Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

North East Somerset Scout Section.

This page was last updated at 8:22am on 22/1/15

The role of the Scout sections was to assist in training the Auxiliary Unit Patrols as well as being a fighting Patrol themselves. In many places they also helped with the construction of Operational Bases and distributing concealed arms dumps. The Scout Sections were gradually withdrawn from late 1942-3 and either re-absorbed into their regiments or often involved in other Special Operations such as the SAS.

1940.

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 though the Scout Sections had been disbanded by this time.

Lt John McCue (Wiltshire Regiment) initially set up the first Scout Section in North and East Somerset. He was in command of a group of 12 men, all of the Welch Regiment plus one Royal Army Service Corps driver.
Lt Keith W W Salter (Somerset Light Infantry) succeeded him in 1941 and served for about a year.

Sgt Freddy Chapman (Welch Regiment)
Ron Garnham
Tommy Webster

Other names remembered are;
Privates Gracey, Griffiths, Kitts, Rootes, Fear, RASC Driver Townley replaced by RASC Diver Sharnham.

 

Lt John McCue (left) and IO Capt. Ian Fenwick around 1940-1 outside Axbridge Wine Cellars.

 

North Somerset Scout Section at Wedmore with some Auxiliers (Capt Radford and Francis Banwell). 1942

 

Back row left to right: Ron Garnham, Lt Keith Salter, Sgt Freddy Chapman on an exercise at Oakhill. 1942.

 

Keith Salter in service dress back row next to the tall Sgt Freddy Chapman. Taken before a pub skittles match against the locals of Cranmore. Summer 1942.

Training Base – Southill House

The Scout Section ran their training courses from the stables of Southill House, Cranmore.

The house was home to Colonel Spencer (ex North Somerset Yeomanry) who got inquisitive about what the men were doing.

Someone had quiet word with him and he was made to sign the Official secrets Act.

Southill House is a PRIVATE ESTATE to the South of the rail track through Cranmore Village.

Southill House © Copyright Rob Purvis

Operational Base One - Cranmore

The first OB was only remembered by Freddy Chapman, who was in the Scout Section from the beginning. It is not remembered by Lt McCue so must have been abandoned by 1941 in favour of Doulting and later Creech Hill.

This first Scout Section OB was in Great Gains Wood to the North of Cranmore Tower with the Ops towards the edge of the wood. Access to the woods is available on public footpaths and bridleways.

It is unknown if this base survives.

Freddy Chapman recalled that the OB was large enough for 10 bunks. Chapman remembered 1 or 2 Observation Posts, large enough for 2 men and connected to the OB with a field telephone.

Operational Base Two - Doulting

Abandoned in favour of Creech Hill in mid 1941, this OB was built around the area of the railway embankment at Bramble Ditch south of Doulting. These sites are on PRIVATE LAND.

It is unknown if this base survives.

At least one Observational post is remembered to have been in Sleight Plantation to the South of the OB
site.

Operational Base Three – Creech Hill

Described by Salter as being “very good” this large “25 man” OB was located on Creech Hill to the North West of the village of Bruton.

There is access to the area on public footpaths and bridleways. It is unknown if this base survives.

John Gadd, a school boy from King's School, found the Creech Hill OB while out checking rabbit snares. Seeing 6-8 men ahead of him walking up Creech Hill and disappearing into the bracken in the trees near the top of the hill, John decided to investigate in case they too had laid snares.

Finding a trapdoor in the ground he immediately thought he had found a spies hideout.

The next day he told his friend John Bishop and at the weekend they decided to investigate. Finding the trapdoor, about three foot square and camouflaged with moss and bracken they managed to lift the hatch to look down a vertical shaft around 10 feet deep.

The boys climbed down a few steps seeing a chamber made of corrugated iron and new wood but then lost their nerve and raced off to tell their Headmaster Rupert Martin.

Mr Martin was said to have looked “thunderstruck” and making it clear to the boys it could be a matter of life and death he swore them to secrecy. John never talked of his discovery until the 1980's.

After the disbanding of the Scout Sections, Creech Hill OB could have been made use of by the Bruton Patrol.

As Chapman remembered this as a 25 man Elephant shelter this could have been considered as more of a “Group” OB as by this time Patrols were working and training together.

The hatch for this OB was made by Ron Garnham and it slid up and down rather than tipping like most other hatches in the area.

