Churchill's British Resistance - The Special Duties Branch

 

Chirnside 2 - Widworthy Special Duties OutStation.

This page was last updated on 3/5/16

Thank you for selecting information on the Special Duties out station known as Chirnside 2 located at Widworthy in Devon. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Devon CIO, Nina Hannaford and Aux researcher Chris Perry.

Type: Out Station
Call sign: “Chirnside 2”
Date of construction: Currently unknown but after March 1942.
Area: 17

The Intelligence Officer (IO) for the Special Duties Branch of Auxiliary Units covered the South West, including Somerset and Devon.

The initial Intelligence Officer for the whole area was Captain Coxwell-Rogers M.C (his name was Cecil Mein Probyn Dighton and he assumed the name Coxwell-Rogers during World War 1) and for a time was based at 13, Mount Street, Taunton. He was in the Gloucestershire Regiment and was given the honorary rank of Captain when he relinquished his commission in January 1944 due to ill health.

Coxwell-Rogers illness meant that in 1942 he was succeeded by Captain Edward (Ned) Fingland, who took over temporarily while his predecessor was hospitalised. By late 1943 the IO was Captain Arthur Douglas Ingrams from the Axminster area who was operating “Chirnside 1” and was replaced by Captain E C Grover in 1944 after Ingrams was sent to Norfolk then the Middle East.

Sergeant Alfred Ellis of the Royal Signals was the Sergeant covering the Buckland St Mary (“Chirnside”) networks along with Cheddon Fitzpaine (“Golding”), Blandford (“Osterley”) and Winchester.(“Omagh”) networks.

Networks:

A 1944 map of the Special Duties wireless network shows the central “Zero” (IN) Station for the “Chirnside” network was at Castle Neroche, Buckland St Mary, Somerset.

This had links to the other Out Stations of the network at: “Chirnside” 1, Bewley Down, (and sub Out Station at 1A Axminster), 2 Widworthy, both in Devon and 3 Puriton (and the sub Out Stations at 3A Spaxton and 3B Brent Knowle), 4 Puckington and 5 Edgarley in Somerset.

There were also links to the “Golding” network at Cheddon Fitzpaine Zero Station in Somerset and the “Osterley” network at the Blandford Zero Station in Dorset.


Due to communication problems, messages from “Osterley 1” at Hawkchurch (and information received there from its sub Out Station“1A” at Lyme Regis) and “Osterley 2” at Bridport were sent to “Chirnside Zero” near Buckland St Mary which then relayed the messages to “Osterley Zero”in Blandford.

Original 1944 SD map with locations added.

This map was produced by Major RMA Jones (Officer Commanding AU Signals) in 1944. In an interview in August 1997, Lt/Cpl Arthur Gabbitas (AU Signals) states he believes it to have some inaccuracies.

The OUT Station at Widworthy would have communicated directly with “Chirnside Zero” at Castle Neroche near Buckland St.Mary.

The role of the Auxiliary Units Signals personnel based at “Chirnside Zero” was to man the IN station by receiving messages from the “Chirnside” network and relaying them to “Golding Zero” located near the Headquarters of 8th Corps (later the Headquarters of the South West District) at Pryland Hall near Taunton (the rear HQ being Hestercombe House). They also had to relay messages from “Osterley 1” and “2” to “Osterley Zero”.

The men maintained the “Chirnside” networks OUT Stations, having a scout car, a Morris 10hp, which they used to check
aerials and change the batteries in “Chirnside's” OUT stations, aiming to visit two a day.

Operator/s:

Reverend Frederick Elford Copleston was the “Key Man” who would have received intelligence from a group of local observers.

He was last of a long line of his family who were all Rectors of Widworthy and Offwell dating back to 1773. His home was at Widworthy Rectory from 1935 to 1954, when he retired to Littleham near Exmouth, dying in 1959. He had two children, Hermione and John and took in children evacuated into the area. These children called him “Vic” and remember his kindness.

He would have had a huge amount of local contacts due to his family having been in the church for 180 years.

In World War 1 he served with the Royal Fusiliers. In 1939 he is an ARP Group Warden and his wife, Joyce, a first aider.
The Rectory, next to the Church, has a view of the site but due to it being built in a small valley there may not have been adequate wireless reception in the Rectory or it's grounds.

