Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

Fritham Auxiliary Unit Patrol

This page was last updated at 3:43pm on 19/3/14

Thank you for selecting information on the Fritham Auxiliary Unit Patrol located in Hampshire. The info below has been compiled by Dr Will Ward CART CIO for Dorset.

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.

The patrol was part of Group 2 in Hampshire, Commanded by Lt G B Ash. Captain A J Champion, who was the area commander for all the West Hampshire groups. The assistant commander of Group 2 was Lt G Forward. 

Early 1940

Name DOB Occupation   Died
Sgt. Bertie Benjamin Smith  24/01/1904 Forester Took over from G Forward 1966
Pte. William Charles Gulliver   28/8/1899 Forester
Pte. William 'Bill' Thorne  19/08/1900 Forest worker 1995
Pte. Allister Thomas Holloway  17/12/1902 Forest Keeper Joined patrol in 1944 1967
Pte. A H Holland  12/02/1912 Joined HM Forces May1944
Pte. Gilbert Ernest W Smith 31/10/1906 Forest Keeper Moced to Cadnam 1944 1985

The patrol names for the west of Hampshire and the New Forest have been identified from National Archives file WO199/3391, but are not divided by patrol. The nominal roll gives the surname, initials, ID card number and address, together with date of birth. The patrols have been arranged according to the addresses and ID card numbers around known patrol leaders. This means the allocations may not be completely accurate. Additional personal information such as first names and dates of death have been added using the 1911 census, Ancestry.com and FreeBMD.com. Some men, particularly those from the Ringwood area where there are several patrols, could not be allocated with any confidence to one patrol or another, so are listed here.

The Fritham Patrol was set up by Gerald Forward who was almost certainly patrol sergeant from its creation until he was promoted to assistant Group Commander in April 1944. He recounted some of the details in a privately published biography. Gerald Forward was an Agister, a type of supervisor of the livestock of the New Forest, with specific responsibility for the welfare of the free ranging animals. Together with his brother Hubert, he covered the 93, 000 acres of the Forest during the war. Gerald Forward recalled how he was approached by a staff officer who went around the subject at some length before asking him to find the men to form a patrol. This was apparently “quite early on” so may have been something like July to September 1940 (he also says it was after the renaming of the LDV to the Home Guard on 22nd July 1940).

Bert Smith, Gilbert Smith, Bill Gulliver and Allister Holloway all occupied well known Keeper’ or Forester’s cottages in the Forest (Holly Hatch, Bramshaw Wood and Coppice of Linwood respectively). These were “official residences” that came with the job and form part of the unique structure of the New Forest. Gilbert Smith, brother of Bert (both sons of a New Forest Keeper), recounted joining the unit in 1941. He lived in Church Place cottages at Normansland, but later moved to Shave Green Cottage, Cadnam, his address being changed in the nominal roll book. He may have joined the Cadnam patrol at this time. Bill Thorne lived at Butler’s Farm. It is likely that the rest of the patrol were in similar occupations and this meant that the men were older than in many other areas, but of course had exceptional knowledge of the area they lived and worked in. In 1944, Gilbert Smith was moved to a new beat at Cadnam, but continued to contribute to the Fritham patrol.

A H Holland is not remembered by wartime residents of Fritham. It is possible hat he might have been son of keeper Maurice Holland. As he has been allocated to the patrol purely on the basis of his ID card number, it is possible he was not a member of this patrol at all.

The patrol had one Operational Base which consisted of a caravan buried complete underground, with a disguised entrance in “a part of the Forest which was difficult to get to”. The caravan belonged to the Crosthwaite-Eyre family, well known in the New Forest, with various members representing the area as MP, as Official Verderer and during the war as commander of the local Home Guard. Gerald Forward checked with John Crosthwaite-Eyre, who he knew was involved in similar work, though it is not clear if he knew how much, since John was pictured at Coleshill House around this time. The caravan was carefully hitched to a tractor at just after 1pm, when the rest of the staff had gone to lunch and driven off. It was buried by the following morning.

 

The patrol also had a more typical corrugated iron shelter, though the wood for this was acquired from one of the Forest bridges! It no longer exists as it was dug up by Gerald Forward for use as a pigsty after the war. Gilbert Smith describes burying an “Elephant shelter” (heavy grade Nissen for underground use) in an old disused sandpit, near a badger sett on the side of a hill. This dates it’s construction to 1941 at the earliest. It is thought that this may have been in Bramshaw Wood.

 

The OB contained a bunks, a table with stools and oil stove. There was the usual 2 gallon rum jar, and a stock of drinking water which was changed regularly. What is intriguing is that Gilbert Smith mentions a couple of times that they had a radio in the OB – and could transmit with this if necessary. It was quite unusual for patrols to have a radio and this may have been because of the isolated nature of the Forest patrols.

