Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Cornwood Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base 

Thank you for selecting information on the Cornwood Auxiliary Unit Patrol and their Operational Base in Devon. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Devon CIO, Nina Hannaford. If you can help with any info please contact Nina by emailing cartdevon@gmail.com

This page was last updated at 6:41am on 30/10/14

At stand down Devon was registered as area 16. Cornwood is part of Group 3 along with Diptford, Ugborough, Harford and Flete Patrols and is under the Group Command of Captain Alwyn Robertson originally of Harford patrol.

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

Autumn 1940

From the very first meeting in Whitehall on 13th July 1940 the Intelligence Officer for Devon and Cornwall (named Auxiliary Units SW Area) was Captain (later Major) 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 official IO for Cornwall in 1943.

In November 1943 Devon and Cornwall were separated and  Edmundson was replaced 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 Peninsula and South Wales. The IO's were being withdrawn from around August 1944 leaving the Area and Group Commanders.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.

Captain William Falcon of Cornwood  trained this and other local Patrols in the grounds of his home  called “Slade” along with help from Lt Cyril Wellington  (Plympton) and  Lt Alwyn Robertson  (Harford). Both became Captains at stand down, Wellington being named as the Area Commander for South Devon and Group Commander of Group 2.

The villages of Cornwood and Lutton are near to the southern boarders of Dartmoor and 3 miles north of Ivybridge.  All the Patrol members came from  the surrounding areas.

Captain William Falcon of Slade (more below)
Sergeant C W Godfrey of Little Stert
Corporal  Richard M Wotton of Great Stert, brother of Andrew
Andrew Wotton of Great Stert
David John Lewis of Slade Lodge, Captain Falcon's gardener
Steve Hoskin of Higher Venton a farm worker
A C Sedgman  of Mark's Bridge
H George  Woodley of Sherrell Farm,a farmer he joined 1942
L G Bailey  transferred to a Somerset Auxiliary Unit 2nd June 1943
James “ Jim”  Batten  joined HM forces April 1943. (more below)

The Operational Base was built by the patrol in an old sand / gravel quarry. Made from timber it quickly became unsuitable and was rarely used by the Patrol. It had decayed and become unusable long before stand down.

Size of OB and entrance/exit etc: Unknown at present but another reason why the OB could have been inadequate is due to the lack of entrance / escape routes. Other than the main lane leading up to and along side the quarry the only other route of entry or exit is across open moorland allowing no cover.

Cornwood Auxiliary Unit Operational Base 1     Cornwood Auxiliary Unit Operational Base 3

Cornwood Auxiliary Unit Operational Base 2

Site of the Quarry where OB was situated.

Observation Post: The Observation Post was reported to be at Hanger Down Clump. An almost circular clump of trees on the most Southerly area of open moorland where the Observation Post of Harford Patrol at Western Beacon would have been clearly visible.

Hanger Down Clump

Hanger Down Clump.

Though it is a very fine vantage point with 360 degree views it would have been a well known prominent landmark and maybe too public.

It is known that many locals made use of this area as it would have given a safe vantage point to view the destruction of Plymouth in the Blitz of 1941.

Hanger Down Clump from OB

Hanger Down Clump on the skyline as seen from Harford Patrol Operational Base.

The Patrol seemed to make little use of their Operational base and place little importance on it so it is assumed they would have used Captain Falcon's house and outhouses more for storage.

Ash poles had been embedded in the ground over Hanger Down to deter the landing of gliders.

Trained with Harford, Ugborough, Diptford and  Flete Patrols. All under the Command of Captain William Falcon who was  based at “Slade” in Cornwood in the Piall Valley. Group photograph was taken in the grounds outside “Slade”reportedly in 1943.

Slade group photo

The Book of Cornwood and Lutton copyright Halsgrove 1997

These patrols also trained at the rifle range at Cleeve, just below Ivybridge.

On one occasion the patrols all met in The Kings Arms in Ivybridge to receive medical training in the event of serious injuries and not being able to get access to first aid facilities.  This was carried out by a Captain of the Army Medical Corps who gave instructions on how to deal with a wounded man. The volunteer who lay “wounded” had been shot in the stomach which the Captain described in great detail. It was a warm evening and secrecy demanded all the doors and windows to be fast shut. The atmosphere became very oppressive to the extent that an Auxilier fainted.

