Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units

 

West Norfolk Scouts

This page was last updated at 9:39am on 13/8/12

Thank you for selecting information on the West Norfolk Scouts in Norfolk. The info and images below have been supplied by Aux researchers Evelyn Simak and Adrian Pye.

Two AU Scout Sections were operating in the County of Norfolk – East Norfolk was covered by the unit based at Beech House, Wroxham, in the Norfolk Broads area, with all its members coming from the Royal Norfolk Regiment. When in late 1942 – early 1943 the threat of an invasion had receded and some of the Scout Section members were called up or joined other organisations such as SOS, SOE or the Phantoms, the two units were amalgamated into one Section.

According to Sgt JS Watson of the West Norfolk Scout Section, they operated in an area ranging from Brandon on the Norfolk/Suffolk border to Sheringham in north-east Norfolk and along the cost line from there up to King’s Lynn in the west and Swaffham and Fakenham further to the south. All members came from the 2nd battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment which had just returned from Dunkirk and was reforming at the Regimental Depot at Kempston, Bedfordshire. A notice was placed on ‘Daily Orders’, asking for volunteers for a secret operation and all the volunteers were personally interviewed by Staff Officer Colonel Gubbins – the main theme of the interview being the men’s ability to live off the land. The men were also told that in case they were selected, the operation was definitely in England but no further information would be given until they had signed the Official Secrets Act.

The following men were finally chosen:

2/Lt Martin
Sgt Bell
Cpl Lambert
Lcpl Brown 
Recruit Lewis   
Recruit Jerome
Recruit Cronk
Recruit Dickenson
Recruit KcKinley
Recruit Hullyat
Recruit JS Watson

There was also an RASC driver, DRV Barlow, for the officer.

At the time, Norfolk was divided into two sections under the command of IO Capt N Oxenden who was later superseded by Capt G Woodward, whose HQ was at Beeston Hall near Norwich.

Their first posting was to King’s Lynn with the first HQ being in Portland Street.  This was an empty house taken over by the War Office.  The men were instructed that their duties were to assist in the training of civilian groups of about 10 men in each group, in the art of sabotage and guerrilla warfare.  Many of the weapons and explosives, grenades and booby traps etc were not on General Issue in the Regular Army and most had been specially bought in from the USA, such as Thompson machine guns and rifles with telescopic sights.  Various members of the Scout unit attended an updating course at Coleshill House where they were taught the use of these weapons.

Apparently the West Norfolk Scout Section members were not involved in the construction of OBs for the use of Auxiliary Units patrols they were to instruct.  JS Watson recalls that the hideouts were extremely well camouflaged and one could pass by a yard away without knowing they were there.  Out of about 25 or 30 built in their area of West Norfolk, and although training some members of the 20 to 30 patrols, he knew the exact location of only about six and he was unable to later find any of them. According to JS Watson the hideouts were stocked with arms and explosives and enough food for 14 days, “this being the life expectancy we had if the country was overrun”.

Local people were very suspicious of the men because they did not belong to any known unit and they had passes that indicated that no military police or other guards were to question their activities or whereabouts.  For this reason they were forced to move HQs frequently.  After having moved into the empty house in Portland Street, King’s Lynn, in September 1940, they moved into a farmhouse in the village of Anmer, on the Sandringham Estate, in March the following year.  In late 1942 they made their HQs at another farmhouse, this time in the village of North Creake. 

By late 1942 – early 1943, the Section had been cut down to a few regulars and both the Norfolk units had been amalgamated.  Lt Martin had been replaced by Lt R Clear, superseded by Lt Mellor.  The section was further depleted by more postings, leaving only four men.  These four were given civilian billets in Burnham Market where they were stood down in early 1944 and posted back to their regular army units:  Cpl A ‘Nobby’ Clarke from Great Yarmouth, recruit King from Aylsham (both Norfolk) and recruit A Ayres from March, Cambridgeshire – all former members of the East Norfolk Scout Section) were posted back to the Royal Norfolk Regiment, and JE Watson, who by then had been promoted to Sgt, went back to his parent unit, the Beds & Herts Regiment.

No mention is being made concerning the Section’s underground bases.  We have, however, found an OB in a woodland only about four kilometres distant from the small village of Anmer, where, according to JS Watson, from March 1941 until October 1942, the Section was based in a farmhouse. There is no record of an Auxiliary Units patrol ever having operated in the area and I think we can for this reason safely conclude that the unaccounted for OB was one of possibly two underground bases intended for use by the Scout Section in the event of an invasion.

The OB is located in a private woodland

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 1

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 2

The OB is situated on level ground near the northern edge of Tofts Hill Wood. Although intact we found it filled with sand, caused by burrowing rabbits, with only a crawl space below the curved roof. Due to a large quantity of sand having trickled into the main chamber over the decades the surrounding ground has sunk.