This could have been a reason for the dugout to have been constructed away from his home.

Rev. Frederick E Copleston

Mr Stanley Lawrence was one of the local observers and informers to Rev. Copleston. He was a farmer at the nearby Andrewshaynes Farm at Dalwood. His role as a Special Constable would have meant his movements around the area and interest in local events would not have been viewed with suspicion.

He was overheard once saying he “felt a bloody fool standing in the greenhouse at midnight waiting for Copleston so he could hand him a message” .

Stanley would have been very aware of the implications of invasion as staying with the family was his mother-in-law, who had managed to escape occupied Jersey.
He died in 1949 aged only 48.

Dalwood Special Constables.
L-R Stanley Northcote, Stanley Lawrence, Arthur White, Sydney Watkins (Stanley's neighbour) and George Evans.

Mr John “Johnny” Frederick Clarke bought “Widworthy Barton” in 1937 from the estate owner Mrs Marwood-Elton along with many other farms and properties in the area. Already owning substantial amounts of land and property he lived in the nearby “Halshayne” and appears to have remained resident there, farming (most probably through tenants) the land and renting out the properties. We know he was at “Halshayne” between, at least 1932 to 1947. He was born in 1880 and married in 1926.
He died in Sidmouth in 1965 aged 85.
In 1939 he is an ARP Organiser.
Widworthy Wood was on his land and just a short walk over the hillside. Presently it is not known if he was involved but he must have been aware of activity on his land.

 

OS 1945-47 New Popular Edition

The map shows Widworthy Church with Widworthy Barton next to it and the Rectory to the right. “Halshayne” is around the hillside to the south. Widworthy Wood is the north side of Widworthy Hill nearest to the church.

Wireless site/s

The wireless site is on PRIVATE LAND and was accessed with the kind permission of the owners.

Military maps of the time used a grid reference system called War Office Grid or Cassini Grid. This site is at the contemporary Cassini Grid reference recorded as the location of “Chirnside 2”.

“Chirnside 2” at Widworthy appears to differ to most OUT Stations in the area which were often within the gardens or grounds of the “Key Man” who operated it.

“Chirnside 2” was located in a dugout in Widworthy Wood half way up the hillside overlooking Widworthy Church and Widworthy Barton. It may well have been placed here due to the lack of wireless reception at the “Key Man's” home.

The location certainly has a good clear line of sight north towards Buckland St Mary, which is around 11 miles away, and good wireless communications should have been possible.

Looking North from the site towards Buckland St Mary.

The picture shows Widworthy Barton on the left and the Church on the right. The Rectory is hidden in the trees to the right of the church and on the hillside beyond is the modern day Stockland Hill transmitting station.

The Rectory from the church.

From the same spot looking into the wood.

The site was in the wood, to the left of the gate, between the first and second fence posts. This part of the wood is surrounded by a tree lined bank with a small ditch on the inner side. The bank and ditch would also allow a degree of privacy of movement for the operator and runners who could access the site from many different directions.

It appears that little remains on the site but an area of scattered and broken ventilation pipes covering an area of 4.5m by 7.5m. Though broken and none being in situ they are contained within a distinct area and not scattered around the wood suggesting the debris has not travelled far.

The largest collection of debris was found around a tree approximately 7m in from the edge of the wood. Some fragments were found intertwined with the roots of the tree suggesting it had grown around them.

Ventilation pipe debris around the tree.

The ditch and tree lined bank surrounding the area of wood are just to the left.
The tree also had a scar running down the length but it was impossible to say for sure if this was where an aerial cable had been concealed in the past.

In an interview of 1997, L/Cpl Arthur Gabbitas (AU Signals) recalled the difficulty the AU Signals had when maintaining stations in a more visible setting. Delivering and changing heavy batteries regularly,without arousing suspicions of watchful neighbours, must have been a challenge. There is (today) easy vehicle access to the site from a small country lane where maintenance could be carried out almost unseen.

This would also allow for relatively easy access for the initial construction, the trees providing a cover from aerial observation.


Arthur Gabbitas
David Hunt
British Resistance Archive.
Records on Findmypast.co.uk
The kindness of the landowners allowing access
Valerie Watkins (nee Lawrence)
Paul Copleston at www.copleston.net

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