East Coker Auxiliary Unit Patrol
This page was last updated at 3:06pm on 7/12/15
Thank you for selecting information on the East Coker Auxiliary Unit Patrol
and their Operational Base in Somerset. The info and images below have been supplied by Aux researcher Chris
Perry & our Devon CIO Nina Hannaford.
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
Alan Crick was one of the original Intelligence officers that were sent out on reconnaissance. He surveyed
Somerset and Dorset.
Captain Ian Fenwick (KRRC) was the first Intelligence Officer covering the county of Somerset along with the
City of Bath.
During his command he was billeted near Taunton with a HQ in Bridgewater. He went on to join the SAS and was
killed in action in France in August 1944.
By August 1942 Captain L Strangman (RAOC) was Somerset's IO based at Sherwood House, Goathurst near Bridgewater.
A move of HQ to The Lodge at Bishops Lydeard preceded a change of IO to Captain J W Holberton who was, in turn,
succeeded by Captain J M Martin in February 1944.
At a meeting held in July 1944 it was decided to group all the counties into 4 regions. The Somerset Patrols
became part of “Region 4” under the command of Major W W Harston based in Ashburton, Devon. As the final Intelligence Officer, Harston's command would cover
the whole of the South West and South Wales.
The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 onwards leaving the Area and Group Commanders.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.
East Coker was part of Group 4 with 3 other patrols under the Area Command of Captain Albert Henry Hunt from Bruton and Group Command of Lieutenant Eric Loder originally of Podimore Patrol.
Other officers were Lt William Bamwell Martin of Crewkerne joined HM forces August 1944 and Lt Henry Martin Daniel resigned due to ill health February 1943.
Currently unknown though thought to be July 1940. The East Coker patrol was certainly set up and operational before June 1941.
W H A Whetham seems to be the patrol leader during the life of the patrol.
Sergeant William Henry “Austin” Whetham of Wickets Beer, East Coker and his brothers -
Corporal Arthur Frank Whetham of Wickets Beer, East Coker
Alan Lionel Whetham discharged to HM forces June 1943
Corporal John P Jones of Pendomer
Alfred “Ern” D Cox of Hardington Mandeville
Frederick “Fred” George Hughes of Holywell, West Coker
Sidney “Siddy” Bee of The High Street, West Coker
Group 4 taken outside Yeovil Police
Station. Original photo from Gerry Masters
Rear:- Unknown, Thomas David Oxenbury, John Robert Hillyer, Unknown, George Hutchins
Middle:- John Dening, Unknown, Alfred “Ern” Cox, Unknown, Glyde Scammell, Unknown, Henry Martin Daniel, Fredrick George Hughes
Front:- Arthur Frank Whetham, Denis George Ford, John Jones, Nigel Leonard Palmer, Lt. Eric George Loader, William Branwell Martin, William Henry Austin Whetham, Cpl.Unknown, ?Aubrey Read?
The OB was sited under a chicken house near Skinners Hill Farm, East Coker.
Skinners Hill Farm
There was an underground Operational Base at Skinners Hill Farm which was farmed by the father of the Whetham brothers during the war. It is hard ground at Wickets Beer Farm, where the Whethams lived, but sandy soil at Skinners Hill Farm so easier digging to hide the OB.
The OB was approximately 25 – 50 yards along the ditch line from the road of Halves Lane and foot path.
Looking over top of OB site. Halves Lane behind trees.
The OB was sited under a chicken house and the Patrol had a system of knowing if it was occupied. If the chicken flap was open there was someone in the OB and if the flap was closed there was nobody there.
It was built of curved corrugated steel sheeting and had 2 foot square concrete slabs for its floor.
There was a 2’6’’ diameter concrete pipe leading from the OB to a stream south of the farm for use as an escape tunnel.
Stream where escape tunnel exited. OB was on left side on higher ground.
The whole structure was approximately 30’ x 15’.
Skinners Hill Farm
The OB at Skinners Hill Farm does not survive. It was dug out after the war and reused as a shed at Wickets Beer Farm until it rusted away.
The concrete pipes making up the escape tunnel and the floor slabs were also dug out and reused around the farm.
Early “Bomb store” sites were dugouts built of corrugated steel sheeting constructed in Pen Wood and Coker Wood. These sites were blown up and destroyed after the war by the Patrol. Coker Wood and Pen Wood were part of the Coker Court Estate.
Pen Wood was cleared with bulldozers after war and replanted so there is nothing to see at the site.
The ‘store’ site in Pen Wood was near the ponds, (a later post war addition) on the opposite of the ponds to the Hunting Lodge.
Ammunition and explosives were later stored in the loft of one of the farm buildings at Wickets Beer Farm, the home of Sgt. Whetham.
.303 ammunition was found in a shed after the war at Skinners Hill Farm near the OB location.
It is known that the railway bridge at Holywell Cross, on the junction of the A37 and the turning to Evershot, was a target. The nearby railway tunnel may also have been a target. The nearest railway station was at Sutton Bingham, on the southern railway line.
Holywell Cross bridges and tunnel and A37 near Evershot
Training at “Sigwells” Airfield proves that would have been targeted so the nearby Westlands Airfield could also have been considered as a target.
Other known targets included local railway bridges and any opportune enemy vehicles.
East Coker railway bridge near Wickets Beer Farm with Pen Wood in the background.
Other assumed targets would include the roads A37, A356 and A30, Yeovil junction railway station and the Yeovil area with its military camps.
