Churchill's British Resistance - The Special Duties Branch

 

Hawkchurch Special Duties Out Station (Osterley 1)

This page was last updated at 10:04am on 16/2/15

Report provided by researcher Chris Perry with assistance from Nina Hannaford CIO for Devon.

Type: Out Station
Call sign: “Osterley 1”
Date of construction: Currently Unknown
Area: 16

The Special Duties Intelligence Officer of Dorset and Hampshire for most of the war was Captain Owen Byron Hall-Hall based at Milborne near Puddletown.

Networks

A 1944 map of the Special Duties wireless network shows the central “Zero” (IN) Station for the “Osterley” network was at Blandford, Dorset.

Blandford had links to the other Out Stations of the “Osterley” network but, due to a communication problem, not to “Osterley” 1 at Hawkchurch (and Sub Out Station 1A at Lyme Regis) or “Osterley 2 at Bridport.

Due to the communication problem, messages from “Osterley 1” at Hawkchurch (and sub Out Station“1A” at Lyme Regis) and “Osterley 2” at Bridport went through “Chirnside Zero” and were forwarded to “Osterley Zero”.

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

The Royal Signallers based at Blandford were Corporal R S Gilbert, Signaller G David and Signaller JJ Orr. They would have supplied and maintained the “Osterley 1” wireless set.

Original 1944 SD map with locations added.

This map was produced by Major R.M.A Jones (Officer Commanding AU Signals) in 1944. In an interview in August 1997,

L/Cpl Arthur Gabbitas (AU Signals) states he believes it to have some inaccuracies.

The OUT Station at Hawkchurch would have communicated with “Chirnside Zero” at Buckland St Mary around 12 miles away.

From here an operator would have noted down the message and re-sent it on the “Osterley” network to “Osterley Zero” at Blandford.

Wireless site/s

The wireless site, recorded as “Hawkchurch” Out Station, which is on the Devon / Dorset border (in Devon from 1896) is
actually in the nearby hamlet of Fishponds Bottom which is in Dorset on the edge of the Vale of Marshwood.

The wireless was located in a “chicken shed” at the rear of a house locally known as “Briscoe's Farm”. Owned by Dr Briscoe it was not actually a farm but a house called “Greenings”. It was painted dark green during the war as it could be seen from the sea.

Looking down the wireless site field. The roof of “Greenings” in the middle shows the incline.
Pictures - Copyright Chris Perry.

Dr Briscoe's daughter recalled the wireless / “chicken” shed was at the end of a long field, behind the house, where the access track to the house joins with “Sandy Lane”.

“Sandy Lane” leading to the left and the stony access lane leading down to “Greenings” on the right. The wooden shed is on the corner of the wireless field.

The house is located up a stone track on a hillside slope and has tree lined hedges and raised bank hedges on two sides.

This access track joins “Sandy Lane” just past “Greenings”.

Looking east from the wireless site looks over to Coneys Castle hill and south to Charmouth area and out to sea. There is no clear line of sight to Buckland St Mary.

It is not yet understood how the aerial was set up or how the radio signals worked, as the site is on the side of a valley.

Looking from the house towards Buckland St Mary (“Chirnside”), you are looking up hill and into trees. Dr Briscoe's daughter recalled that a baby alarm was able to pick up French radio and Bournemouth police radio.

In an interview of 1997, L/Cpl Arthur Gabbitas recalls the difficulty the AU Signals had when maintaining stations in a more urban setting. Delivering and changing heavy batteries regularly without arousing suspicions of watchful neighbours must have been a challenge. This location however is up a small access lane and fairly isolated so would not have posed a problem.

A tree on the site that would have been suitable to place an aerial cable in. 

 

Looking down into the Vale of Marshwood from just below “Greenings” towards Charmouth and the sea.

The house is on a flat platform area on a slope of a valley. Looking towards the coast and the east the land drops down the valley to the Vale of Marshwood.

The only area you can see that has clear views is towards Charmouth and to the east.

There are some steep drops around the plateau the house is built on but the wireless field slopes up behind the house, by the side of the access lane, and mostly levels out at the top.

Operator/s

The key man operating the out station was Dr. Benjamin Ralph Cay Briscoe.
Born in Bengal in 1886 he qualified as a Doctor in London in 1913 and was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He appears to have served in both the Fleet Admiralty and the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War 1.From 1920 to 1936 he was Medical Officer for East Africa Protectorate (today Kenya). Returning to England around 1937, he and his young family settled in “Greenings” for the duration of the war and until his death in 1953.

Mr Blackwood, who lived at the nearby Mossy Furze was also involved. He was an Officer with the Post Office.
One of Dr Briscoe's daughters recalled that the family didn't have any chickens to live in the shed. Thinking this was strange, the children pointed out that there should be some chickens around so if the “grey men” came (the name for German troops) it would look right. Later on Dr Briscoe returned with some chickens.

She remembers men coming to the house with bits of paper.

If there had been an invasion, her sister would have rode a pony to a farm somewhere in Marshwood Vale. It is unclear where she would have gone or why but it is thought to have been connected with the Special Duties roll of their father.

The hilltop site, Lambert's Castle, above and behind “Greenings” was once home to a more primitive invasion signalling system.

In 1806 the Napoleonic threat of invasion led to an Admiralty Telegraph Station being built there. Part of a chain of Stations built across the south, a shutter system was used to relay messages between Plymouth and London.

Near the bend in “Sandy Lane” there was a cooking area for conscientious objectors and Italian prisoners of war worked in the nearby woods.

Arthur Gabbitas
British Resistance Archive.