Information kindly supplied by Stewart Angell, author of 'The Secret Sussex
Organisation, branch of the Auxiliary Units, was formed after the sabotage
side of the resistance had already been established. Its members were never told of the many patrols in existence
all around the country. The Special Duties role involved radio communications and spying. The headquarters for the
unit was located atHannington
Hall, Hannington, Wiltshire. The section's personnel consisted of spies,
cut-outs, out-station radio operators and the people who would operate the control and zero
Unlike the sabotage-minded patrols both men and women could be
chosen for the task of spying. The main people recruited for this role were people whose jobs allowed plenty of
movement - doctors, midwives, postmen, vicars and farm workers. These people were trained separately in their own
areas, being taught how to make simple intelligence reports. In the event of a German invasion they would have
carried on their usual business or routine, making reports of any German troop movements, or anything else of
interest they had observed. Once a report was completed the spy needed to pass the information on to a radio
operator. This was achieved by use of a secret 'letter box'. This could take many forms. For instance an old tin
can, or hole in a tree or under a rock could be adopted. All that was required was a place where the report could
be hidden and be accessible to the radio operator.
The video below was kindly donated by Brian Drury. See more about
Brian's workhere. CART was not involved with the filming and did not have any knowledge of it taking place. CART
would advise anyone wanting to view any underground base to ensure correct permission is obtained from the
If the radio operator did not pick up the report himself, someone known as a 'cut-out' would
pick it up and transfer it to a second secret letter box where it could be retrieved for
transmission. The use of this system kept the identity of the spies and cut-outs from the
radio-operators and vice-versa. A radio operator along
with his equipment was classified as an out-station. The radio's whereabouts had to be kept totally
secret. This was achieved by siting most of the radios in underground hideouts. The radio used by
the Special Duties Organisation was purpose built to be basic in design and simple to
The radio sets measured approximately 15 inches long, 6 inches high and 5 inches wide. They
worked on the, then rarely used, frequency between 60 and 65 megacycles that was probably not even
monitored by the Germans.
A six volt car battery was used to power the radio set. This needed a 40 feet long aerial to be
able to transmit its messages. Had the Germans landed the radio operators would have carried on
with their normal occupations, only visiting their out-stations to transmit short reports of
information. These out-station operators would all be transmitting to their local control stations,
of which Sussex had three. The purpose of a control station was to relay information gained from
the various out-stations back to headquarters at Hannington
A control station was operated by three specially trained women of the ATS
Auxiliary Unit, each station having two transmitters and two receivers. One set was for everyday use whilst the
whole radio network was in training, the other to be used in the event of an invasion. The training set was often
housed in a surface building. The other set would have been close by in an underground hideout known as a 'zero
station', so-called because when the station's code-name was used it was always followed by the code suffix 'zero'.
There were no transmitting schedules for the out-station operators to keep so the women would have to listen for
messages coming in for long stretches of time. The purpose of a Zero Station was to receive coded information from
the many out-stations in the surrounding area, passing on the details via a direct phone line to theSpecial
Duties headquarters atHannington Hall.
The Hollingbourne Zero station is identical in design to other examples still
accessible in Sussex and Hampshire, the only variant being the length of the emergency exit tunnel. The women
operatives of these Zero Stations were members of the ATS with Beatrice Temple as
their Senior Commander. Miss Temple would often visit the underground sites around the country to check that the
women were all right and generally monitor how the system was working. The Royal Corps of Signals were in charge of
checking and maintaining the radio equipment.
Built on a solid concrete base with corrugated iron arched across to form its
roof, the hideout resembles, like many of the sabotage patrol hideouts, an underground Nissan hut. Entrance was
gained by lifting a concealed earth-covered wooden trapdoor. With the trapdoor open, a wooden ladder led down the
entrance shaft, which opened out into a small room containing explosives and ammunition. This room was made to
appear as if it were the only one, giving no indication of the main chamber, behind one of its walls, containing
all the radio equipment. A system of shelves and carefully-stacked boxes hid the 5ft high door leading to this main
When a secret catch was lifted, a section of the shelving moved out of the way,
allowing the door to be opened. Along with the radio equipment, the main chamber contained a small table with
chairs, bunk beds, spare batteries with a generator to recharge them and a good supply of food. The batteries were
used for powering the radio equipment and a simple lighting arrangement.
The other end of the main chamber led into another small room which contained a
chemical toilet, a drain in the floor, storage space and the entrance to the emergency exit tunnel.
The three feet wide emergency exit tunnel was 16 feet long and terminated by opening out into a
square concrete structure that had an earth covered wooden hatch above it concealing its existence.
Fresh air was supplied into the hideout by two one foot diameter asbestos pipes. One was positioned
just off the floor and the other just below the roof. They ran along from the main chamber through
the small end room until coming to the surface disguised as the holes of a badger sett.
Emergency Exit Tunnel
The 40 foot long wire aerial ran up an adjacent oak tree trunk. A groove was cut out of the tree
bark and the aerial wire hidden in the groove. The bark would then have been put back into the
groove and fixed in position.
The Hollingbourne Zero Station is located in a narrow strip of woodland
between two fields, 150 yards south of Rigglestone Lane. The entrance shaft is covered by a sheet
of corrugated metal (seen below) and is located close to a large fallen tree. The emergency exit
tunnel in bushes 30 yards to the south can also be entered. The shelter is quite shallow but is
still in excellent condition.
For a detailed history of the Auxiliary Units in Sussex see Stewart Angell's book The Secret Sussex Resistance available to buy in our shop.
Page written by Stewart Angell. Photos supplied by Medway Lines