Jim Batten's family remembers him as having a railway warrant entitling him to travel to Coleshill House for weekend training.

Main targets are assumed to be the many railway viaducts in the area including Slade and Blatchford viaducts along with the main road leading East from Plymouth.

Slade Viaduct

Slade Viaduct.

Brunel's original trestle-less pillars in the foreground were replaced in 1893. These pillars all have “drill holes” near the base approximately 6” deep. These could be there for a totally innocent reason OR put there by the patrol as training ?

Unknown, but it is assumed that they would have access to the “standard” Auxiliary weapons of a Browning Automatic Rifle, a Thompson Machine Gun and two Enfield rifles.

Explosives included No 36 grenades, “Sticky Bombs” and Phosphorous grenades and each would have had a fighting knife.

Other equipment issued to the Patrols includes torches, lamps, candles, compass, water sterilization sets, picks, ration packs along with eating utensils and a gallon jar of Rum . They were also issued with magnets to fix explosives to the railway line. These would have been used to derail trains thus blocking the viaducts leaving the structure intact.

Patrol weapons and explosives were kept at Slade with Captain Falcon.

After the patrol was disbanded, local people remember that a digger was about to remodel the pond at the front of Captain Falcon's old house “Slade”. Andrew Wotton (Cornwood Patrol) suddenly appeared shouting “STOP”. Captain Falcon had arranged for some of the surplus explosives to be dumped in the pond after stand down.

Captain William Falcon

Captain William Falcon of Slade had been a mining engineer in the Royal Engineers in World war 1 and by 1918 had reached the rank of Acting Major. He was known to have extensive explosives knowledge.
When the grouping system developed in 1941 Falcon's roll became more of a trainer and he may have relinquished his command of Cornwood Patrol.

He is on the Nominal Roll as an Auxilier but even though he carried out more of a training roll for the South Devon area he is not recorded in the chain of command at stand down.

Jim Batten was a gardener for Major Passey at Blatchford House who it is thought may have been involved in the recruitment process but this is yet to be confirmed.
Jim joined the Home Guard but was quickly recruited to the Cornwood Auxiliary Unit as he was a practical, capable man.

Shortly afterwards he was called up by the regular army and was sent to Halifax for training. Only a day or two later he was summoned by his Commanding Officer who exclaimed ‘I don’t know what the hell is going on but I have orders to send  you home. I don’t suppose you can tell me why ?’
‘I can’t sir ‘said Jim.

The Commanding Officer handed him a letter marked secret, for his eyes only. Jim opened it in front of the Officer who asked to see its contents. Jim had to inform his superior he was not allowed to show him, which understandably irritated  the Officer slightly.

He was sent home to rejoin his Auxiliary Unit having only missed a weekend of training.

Later (April 1943) when the threat of invasion was passing he was called up for a second  time and recruited to the Royal Engineers. He was in his thirties and sent to Scotland for Commando training.
Once asked  by his family what he did during the war he stated calmly, he was taught to kill people with his bare hands and how to break their arms and legs. A tough man who was patient to a point, he is remembered as a strong man with hands like steel but a kind and gentlemanly manner.

Memories courtesy of Jim Batten's family through his grandson Dave James.

Jim Batten

Jim Batten in service.

At stand down all Auxiliers still active in the Patrols in Devon an Cornwall were presented with their lapel badges and letters of thanks in a ceremony held in Exeter.

After stand down all Patrols of Group 3 had a Thanksgiving church service in St Petroc's Church on the edge of Ivybridge.

The Book of Cornwood and Lutton by Meriel Dodinson 1997, Ivybridge during the second World War by Arthur Clamp. Mrs H Wotton, Miss E Andrew, Dave James and the family of Jim Batten. The family of Alec Rogers. The local and tactical help from Noel Thornton and Mike Barber, The family of Capt. W Falcon, Major Hancock's data held by British Resistance Archive.