

This page was last updated at 6:38am on 17/9/14

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

When my father informed me that my Grandfather was not really in the Home Guard during the war I wanted to investigate further. With the help of CART I discovered he was a member of the Brixham Auxiliary Unit.
Further research has shown other family members were also in the same unit.

Brixham is divided into the fishing port of “Fishtown” with the “Cowtown” area being a farming community. The town is located on the West side of Torbay on the south Devon coast.

Military Liaison

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The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 leaving the Area and Group Commanders.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 registered as area 16. Brixham is part of Group 4 along with Marldon, Stoke Gabriel, Newton Abbot and Harberton Patrols under the command of Lieutenant (later Captain) Albert J Smith and 2nd Lieutenant (later Lieutenant) Edward J C Linscott. An earlier Lieutenant Arthur N Eversley-Green was discharged in Aug 1943 on medical grounds.
All originally signed up as Lieutenants in “H” Company of the 10th (Torbay) Battalion Home Guard before being recruited to Auxiliary Units 

The South Devon Area Commander is Captain Cyril Wellington originally of Plympton Patrol.

Thought to be late July 1940.

Sergeant Walter Minns of “Burridge”, Kingswear Road
Corporal Frank Hannaford of Nut Tree Cottage, Milton Street.
Herbert “Mick” Hannaford of Nut Tree Cottage, Milton Street
Eric “John” Hannaford of Nut Tree Cottage, Milton Street
Francis “Frank” Williams of 73 Milton Street
John “Rupe” Baker of 39 Milton Street
Arthur Bedford of 123 Milton Street
Clarence Hicks of Mathill Farm
Harry Salisbury of 76 Drew Street
Frank Drew of 2 Council Cottages, Penn Lane.

All apart from Frank Drew would have been able to see the Operational Base area from their windows.

Click image for larger view

Click image for larger view.

Brixham, Stoke Gabriel and Marldon Patrols
Most likely taken at stand down. Centre is Captain Albert Smith, on his left is Lt Edward Linscott and to his right is (ex) Lt Arthur Eversley-Green.
Sgt. Minns is middle row 7th from left, Corp. Frank Hannaford 2nd from left, Frank Williams is back row 3rd from right and Herbert Hannaford is sat on the floor on the left.

The Operational Base is located on the edge of Windmill Copse on Guzzle Down, near Hillhead on the outskirts of Brixham.

During the summer of 2014 a program of tree felling is necessary in the area. The contractors have been made aware of the OB remains and care will be taken in the area. What is left of the OB remains will be updated when this is completed.

The roof of the entrance and main chambers have collapsed but the block entrance shaft and end walls of the main chamber are almost intact. The corridor leading to the escape tunnel is, at present, intact but fragile and liable to collapse. The concrete pipe making up the escape tunnel is intact though the stone walling once covering and disguising the end has fallen away.

The location for the Operational Base was excavated by the Auxiliers at evenings and weekends, usually after a full days work. They disposed of the soil in the surrounding area. The Army appeared with the materials for the construction but left the men to build it themselves. When finished Arthur Bedford, a carpenter, made sure they had wooden flooring and shelves.

 

 

 

The block built entrance shaft was approximately 4ft x 4ft and lead into a small chamber. A low doorway into the main chamber meant to men had to duck to get through.

A wooden removable ladder was used to descend the shaft. Frank Hannaford, who worked for the council, supplied a metal hatch to cover it. Half of this has been found and the fact there is a cog on it indicates there was some kind of mechanism of opening.

The outside was packed tight with moss and leaf mulch to hide it. As it was a shallow tray on the surface it was rare that they had to repair the disguise.

It appears it was originally made for a different use.

Looking down the entrance shaft  

Part of the entrance hatch

The entrance chamber joins the main chamber at 90 degrees around 18” from the end wall, along the longest length.

A single course of concrete blocks were laid, then timber placed on top and an “Elephant” corrugate iron structure placed on top of the timber. It is unclear how or where any ventilation pipes were laid. 

The main chamber ended up approximately 15ft x 12ft. Though it may have been narrower.

No attempt appears to have been made to destroy or dismantle the OB post war.

End wall of the main chamber  

 

 

 

At the far end away from the entrance the Patrol built a narrow corridor of half block and half corrugated iron leading to the large concrete pipes used as an escape tunnel.

 

 

This would have originally be covered by stone to disguise it as part of the stone walling.

