Article by Ray Duffill
By daytime in World War II, Charlie Mason was an aircraft engineer at Brough, but this just provided cover for his covert membership of Britain’s secret resistance organisation. Charlie’s role, in an invasion by foreign enemy troops, would be to fight the invaders from behind their own lines with a campaign of espionage, sabotage and disruption.
Charles Arthur Mason was a member of the South Cave Patrol of the secretive Auxiliary Units set up on the orders of Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940. This secret army was established with two key roles during an invasion by forces of Nazi Germany; to collect intelligence on invading enemy forces and to organise a guerilla offensive behind enemy lines. Nominally part of the Home Guard, this was certainly no ‘Dad’s Army’.
An exhibition at Hedon Museum, which opened on Saturday, reveals much about the secret life of Charlie Mason who along with his comrades trained and prepared to resist the invaders. Because of the secret nature of its organisation, the story of this ‘underground’ resistance army remains largely untold, and for most of his life Charlie, bound by the Official Secrets Act, kept his wartime role secret.
Jo Mulhearn with display boards about her father Charles Mason.
“He didn’t tell us much at all about his secret activities,” said Charlie’s daughter Jo Mulhearn at the Hedon Museum on Saturday. “He’d told us that he worked for a section of the Home Guard, and during the war, he said to Mother ‘if the invasion starts, let the chickens out of the coop, then go to the church and make sure the bells are rung to warn people. I’ll then be going away… and may not be back for some time.’“
During an invasion, Charlie would have made his way to his operational base, a hide-out in the countryside stocked with knives, guns and explosives from which his unit would conduct operations against the enemy. Some of those items, safely decommissioned, are on display in the exhibition.
Maggie Sumner from the Hedon & District Local History Society was particularly interested in one commando knife in the exhibition which she believes was the one that Charlie brought with him when he gave a talk to a meeting of the Society, perhaps 20 years ago. “The presentation stands out, even after all this time because of the interesting subject matter, but also because of Charlie holding this big lethal looking dagger!” Apparently, in peacetime, the knife was used for nothing sinister but merely as a gardening trowel by Charlie!
Alan Williamson, author and researcher, and Jo Mulhearn.
Alan Williamson’s book
Jo Mulhearn opened the exhibition on Saturday, but introducing her was Alan Williamson who has spent 22 years researching the local Auxilary Units – work which he says is ongoing. Alan has written a book, East Ridings Secret Resistance, which was published in 2003. Much of the research for that book was undertaken by both Alan and Charlie – “Charlie was always keen to re-discover the sites of the former Operational Bases,” said Alan “he would be the first one down into any forgotten underground bunker.”
There was a real threat of invasion in the early part of the war, and whilst that did not take place, the Auxilary Units were kept in active service until finally ‘stood down’ in November 1944.
The “Secret No More” exhibition currently showing at the Hedon Museum reveals much about the membership and wartime activities of this secret army and draws heavily upon the experiences of Charles Mason (1914 – 2008) and other veterans of this most secret army.
The story of East Riding’s secret resistance army 1940-44 at Hedon Museum is open every Wednesday and Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm until Wednesday 4th May 2016. Refreshments are available. Please seek out the signs and notices in Hedon town centre to find your way to the museum which is behind the town hall complex.
A ‘must-see’ exhibition!