Listen to Bob talking in great detail about time in the Auxiliary Units and Fleet Air Arm
These are Bob Millard's accounts of his time in the Auxiliary Unit and his
training at Coleshill House.
Start of the
On the outbreak of war, I reported to the local
fire station in September as a messenger. This meant that I had to take my bicycle along with me, and I attended
the Watch Room for three nights a week, and if there were a raid and the engines were called out, I would have to
report to the fire station and go along with the engines with my bicycle. Of course, in those days there was no
such thing as radio contact between the station and between engines, so it was all done by messenger.
In the summer of 1940, after Dunkirk, I joined the LDV. This was just like Dad's Army. My first patrol was on the
back of a motorbike, civilian clothes, LDV armband. The chap driving the motorbike had a shotgun across his back
held with a cord, a piece of string, and I was armed with a piece of pipe and a bayonet. We were supposed to patrol
the local golf course in case parachutists dropped, but fortunately they didn't.
The LDV developed into the Home Guard, and the Bathampton Platoon which I was in, used to meet twice a week at the
church hall in Bathampton for general drill and practice. We had the odd lecture on tactics. We were shown how to
use and throw dummy Mills Bombs. We were introduced into rifle drill, bayonet practice and the usual training
routine. The post which we manned was on the Warminster Road, just south of Bath, by the old Dry Arch. We had a
sandbagged post, and we also had a slit trench with machine gun post that was up under the Claverton Woods, which
would cover the valley and the main road. We were there for one night a week and at weekends, and we shared the
duties with another platoon.
In early September 1940, when the threat of invasion appeared imminent and we were all mustered to stand to, we
were on duty and we put knife-rest barbed wire blockages across the road so that any vehicle coming down would have
to zig-zag between four of these blocks to pass us. Sometime after eleven o'clock, two of us were on sentry duty
with the Sergeant, and three or four cyclists from Bath came down the road. They were obviously lads who had been
out on the beer and were coming home. We challenge them - "Halt! Who goes there?" and got the answer "Bandwagon".
"I'll Bandwagon you, you buggers", said the Sergeant and stuck his stick through the wheel of the front bicycle.
This caused it to stop very suddenly, throwing the cyclist on the road and the other two piled into a heap after
him. Fortunately, nobody was seriously damaged, but the Sergeant gave them a good ticking off and they went off
complaining, having to push the damaged bicycle.
It was shortly after this that I had my first experience with the Auxiliary Units. On sentry duty again, somebody
turned up with a blackened face, smoking a cigarette, talking to the platoon officer. About 5 minutes later there
was a sharp report behind the sandbagged hut. "Your sentries aren't much good", he said to the Platoon Officer.
"I've just blown your hut up." It turned out he was a chap called Bert Dolman, who was in an Auxiliary Unit
My friend Anthony Bentley-Hunt got to hear of the Auxiliary Units before I did, and within a week he said to me "Do
you want to join something which is a bit more exciting than the Home Guard?" and I said "Yes, I'm willing to try
anything". So we went to a house in Bathwick Street where we met a chap called Jack Wyld. He asked us all about our
families, about our knowledge of the neighbourhood, our knowledge of weapons. He produced a 9mm Baretta, I
remember, which he field stripped in front of us and said "Can you put that back together again?" Fortunately,
being of a practical nature and watching what he was doing, I could. "Right-ho" he said, "come back in a week".
When we went back in a week's time he said "I've had you checked out, and do you want to join my unit?" I said
"Well what unit's that?" He said "It's called Auxiliary Units. Our job will be to go underground if there is an
invasion, bob up behind the Germans, and act as saboteurs". Well, to a teenager, it sounded very interesting, so we
said "Yes, we would". Before that though, before he mentioned it to us, he said "If you are going to join, I'm
going to have to swear you to secrecy." So we were sworn to secrecy and had to sign the Official Secrets Act before
we were told any details.
Time with Auxiliary
* The image used in this film at 0:59 seconds, is copyright to Arthur Ward.