On occasion of an archaeological survey conducted in 2009 by members of the Sedgeford Archaeological Research Project, some sand was removed from the emergency exit opening and also from small section of end wall in order to establish the original height of the structure.
Entrance was via a drop-down shaft built of concrete. It has an estimated original depth of about 2.70m - due to the silting up of the structure we were unable to establish the actual depth. Wooden posts and boards (painted green) support the concrete walls.

The main chamber measures 5.50 x 3m and the entrance passage: 0.70 x 1.40m

It is orientated WSW/ENE – 275ft ASL

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 7  Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 8

The vertical entrance shaft (above) is adjoined by a narrow passage of about 1.50m length, with a roof made from sturdy timbers (in a state of decay). The passage would once have been sufficiently high for the men to walk upright through it and into the main chamber. The roof timbers are covered with corrugated sheeting and a layer of concrete, covered with topsoil in order to conceal it.

Burrowing rabbits have exposed sections of the exterior walls of the entrance shaft and passage, revealing that they were lined with corrugated sheets on the outside, presumably in an attempt to protect the concrete from getting damp.

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 3The entrance shaft has a steel lid, complete with two handles. We were unable to establish if this is the original cover or whether it was placed over the opening at a later time. Our contact, Mr Peter Ward, mentions a wooden, hinged trapdoor that was disguised with an approximately 0.15m thick layer of leaves when he found the ‘bunker’ as a 10-year-old boy in the 1940s.

Mr Ward also mentioned to us a ladder that led up a hollow tree with a peephole in it, affording a view across the Common and towards RAF Bircham Newton. We are not sure how to interpret this description other than that this hollow tree would have formed either part of the exit or of the entrance, although the description seems more fitting for a nearby lookout post.

On occasion of our visit we found the OB’s concrete entrance shaft covered with a steel lid and the exit opening uncovered.

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 4

The word ‘MARBLE” can be seen (above) written into the concrete forming the top outer rim of the entrance. We presume that this was the patrol’s code name. Another edge of the concrete rim bears the initials “ARC” or “GRC”.

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 5

Snettisham Auxiliary Unit Patrol 6

The main chamber (above) consists of a Nissen-hut type structure with a curved corrugated roof, covered with a layer of topsoil. Filled with sand to almost roof-height, it appears to be in fair condition. Mr Peter Ward remembers that the main chamber contained a table and chairs, placed in the centre, and what he now believes to have been bunk beds, lined up along the wall.

Both end walls were constructed from corrugated sheets, held in place by wooden posts.
The emergency exit opening is situated in the SW corner of the main chamber. It appears to have been cut out of the corrugated sheets forming the end wall. Because of the sand that fills the main chamber to almost roof height the size of the entrance opening has been reduced to a crawl space.
An overgrown, trench-like depression in the ground leads away from it, further into the wood, in south-westerly direction. In all probability this was the emergency escape tunnel.

The as yet unknown patrol is said to have had an Operational Post hidden in hollow tree trunk and overlooking RAF Bircham Newton of which no trace remains. Presumably the airfield at nearby Bircham Newton was one of their targets.

Other Info:

After finding some intriguing information on the Internet which mentioned the recording of a WWII Auxiliary Unit operational base in the woods near Sedgeford Aerodrome, in 2009, by members of the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project, we contacted the group’s secretary. She kindly (and very promptly) put us in touch with one of the archaeologists who was involved in this project, Neil Faulkner. Neil passed on to us the contact details of their original source of information, Mr Peter Ward.

On contacting Peter by email, this was his initial reply: “I, and two of my school friends were looking for sweet chestnuts in the Autumn of 1945/46, and found a trap door. We of course explored it, with a box of matches to light our way. We found a ladder in the centre which went into a hollow tree with a natural peephole that looked out over the common toward RAF Bircham Newton. We were rather scared at what we had found and did not mention it until a few years later.”
Peter has since shared more information with us and we would like to take this opportunity to express our thanks for so generously and unconditionally sharing with us his memories of ‘his’ wartime bunker.

We failed to find a record for an AU patrol operating in this area which, in all probability, would geographically have come under Group 7, comprising Dersingham Patrol, Snettisham Patrol and Ringstead patrol.

The Group’s CO was Lt RR Stanton of Manor House, Dersingham.
2nd Sgt J Young
2nd Sgt W Newstead


JS Watson; BROM Parham (archives); Peter Ward, Great Bircham (personal communication); Neil Faulkner (Sedgeford Archaeology Project, Weblogs wk 5, 2009); Peter Marsh, DOB 1996, Mrs C White.

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