Low doorway into the main chamber from the entrance chamber 
Brixham Auxiliary Unit 4
Looking down corridor towards main chamber. 
Brixham Auxiliary Unit 5

Looking down escape tunnel towards corridor and main chamber. 

Brixham Auxiliary Unit 2

Exit of escape tunnel through stone wall.

Observation Post: The Army built an observational post in the copse below the OB which was a small wooden hut looking down the valley and main road towards the town and harbour and sea beyond.

It is thought that the OP and OB were able to communicate as it has been remembered that a wire ran between the two, hidden in the hedgerow.

Looking down the main road into Brixham from the OP location.

Other physical remains nearby: A small flattened area of ground shows where the observation post was but nothing remains.

Whenever the Patrol walked to the operational base they followed a different route every time so any observers would not see a regular routine. Contemporary maps show paths leading to the site from Hillhead, Laywell Lane and Milton Street (directly opposite Sgt. Minns house).

The most obvious targets in the area were roads and transport links. Blocking the road from Kingswear to Hillhead would cut off any troops and supplies coming from the River Dart.

Doing the same on the main road in and out of Brixham, as seen from the Patrol's OP, would cut off the supply route from Brixham Harbour. 

Now part of Dartmouth Steam Railway, blocking the rail tunnel at Greenway (Agatha Christie's House) would again prevent supplies from the River Dart. Frank Hannaford recalled the tunnel was his job and he once said he had pre-drilled holes near the entrance to use explosives to create a land slip.

This would effectively cut off the two main landing sites in the area, blocking supply routes.

Greenway Tunnel

Two large fuel tanks near to Brixham breakwater were another known target. Although the present landing hards below the tanks were not built until 1943 in preparation for the D-Day landings it was thought that blowing up the fuel would compromise the use of the harbour and put the fuel out of enemy use with little risk to local life.

A known target and one that was used as a training raid was the RAF Radar Station based at Coleton Fishacre. The station provided radar cover for Lyme and Start Bay. It started out as camouflaged caravans sprouting aerials and a number of RAF personnel in a small plot near the entrance to the farm drive.

After a few months, a sentry was put on the lane to the left of the entrance of Coleton Fishacre and a camp was built there. There were a number of Nissen huts and in the middle a Nissen hut with a big rotating dish aerial on a tower above it and a blast wall surrounding it.

One night, after meeting at Sgt. Minns house, the patrol made their way to the station, through and past their defences and leaving notes around the central hut to show they had visited.

For a while after this the camp was guarded by an RAF Regiment with Daimler armoured cars.

Patrol training took place every Sunday and 3-4 times a week in the evenings. John Baker recalled:” ..me and John (Hannaford) were always late on a Sunday, Sgt. Minns would shout at us then smile and shake his head ! Him and Frank (Hannaford) were close and we knew Frank would always look after us...”

John Baker thought that almost all the original Patrol went to train at Coleshill House. Travelling up by train he was not expecting to have to start training immediately on arrival. He found the training hard and wet and muddy and with few comforts. “...we had great fun but was always reminded of how serious it all was whenever we went to Highworth..”

Training in field craft and stealth movement were carried out in the fields behind Man Sands Beach. One night the Patrol were particularly alert when flashing lights were seen out at sea and a light responded from Scabbacombe Head. Clarence Hicks was sent to inform the “authorities” while the rest of the patrol spread out to race to the headland. Nothing was there when they reached Scabbacombe and when the Police approached the area the men decided to disappear into the undergrowth rather than face questions about their movements.
Clarence was left to face the questions alone which he never let the others forget.

A night spent practising stealth movement saw Sgt. Minns and Frank Hannaford watch as the rest of the patrol tried to move from one side of the valley (behind Man Sands) to the other, without being seen. The men were followed all the way by a group of curious cows revealing their route.

Shooting practice took place in a small quarry at the top of Laywell Lane. It is remembered that John Hannaford could hit a primrose flower from one side of the quarry to another.

Canadian troops were stationed at Lupton House immediately below the OB until 1943 when US troops took over the house and grounds.

Lupton Camp (K6) had quite a few Units pass through, a couple of which were lost in Operation Tiger.
Towards the run up to D-Day, to keep up the moral of the Patrol, Sgt. Minns organised practice “raids” on the camp. The patrol would enter the camp over night and “re-arrange” items. A story is remembered that one time they actually moved a tent from above some sleeping GI’s for them to wake up in the morning staring at the skies.

Unknown but it is assumed they had the standard equipment. 

