Churchill's British Resistance - The Special Duties Branch

 

Chirnside 1-Bewley Down SD Out Station, near Axminster.

This page was last updated on 6/12/16

Report provided by Dr Will Ward. CART CIO for Dorset, Martyn Allen, CART CIO for Devon Nina Hannaford and Chris Perry.

Type: Outstation
Call sign: Chirnside 1
Date of construction: c1941
Area: 17

The Intelligence Officer for the Special Duties side of Auxiliary Units covered the Southwest, including Somerset and Devon. The IO at the time of construction was Captain CMP Coxwell-Rogers based in Taunton. He was succeeded by Captain ERR Fingland, who took over temporarily while his predecessor was hospitalised. He was subsequently replaced by Captain AD Ingrams, then later by Captain EC Grover.

Chirnside 1 had a direct wireless link with Chirnside 0 (zero), at Castle Neroche. This would have communicated to local army headquarters (HQ 8 Corps/HQ Southwestern Command) by GPO land line. A 1944 map of the Special Duties wireless network also shows links from Chirnside 0 to Golding Zero, near Taunton and Osterley 0 near Blandford.

In addition, Chirnside 1 provided the only wireless link to a sub-outstation, Chirnside 1A, around 5 miles south in Axminster.

Operator/s

The operator was Douglas Ingrams, who had been commissioned into the Territorial Army in the 1920s. He seems to have been a quite exceptional operator, since he was to succeed the acting Intelligence Officer for the area, Captain ERR Fingland in 1943. This was no temporary cover arrangement, since Ingrams was formally returned to military service and later in the war was transferred to be Special Duties IO for Norfolk. He remained in the military after the war for some years, serving in the Middle East.

Medora Eames

A neighbouring farmer's wife was employed as a "Runner" to deliver messages to the Out Station and may have taken over being in charge of the station when Ingrams moved to Norfolk.

Medora Eames of Woonton Farm was a well known local horsewoman and was in her 50s during the war.

Woonton Farm


Listen to former owner David Ingrams take you on a guided tour of the site.



This recording is copyright to the IWM. It was made in 1998 and long before any renovation. Some of Mr Ingrams observations and facts have since been proven to be incorrect.


Wireless site/s

Chirnside 1 is a very unique site. It survives in remarkably good condition beneath an old privy in the back garden of a house built high on the side of a valley. The author of this brief report was granted a rare chance to visit the site, which is on private property.

Our thanks to Martyn Allen for filming and supplying this video.

Outside of the “back to back” privy.

Inside the (restored) privy.

A hidden lever, buried in the ground a few feet away from the privy door, is turned 90 degrees to release the toilet bench to allow the whole structure to to easily be lifted.

       

                                                             Hidden release lever.

The dugout is accessed by a shaft beneath an old fashioned bench seat and bucket toilet, which lifts with the aid of counterbalance weights to allow entry.

        

                        Raised Toilet                                    Pulley used for counterbalance system

Looking down the entrance shaft under the toilet.

One then passes through a low chamber and door into what is known as the map room, since it has a large table.

        

Looking from the entrance shaft through            In the Map Room with bench and table raised

door to map room.

This is the roughly the size of an Anderson and uses similar corrugated iron sheets. A concealed door in the end wall of this room opens to allow access to the radio room.

Concealed door opened.

With the “Map Room” table and bench folded back, the far wall pivots to reveal the “Radio Room” behind the sleeper wall. A variety of fascinating mechanisms control access at each stage, with built in fail-safes in case of damage.

Locks on the map room door.

Buried in the ground above is a secondary cable pull release mechanism for the main “sleeper” wall.

Inside the radio room, the complex arrangement of cables to open the latch for the hidden door is visible.

It also appears that a escape tunnel may have been started at some time in the far wall of the chamber. This does not seem to have been completed and the initial opening covered with metal sheeting.

In the radio room - showing the covered start of an escape tunnelMetal pipe for the aerial feed can also be seen on the right.

This is the concealed door between the map room and radio room, with the “map table” folded flat onto it.

Messages delivered to the site arrived via a special tree stump, with a top that could be moved aside to allow a split tennis ball to be dropped down a pipe concealed inside. This came out in the radio room. It suggests that there were one or more couriers who would bring messages to the site, which would be placed inside the split tennis ball.

Message arrived in (modern) tennis ball from the surface into the radio room.

Looking back at the entrance shaft.

The counter weights for the restored entrance. Note the large lead ingot at the bottom, beneath a smaller ingot and some lead sheet. The large ingot is stamped Broken Hill Australia, and appears to be from the same batch as those at Hemyock. The lead sheet is a modern addition to counterbalance the reconstructed privy box precisely.

Leaving through the privy door.

Originally a hedge ran through the garden almost parallel to the privy. This was used to conceal a complicated and multi layered ventilation system along with the aerial feed from the trees to the radio room.
Also hidden by the hedge was the “dead letter drop”. This was disguised as a tree stump with a lid that swung around revealing a hollowed out centre and sitting on top of the message pipe leading down to the radio room.
Messages left in split tennis balls would then be rolled down to the operator. Messages would have been left by presently unknown local informants.

       

Replica “dead letter drop” over message pipe.             Looking along the original hedge line                                                                                      showing the drop, aerial trees and side of                                                                                                                     privy.

Looking along the original hedge line showing the complicated vent layout.

Two of the many vent pipes.

This is one of several aerial trees on the site.

The aerial cable runs up the groove to the left of the bird box and can be seen curving across the trunk where it would have connected to the dipole aerial in the branches.

Aerial feeder wire running up the tree.

Original feeder wire to aerial.

A brief online report cannot hope to cover all the complexities of this site, or the full details of Douglas Ingrams career with Auxiliary Units. The complete story is told in “Chirnside 1” by Hugh May. This 120 page book contains the results of an extensive investigation of all aspects of the site and is highly recommended.

Sue Wallace
Chirnside 1, by Hugh May
Hugh May and David Hunt, personal correspondence
https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/38980/supplement/3943
https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/40403/supplement/839
https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32815/page/2814
Martyn Allen, Nina Hannaford and Chris Perry
With thanks for the kindness and patience of the landowners