Whilst training a Patrol, Lt Keith Salter took some Auxiliers into Shipham Quarry to display his skills.
“I found an old lorry dumped at the back and blew bits out of it to show all the different ways of immobilising vehicles. Some weeks later I was hauled up to HQ. They'd had a complaint from the quarry owner that a valuable vehicle had been wantonly vandalised. Did I know anything about it ?
I had to go down to the quarry office to apologise.”

Freddy Chapman remembered practice raids at RAF Colerne and Redlynch near Bruton home to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and later the Guards Armoured Division (later American forces).

“We would have been shot had we been caught. Otherwise it was an extraordinary, exciting game we played”

It is assumed they had access to the standard arms and explosives that the Auxiliary Units were issued with.

Salter could remember having better equipment than the regular army including: rifles and Bren Guns and lots of ammunition, Thompsons .22 rifles with silencers and telescopic sights (not good when crawling around at night) and Bergen packs with steel frames.

The Scouts were supplied with an Austin convertible scout car, a Fordson truck, a motor bike and Army push bikes which were heavy with back breaks. They drew petrol from the local garage.

Freddy Chapman recalled; “We were asked one day who could ride a motor-bike. I said I'd sat on one, so they said,”Go up to Highworth. There's a motor-bike to be picked up” So I went up there and got this motor-bike. The man said “Are you capable of riding this bike?” I said “Once I get it into gear”. So he said, “Right, off you go then” And I fetched it back down to Cranmore”

The North East Scout Section trained Auxiliers by running courses, initially over weekends, involving exercises usually at night, which including attacks on strong points.

They not only ran courses at Cranmore but early on helped build some OBs and later went out training Auxiliers in their own areas.

In the event of invasion they were to act as an active Auxiliary Unit from their OBs.

They were thought to be attached to Shepton Mallet Military Prison for their pay and rations.

In Spring 1942 they were visited by Colonel Beyts and Lord Glanusk from HQ at Coleshill House. The Scout Section showed their visiting dignitaries an OB built for Longleat Patrol at which they were very impressed.

Lt Keith Salter was in the 6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry as a Orderly Officer when he saw a letter from Captain Fenwick recruiting for a replacement for Lt John McCue. The requirements were “keen on working alone and learning all about explosives”. Within a week Salter was sent to Coleshill House for explosives training then after a weekend at North Petherton (South West Somerset Scouts) on to Southill House.

He was billeted at Lynnfield Guest House where he was well looked after by Mr and Mrs Gane.

An incident is (only just !) remembered following a visit to Wedmore Patrol to inspect their OB. Francis Banwell (Wedmore Patrol) took the men to The New Inn to taste the local cider.

After some time, many of the men had to be helped into the back of the truck. As he was the Commanding Officer, Lt Salter was helped into the passenger seat and the door closed before they set off home. When they got back, they found his fingers still shut in the boor. The amount of cider drunk meant he hadn't felt a thing !
When the Scout Sections were withdrawn Salter went to Somerset HQ, at that time at Bishops Lydeard, for a short time.

Called to a meeting at Boodles Club in London he was told he was now part of Phantom. Landing in France on 6th June with the 50th Division, one of the assaulting divisions.

“One fought for one's own protection but our main roll was to find out what was going on in the forward areas. We would go as far forward as we could and send back in high-grade cipher on the RT the information we had acquired. This meant extensive patrolling and I found my experience in the Aux Units very helpful there. I was very good at moving in the dark. I became a kind of specialist to the extent that they would say “Lets send Salter”.
We gathered information – took it back to Divisional HQ where my chaps encoded the messages back to Army HQ. I had a group of 7 men all from different regiments. All became highly skilled operators and encoders.”

Keith Salter was Mentioned in Despatches 22nd March 1945 and was released from the Army 30th May 1946.
Sgt Freddy Chapman went on to become a Staff Sergeant in the Glider Pilot Regiment seeing service around D-Day at Arnham and later in the Far East.

Tommy Webster borrowed the Section motor-bike once. Not noticing the petrol tank was leaking his trousers were soaked in fuel and caught fire. Running into a cottage screaming for water, the owner made him go outside before dousing the flames. He was in hospital for a month with burns.

Tommy went on to join the Parachute Regiment.

Ron Garnham was very good at making furniture and made the OB hatch for Creech Hill. Garnham went on to serve in Glider Pilot Regiment.

Donald Brown and his book Somerset vs Hitler.
Brown's interviews with Freddy Chapman and Keith Salter
Somerset Historic Environment PNR 25685, 25686, 25687
John Gadd's memories in “Bruton Remembered”