John Baker recalls, "Sticky bombs scared me the most........had no fear as a young man but, sometimes in the middle of the night I would think about what we were ready to do and it scared me.....”

Herbert Hannaford's wife remembers his mother (Mabel) finding a box of hand grenades in the house and asking Frank Hannaford what they were. When Frank told her she didn't want to know she demanded they were removed from the house.

Some items were obviously kept, as post war, in the Hannaford family home, garden bonfires were often started with a small explosive device and a fallen tree was once moved by being blown up. Frank Hannaford's youngest, Bill, could remember playing in and around the OB and taking pot shots at rabbits with his fathers revolver.

Sergeant Walter Minns was a retired Metropolitan Police detective. A firm but fair man he was well known and respected by the local force. Meetings and the academic training needed to pass tests in, for example, explosive types and amounts needed, were held in his house which would have had a good view of the OB location just across a small valley. Sergeant Minns was a World War 1 veteran.

Corporal Frank Hannaford worked for Devon County Council as a lengthsman.  His two eldest sons were also Auxiliers in Brixham Patrol along with his brother-in-law Frank Williams. His wife's cousin, Sydney Williams, was also an Auxilier in Mullion in Cornwall and they often visited after the war.

It can only be wondered at how the conversation went when they first saw each others lapel badge.

His unrivalled local knowledge of the landscape meant Frank was in charge of the logistics. It is said he always had an escape route planed.

He had seen service with the Royal Army Service Corps throughout World War 1, working closely with the war horses.

Frank Hannaford and Sgt. Walter Minns were of a similar age and had both witnessed the horrors of the Great War. Though they made sure their men were well tested, disciplined and ready for their intended roll they also kept a fatherly eye on their young charges and managed to get a few out of some sticky situations.

Frank Hannaford wearing his Auxiliary Units lapel badge.

Frank's eldest son Herbert, AKA “Mick” (from Mickey Mouse !) worked at Philip & Son Shipyard at Noss on the banks of the River Dart. Mick survived when Noss was bombed 18th September 1942 killing 20 men and women including his uncle John Martin. He went on to join the Royal Navy.

Frank's next son, Eric, known by his middle name John or his nickname “Dickie”, was a farm worker and as an experienced tractor diver was a valuable employee. He had to use threats and deception before eventually being allowed to join the RAF as a rear gunner. Post war he returned to a lifetime of farming.

John was the best shot in the Patrol and was entered into a shooting competition against the other Patrols in Group 4. It is claimed that he won.

“Dickie” (Eric John) Hannaford while serving in the RAF

Francis Williams, known as Frank worked as a blacksmith. A rugged and fit man who was very hard and quick to discipline. He too was a World War 1 veteran.

Frank Williams centre with Sgt. Minns in front

John Baker AKA “Rupe” (from Rupert Bear !) worked with Mick at Philips & Son Shipyard at Noss and he too survived the bombing. Always a slight and short man he was considered the explosives expert of the Patrol. John transferred to the 13th Battalion (Bodmin) Home Guard when his employment moved to Cornwall in May 1943.

Great friends with John Hannaford they would often try to start a fight in one of the many local pubs without actually getting involved themselves. Sneaking away before a punch was thrown or landed. This was far more enjoyable when the Allied forces based nearby got involved.

A couple of times he was accused of not doing his duty for the war effort.

John Baker

Arthur Bedford was a carpenter and made sure the OB had wooden flooring and shelves. He was discharged to join His Majesty's Forces in February 1943.

Clarence Hicks worked on his fathers farm on Horsepool Street. He was known for being able to sell poultry and meat without the need for ration books and no questions asked. He moved to Somerset before stand down so was posted to the 16th Battalion Somerset Home Guard in June 1944.

Harry Salisbury lived with relatives having moved from London and Frank Drew was originally from Paignton. Both appear to have joined  the Patrol later maybe to replace John Baker and Arthur Bedford.

 

Militärgeographische Angaben über England (image 20)

In 1941 the Nazis produced a folder containing maps and booklets that were intended to be used as military intelligence documents for invasion.

In preparing for the invasion a vast amount of information, including maps and photographs, was assembled by the German military which resulted in the production of a series of military/geographical assessments, showing what might be found by those arriving.

Included was an aerial photograph of Brixham showing it's safe harbour.

John Baker Interview,
The Williams and Hannaford families.
TNA ref WO199/3391
Hancock data held at B.R.A
Reg Little of Kingswear