The organisation of the Auxiliary Units was very clandestine. We didn't really know what was
happening. It was all very much on a "need to know" basis. Our sergeant, Jack Wyld obviously had a contact outside
of the patrol because he came along with things we had to do. But we knew nobody else; we didn't know any other
patrol. In fact with patrol members, there were two or three patrol members one only knew by Christian name or by
nickname. You weren't introduced to them and I knew where Tony lived and where another chap who was a school friend
of mine lived, but where the other three lived I had no idea at all. We just used to turn up for meetings and
exercises together. It wasn't until the reunion on the fiftieth anniversary of the stand-down in 1994, that one
began to realise how wide an organisation it was. At that reunion, I met somebody that I used to play rugby with in
1941, and didn't even know he was in the Auxiliary Units until then, although I had known him for all those
Our initial training was done with Jack Wyld, and to start with I
suppose you would call it a bit 'do-it-yourself'.
We were issued with two booklets, one was in the form of a calendar,
1938 calendar, and the other was a buff covered booklet which on the front of it had, if I remember, The Countryman's Diary 1939, and it was issued by " Highworth Supplies" and
there were remarks relating to Highworth on it. More of Highworth in a minute because that is where the formal
training took place.
Our initial training then was based on these two books which gave you basic information on fuses, detonators, how
to wire up a basic charge, how the standard grenade worked, how a sticky bomb worked, how your delay and pressure
and pull switches worked.
But we were fortunate in having Jack Wilde as the sergeant, and, as I say, everything was on a need to know basis
and I am not quite sure as to what his background was, but I would guess that he was a quarryman from one of the
stone quarries nearby, probably at Box, because he had a very good knowledge of explosives, could wire up charges,
showed us how to make string charges and things like that. So we got a good instruction from him on handling the
explosives. And the booklets we were given were fairly self-explanatory and one could, using plasticine instead of
explosive, practice making up of charges.
In the spring of 1941 more formal training started. Colonel
Colin Gubbins, who had been instructed in early 1940 by Churchill to set up an underground resistance, had set
up headquarters for the Auxilliary Units in Coleshill House.
This was an eighteenth century house just outside of the village of Highworth, which is - oh about six or seven
miles north of Swindon, Wiltshire. It was at this house that the training took place.
We would have to report there, and it wasn't really until I went back there in 1994 that I
really knew where the place was, although I had visited it twice. We would get instructions to, of
report to the Post Office in Highworth.
The Post Office in Highworth was run by a white haired lady, Mabel Stranks. If you arrived there without transport
you would say to her that you had been sent to report to her for the Auxilliary Units and she would
say something like "Oh you're one of that lot are you, just a minute", and she would go to the back
of the Post Office, telephone somebody or other, come back and say "Oh there'll be with you
shortly", and some fifteen or twenty minutes later a van or private car would turn up and drive you
to Coleshill House.
They must have taken a roundabout route to get there because it was never direct. And if you
went by train and arrived at Swindon station then you would ring the Post Office in Highworth and
transport would be sent there for you.
Bob outside what was Highworth Post office in August 2009.
The house, I believe, was still occupied by its owners, but outside the house there was the
Clock House, which was a quite substantial dwelling, called the
Clock House because it had a clock tower on the front of it, and there the officers and the admin were
situated. Behind the Clock House was the stable yard, which was quite
a large cobbled yard with big buildings and stables around three sides of it. People who came there for
training would work in this area.
As I recall we did that on the first floor of the building, which was a large room that had bunks down either side
and tables down the middle and we would sleep, you would eat and work in that room, get our lectures and talks in
that room. I think too that in the stable yard in those days there was a wooden building, a wooden kitchen, and we
used to go down and collect our meals and take them back up into this upstairs room and to eat. But, as you can
imagine, the training was very, very intensive and you didn't get much sleep.
