Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

John Marchant Transcipt.

This page was last updated at 8:05am on 23/3/14

Imperial War Museum Sound Archive
17326/2/1-2
John Marchant

Partial transcript

Interviewer
You were telling me that you joined the Auxiliary Units. How did that come about?

John Marchant
Well I went back to the Wiltshire Regiment after that and got training at Devizes for about a year, I was training recruits in Devizes. Then I got called in by the adjutant one day and he said that there was this thing called Auxiliary Units, “I don’t know what it is, might be the fire brigade sort of thing and will you go?” Well anybody after a year training recruits will do anything almost, so I went and I agreed to join Auxiliary Units and got posted down with a little unit of my own. About 15 people, sergeant, a corporal and 13 or 14 other ranks, down to Burley in the New Forest to run his this little group, basically to train Home Guard sections.

I
When was this that you started with this little unit?

JM
’42 I think. Now the years get a bit rammed up together, I think so, I have to work back a bit, but ’42 I think, early ’42, about March ’42.

I
What rank did you have by then?

JM
I was a lieutenant then

I
What kind of people were in the units?

JM
Straightforward Wiltshire Regiment other ranks, a sergeant, a corporal and about 15 other ranks. Some and some. Altogether not a very big unit.
Run by  a Major over me, Lord somebody or other, I forget who he was now, sorry. The whole lot was run as a War Office unit. Nobody ever knew what was happening. We were given the job of training little patrols from the Home Guard and helping them build their operational bases, so as they would be operational, should we ever be over-run.

I
But what kind of geographical background did your unit come from? From the local area or all over the country?

JM
No. No. We had to learn it all ourselves, such local area as it was. No, they came from ordinary conscripted and regular men from the depot at Devizes.

I
So they had no previous knowledge?

JM
No, no local knowledge.

I
Terrain and so on?

JM
Nor me, no. But we did our best to learn this as fast as we could, when we got down. The New Forest was quite a good area for it. Probably one of the better and easier areas to work in.

I
Did you have a hideout?

JM
Two. Yes.

I
Can you describe them?

JM
We built them ourselves and they took quite a long time to build and one I don’t think we ever finished, but the other one was 2 or 3 rooms. One was a sleeping area for about 12 people and a storeroom and kitchen. We eventually were supposed to get these all organised but there they were never really fully operational. I would have hated to go to ground in one of those things. I think we would have come unstuck very quickly. But some of these, some of the ones that the Home Guard had [built], weren’t bad at all. Of course they were very good on their own ground, or would have been.

I
How did you construct the hideout?

JM
It was a matter of digging, disposing of the soil slightly and camouflaging the top.

I
How did you camouflage the top?

JM
Mostly I think, we would chose something that was fairly easy, like an area where there was a wood and then it comes very easy after that. You have a lift, a lift door. All these things were in theory, they are never worked out in practice. And had they been worked out in practice, they might well have been some very graphic changes in the thing.

I
Why?

JM
Because I don’t think you could have... Sooner or later somebody would have found out what was happening and got on to you fairly quickly.

I
Was it waterlogged this dugout?

JM
No, No, No. No, you chose ground where you could go down, or if necessary, with a slope on it. (mutters inaudibly) – long time ago.

I
What kind of weapons would you have used had the Germans invaded?

JM
We had Sten guns and various weapons that were fairly in advance of the ones that were about then. I think Churchill got involved here and he made sure we got Sten guns and that sort of thing.

I
Grenades?

JM
Yes.

I
Explosives to blow things up?

JM
Explosives, yes. We trained the Home Guard on explosives. I learned my explosives at Coleshill, where the headquarters of Auxiliary Units was. Coleshill near Swindon, that one. They used to send us up on courses there.

I
How long a course would you have had?

JM
About 2 or 3, probably about a week or a fortnight each. And the Home Guard used to get sent up there as well, the Home Guard patrols.

I
What type of things did you learn on the course?

JM
Mostly explosives and practice with the, considerably more practice than you could do back in your area with the Sten guns and things like that.

I
How much trouble do you think you might have caused to the Germans had they invaded?

JM
It’s very difficult to say, but I think the Germans had probably been so good at over running people that they could have dealt with little pinpricks like this, quite quickly.
The other thing that always worried me, looking back on it, was that  you would have caused immense suffering to the local population, who if anything like that had happened in their village, the whole village would have gone probably.

I
Did you realise that at the time?

JM
No, this was hindsight

I
Did you think the Germans would invade?

JM
Personally I never thought that they would. Particularly as time went on, because I was there in that unit until ’43, autumn of ’43 before I was recruited into SOE and started training there.

I
How did you come to be recruited into SOE.

JM
Partly because the chap who ran Auxiliary Units, also became the big white chief of SOE too.

I
Do you remember his name?

JM
Yes, Of course I do, I have his book, but I can’t remember his name now. That’s how I got in there. Otherwise I think they used they recruited people with a knowledge of French, but I had got in on the ground floor having been in Auxiliary Units.

END