Churchill's British Resistance - The Special Duties Branch

 

Aylsham - Special Duties Radio OutStation.

This page was last updated at 5:13pm on 22/6/15

Thank you for selecting information on the Aylsham Special Duties out station in Norfolk. The info and images below have been supplied by Aux researchers Evelyn Simak and Adrian Pye.

Early in 1941 the Royal Corps of Signals established Headquarters at Bachelors Hall at Hundon (Suffolk), where radio ‘hams’ soon started to design and manufacture a small radio telephony set that was simple to use, that would work well in damp conditions and operated on high frequency over short distances.

These radio sets were used by ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) officers and civilians of the SD for reporting to a defending allied army any information gleaned about the movements and strength of enemy units. Essentially, the SD was a spy network that operated in the same areas as Auxiliary Units patrols, the members of which did not know of their existence.

Any information gathered was passed on to other SD members via dead letter drops at predetermined sites, where messages were left by some and collected by others, and finally transmitted from an Out-Station to the main Zero-Station from where they would be forwarded to the relevant department.

One such Out-Station used to be located in a large town house called ‘The Beeches’, in the historic market town of Aylsham (North Norfolk). The property was owned by Dr Alec George Holman and his wife Grace Kathleen. Their daughter, Jill (now Jill Monk), recalls that her father was one of the first civilians to be recruited by SDS to gather information because of his local knowledge. Jill was only 14 years old when she was enrolled:

Jill Monk - Copyright Katie Hart - Just Regional

"Colonel Collins, the local commanding officer, asked my father if he thought I'd fold up at the sight of a German. My father told him I didn't fold up at anything - horses, bulls, schoolmistresses - so the colonel recruited me. He thought a brat on a horse was unlikely to be suspected of anything. So I was to ride out and spot any choice targets, in terms of troops or supply dumps."

Dr Holman is still well known in Aylsham and fondly remembered as a no-nonsense doctor who had little patience for malingerers but was committed to his calling. The road where the family used to live has been renamed Holman Road in his honour. Mrs Holman was one of Aylsham’s wartime ambulance drivers.

The wireless set was installed in the family home’s coal cellar which at the time served as an air raid shelter. It was situated below the billiard room and accessed through a hatch in the floor concealed beneath a rug. The radio was hidden in the former coal chute and concealed by an asbestos board to which an electric stove had been affixed. By pressing a catch, the board plus the adhering stove could be lifted off. Messages could be dropped down a pipe leading into the chute from the yard above. The aerial was disguised as a lightning conductor on the roof.

At appointed times the messages were transmitted. Jill would be sent out at night, commonly on horseback, to deliver any messages they had received. The messages were hidden inside split tennis balls and deposited via a disguised pipe. Jill had two horses, one chestnut, for riding during the day, and one black, for night exercises when she would ride cross-country: "It was one big adventure at the time but then my brother was killed in action flying over Malta and I began to think more seriously about it and wanted to have a go at the Germans however I could."

Towards the end of the war Jill became a radar operator at the Chain Home Radar Station in Stoke Holy Cross. In 1946, she competed at the Aylsham Show on her then favourite mount, Merry Monarch, a horse she had also favoured, because of its dark coat colour, when out at night delivering secret messages. She remained a regular competitor at the Aylsham Show for many years, first as a horse rider and later as a judge and sponsor of the Highland Pony in-hand classes.
 
‘The Beeches’ has long since changed ownership and was converted into two separate private dwellings. What used to be the billiard room is now the kitchen in ‘Beeches Dairy’ - it has received a new, tiled floor, effectively blocking the hatch and making the cellar beneath inaccessible.

A guided tour of the cellar, given by Jill Monk, can be viewed below.

An Interview with Jill Monk

Date of report: 10 April 2012
Area/Location: Jill Monk’s house in Aylsham

Q1. What kind of information did the secret messages contain? 
We collected information by observations made on the ground such as bombing squad movements, troop assemblages, movements and numbers, vehicle movements, identification of battalions and regiments, anything else unusual.  The information was coded before being passed on. 
 
What sort of code was used?
It was some sort of letter code but I can’t remember how it worked.  The coding was done by my mother.

Q2. How did the coding system work?
I can’t recall with absolute certainty but we received new sheets for changing the code quite frequently. 

Q3. How often was the code changed?
The code was changed regularly. I can’t remember exactly how often, I seem to recall that we had a different code for each day of the week and this was changed every fortnight or so.

Q4. Was the information flow one-way (from outstation to in-station) only?
The only reply we received after transmitting messages was “Message received”.
We had to be on tap at certain hours to receive messages. There were certain set hours when to broadcast and when to listen.
 
How did the radio set operate? 
We had to switch two and fro, depending on whether we were transmitting or receiving.
 
Q5. How were the controls used?
The set was a rectangular box with switches and ‘black knobs’ and I seem to recall that these knobs were set into something of half-moon shape.

Q6. How was the radio set operated regarding the main dials?
We switched it on, adjusted the frequency until connected, then passed on our messages. The “Message received” reply confirmed that the messages had got through.  Sometimes we had to make several attempts before getting through.

Was one of your tasks the scanning of the airwaves for spy transmissions? 
We were operating on a set frequency and there was no way to listen to anything else except to who ever it was we were connected with (we did not know who it was we were broadcasting to).

I was mainly the courier and it was my task to take messages, concealed in tennis balls, to certain drop-off points.  I do not know where these would have been on a map but I knew exactly where they were and also the quickest way to them, even in the dark, because I was very familiar with the area. I have no clear recollection of how the radio set looked like.  I was instructed in its use but I think I’ve actually ever used it only on one occasion. I was far more interested in being out and about on horseback and had little interest in technical things.

Mrs Jill Monk (nee Holman), personal interviews, 'Hitler's Britain'.

Image copyright to Katie Hart - Just Regional

If you can help with any please contact us.