Melbury House near Melbury Osmond is a large Country house and could have been a target if taken over by enemy forces.
Sergeant William “Austin” Whetham went to Coleshill to train.
The Patrol were trained on attacking and destroying the railway bridges in the area.
Using their .303 rifles the Patrol shot on a firing range at Wickets Beer Farm on Sunday mornings. They did revolver practice shooting at a target on a tree at Wickets Beer.
On one practice training operation they went to an airfield at Sigwells near Charlton Horethorne. Their aim was to get in and on to the airfield, place tags on the aircraft and get out without being noticed. This they achieved successfully as they were not seen or heard and their tags not discovered until they were long gone.
This airfield was used by the RAF and the RN as a satellite airfield to RNAS Yeovilton at different times during the war. This was a grass runway airfield and it was officially opened in May 1942 were it remained in use until 1947.
Meetings for the Auxiliers were held at the Marston Inn at Marston Magna. William Whetham once took his son Colin with him there in their Austin car.
In June 1941, Captain Ian Fenwick was trying to get this patrol part of a “Army scheme”, this seems to be for training which they probably did with Capt Fenwick in Bridgwater.
Currently unknown but it is assumed they had access to the standard arms and explosives. The patrol were issued with.303 rifles after Dunkirk. They had to be well cleaned as they were covered in grease and sand.
Each had a Revolver.
They had No 36 Mills grenades and heavy magnets for attaching explosives to vehicles etc.
East Coker Patrol only had civilian clothes in the early days, but in June 1941 they were promised ‘Denim’ and ‘Battledress’ uniforms to wear
William & Arthur Whetham were partners at Wickets Beer Farm until after the war when Arthur took over his father's farm at Skinners Hill.
William “Austin” Whetham in 1950s. He is still making use of his Auxiliary Unit battledress.
William H A Whetham was issued a Auxiliary Units lapel badge after the war.
William “Austin” Whetham in 1950s in his battledress.
Wickets Beer Farm
Alan Whetham left the Auxiliary Units and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, 831 Heavy Recovery Section in June 1943. He was killed in action in February 1945 after a winch pulley block broke during a winching operation. Aged only 24 and the father of a 2 week old baby he is buried at Hasselt Cemetery in Belgium.
Joseph Whetham (brother to the Whethams in the Patrol) was a ‘special’ policeman in East Coker during the war.
The Whetham Family
Arthur second from left standing. William far right next to a young Alan.
Alfred Cox worked as a farm worker for the Whethams at Wickets Beer Farm during the war but he also had a small holding at Hardington Mandeville.
John Jones was a farmer.
Sidney Bee was known as ‘Siddy Bee’ and he was a tall thin man. While he was doing revolver shooting practice he accidentally fired two shots into the ground by his feet instead of lifting the revolver up from his side, aiming at the target and then firing.
Fred Hughes' father was the gamekeeper on the Coker Estate and he lived at Keepers Cottage on the estate. “Keeper” Hughes had three sons Alb, Eddie, & Fred who helped trap vermin on the estate for their father.
Alb, Eddie and Fred Hughes went to Hern in the Channel Islands in 1947 to catch thousands of rabbits that had infested the Island. Hern had been under German occupation during the war. The three brothers took half a ton of traps, snares and nets and expected to catch 600 rabbits a day which were to be sent to the other islands for food.
Eddie and Fred Hughes preparing their snares for Hern.
During WW2 Coker Court Estate was owned by Mrs Dorothy Walker-Heneage. She died in 1947 and most of the Estate had been sold by 1949 due to death duties.
CART has obtained a copy of a letter written by IO Captain Ian Fenwick to William Whetham. A transcript is shown below:
Mr W. H. A. Whetham Patrol Leader
In reply to your letter of 16/6/41
1) Did we take all 12 Mills & 24 detonators ( or was it 24 Mills ?) back with us ?
2) I have been very worried myself over this battle dress I have written several sharp notes to Coleshill about it.
But now I can promise you a suit of “Denims” which can be issued to all for the summer.
If you will post ? on a card your sizes (height & girth) to the office I will see that your patrol gets first crack – which should be within a few days.
You had better make a note on this card of what you can? let me have for ?????Park? and what got wet (didn't some get damp if I remember? ! )
Please tell? your patrol about the “denim” suits (which anyhow will be far nicer for the summer) and say that by next winter maybe battle dress will be here too !
I will see you get back what stuff you've given? up (but I am laid up at the moment with jaundice, tho' I hope to be up and about again soon).
I hope to get you a scheme with the army proper if you can get over to Bridgwater for on Sat night ( I can put you all up for the rest of the night) but I think you'd find it a great difference when it comes to having about 30 trucks and cars to deal with in reality.
Fenwick signature on letter.
This proves that for at least the first year after formation the Patrols in Somerset did not have “Denims” (considered as a uniform) available to them so must have trained in their civilian clothes. It also mentions training exercises with “army proper” which could mean the Somerset Scout Section.
TNA ref WO199/3390 and WO199/3391
Hancock Data held at B.R.A
Rachel Apsey, Alan Whetham, Colin Whetham and Stan Turner (relation to the Whethams)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
“Somerset at War” by Mac Hawkins. ISBN 0 946159 548
Somerset CC Historic Environment Record
“East Coker, A Village Album” by Abigail Shepard
Somerset Heritage Centre
A letter from Capt Ian Fenwick to W H A Whetham
If you can help with any info please contact