 

One Thursday the patrol went to ground in their OB, following an alert that invasion was imminent. Aux Units were meant t avoid the initial battle and surface after the initial fighting was over and wreak havoc behind the lines. However, they heard no fighting, or anything else to suggest the presence of enemy forces. Eventually, 3 days later on the Sunday, they sent a man out to find out what had happened, obviously discovering this was a false alarm. The patrol had heard nothing on their radio and had been told not to call out, but the Army had forgotten that they had been sent to ground and not issued a recall!

 

Unknown at this time.

Gerald Forward reports training with Regular soldiers, possibly a Hampshire Scout Section as well as being sent away on training courses, most likely a patrol leaders course at Coleshill House.

Gilbert Smith recalled an initial period of intensive training, mostly in explosives, as the patrol members were already crack shots and familiar with camouflage. Army Officers visited to undertake the training, which also included First Aid and Rescue drill. Gilbert was aware of two other Forest patrols, but didn’t know that the organisation was much larger.

Another exercise was to stop an Army convoy on a particular road. Live explosives were tied to a large oak branch, with a four gallon petrol tin full of water above, which would be shot full of holes with a Tommy gun as the ambush was sprung, to simulate petrol being released by the explosive and descending as a flaming mass on the truck. Two other patrol members had flour and soot “grenades”. The plan was for the CO to signal when to fire the detonator and trigger the ambush. Gilbert says that the unnamed CO was rather nervous and excitable, and he failed to make the signal until three lorries had already gone through, leaving the patrol concerned. Thus when the signal eventually came, the string connected to the detonator was pulled rather too violently, yanking the detonator out of the explosive rather than setting it off. Perhaps just as well, since a heavy oak branch might have done serious damage among the men in the back of the lorry!

The patrol also launched a mock attack on an Army camp, with the aim being to leave time pencils (with detonators, but no  explosives) on the differentials of the parked Bren carriers. The camp was told the patrol would come on one of three nights and went on the second, when there was heavy rain. Within seven minutes the patrol were in and out of the camp having set their time pencils, 30 in all. Twenty minutes later the time pencils went off. The patrol had brought the Colonel of target unit from his headquarters at Minstead Hall as an independent witness of success. When the charges went off he was left rather red faced. Gilbert reports his comment, “I think I’ve got a lot of rotten troops and, I don’t know for sure, but I think you are the biggest rotters I’ve ever met!”

The patrol would generally have the weapons shown here

Just prior to the caravan episode, Gerald Forward and John Crosthwaite-Eyre made their own grenades. It is likely that this was at the stage when the Home Guard had little more than Molotov cocktails and shotguns. The grenades were made of cement contained within brown paper and filled with metal debris such as nails and tacks, with a piece of Bickford cord as the detonator. His only remark is that these were probably more dangerous to the user! A stash of them was discovered after the war at The Warrens (the Crosthwaite-Eyre residence) and the Police called, since it wasn’t immediately clear how they had arrived there.

Gordon Thorne remembers his father having a revolver, something that would have been most unusual for a regular Home Guard, but standard issue to Auxiliers.

Gilbert Smith recalled copious explosives and ammunition, including time pencils. He was rather more surprised to receive cyanide tablets for use in case capture seemed inevitable. He had a Tommy gun. All the men would have already owned shot guns and probably rifles as well for shooting deer.

After the war, Gerald Forward was elected as a Verderer, an important quasi-judicial role within the New Forest. He was awarded an MBE for this work in the 1974 New Years Honours list.

 

Bill Thorne never mentioned his wartime service, other than to briefly mention membership of the Home Guard. When he died the small enamel red and blue Auxiliary Units badge was among his effects.

 

Gilbert Smith was a well known Keeper, who wrote a book about his life in the Forest. The book contains photos of groups of Keepers, taken in the 1950s. These included Bert Smith and Bill Gulliver and Gilbert can be seen to be wearing his Aux Units enamel badge in some of the photos. 

 

One of those from 1953 can be seen here.

 

In the back row Gilbert Smith is on the left with his badge just visible, Bill Gulliver is alongside him. Bert Smith is in the front row to the far left. 

Information from Gerald Forward’s private biography forwarded by Mr A Passmore, together with other details of patrol members.
www.newforest.hampshire.org.uk/forest_notes/notes_feb09.pdf

http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/56837461

www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/46162/supplements/14/page.pdf

Information from Mr G Thorne, son of Bill Thorne

New Forest Recollections by Gilbert Smith, published by Paul Cave publications Ltd 1986.