Patrols from all over the country used to come to Coleshill, and when we went, we would arrived there on the
Thursday evening and start almost immediately once you had been shown your bunk and that and given a cup of tea,
been talked to, and we worked through until Monday, and leave on the Monday. The training was very comprehensive
and was given by officers were from different Army regiments. I don't know how many there were, I think four or
five of them, and a number of Army personnel from the Lovat Scouts, who were a sort of commando unit.
Training gave us more information on the use of explosives and explosive devices. We were shown TNT,
gelignite and the plastic explosive which we had been issued with. We were told how to estimate the
size charge that would be required for a certain job, shown the best place to place a charge to
bring down a pylon or cut a railway line. We were also shown how to set up different types of booby
traps, and techniques for disabling vehicles.
Besides this sabotage training we were also given some training in personal defence. We were
introduced to basic unarmed combat and shown how to use the garrotte and how to use the Fairburn
knife that we had been issued with. I can always remember being told to strike upwards and keep
your thumb on the blade in case the knife twists. Fortunately one didn't have to do that sort of
thing. We were also given instruction in covert communication:- ways in which signs and messages
could be left by placing stones and sticks; the way to use dead letter drops for hiding messages
and show that the letter drop had been seen, or had not been seen.
(Bob outside the stable blockwhere he stayed during the war.)
We also had instruction in some woodcraft, how to move about silently and how to find somewhere to hide and how to
take cover. One lesson that was drummed into us was if we hear people moving about stay dead still, they can pass
right close to you and not see you, and this was demonstrated on one or two occasions how you could walk right by
somebody even though you were aware somebody was there and still not actually see that they were there.
We did two night exercises. We were shown first of all a plan of, of the area around the Coleshill House by the yard where vehicles would be parked. And then we were taken out some
three or four miles in a van, dropped off and given a direction to set off in, and work in pairs to get back and
try and get to one of these vehicles and put a chalk mark on it, to show that you had found it and put it up. As
you did that there were one or two patrols out, patrolling the area which you had to cross, and you had to dodge
these to get in. It was all good Boy Scout stuff, and it was quite fun provided it wasn't raining.
As you can see there was a lot covered and it was very well done. They had the training down to a tee. No time was
wasted. Things were pushed home, repeated, demonstrated and then left for you to practice. When you went back to
the patrol you had all this in your head, and, of course, in the patrol you tried to practice it and work it out
and go over it again and talk amongst yourselves about what had happened. But you did get the occasional visit by
one or two of the chaps, from the Lovat Scouts particularly when you were building up your operational base, so that they could see where it was and give you advice, and they would also
look over a map of the countryside with you and point out possible target areas and, and things like that. You
couldn't communicate with them and ask for help, but, as I remember, over the couple of years I suppose, in the
first year they turned up two or three times to see, to see how we were getting on.
On one occasion we had a brief visit from Captain Ian Fenwick. Captain Fenwick
was the Regional Intelligence Officer. That was, that he was in charge of the Auxilliary Units in the whole of
north Somerset and was based, I believe, in Bridgewater. He was
later killed just after D-Day with the SAS operating behind the German lines, in a jeep with a small group of SAS
We used to meet as a patrol once or twice a week and at weekends, and there were
three main things which we did. The first was to prepare and organise our operational base and observation posts.
I'll deal with the operational base (usually shortened to OB) in more detail a little bit later on. The second was
to fully familiarise ourselves with the countryside. We walked miles, both through the open countryside and also
through the urban areas. We wanted to establish quick routes, possible places where one could lay up in the town,
where each alleyway went to, possible doors into gardens and houses, short cuts and things like that so that if we
had to move about the town we knew it backwards.
This was quite an interesting exercise because on one of our tours around we came across one of the places where an
Admiralty Auxilliary patrol was. The Admiralty had moved to Bath, they had their own Home Guard unit and within the
Admiralty they also had five Auxilliary Units. Anyway we found where one of these had started digging its OB and we
amused ourselves by climbing up on the woods occasionally and watching them at work. We were pleased to know that
they were there and they didn't know where we were, but we were the local boys so we felt quite secure on our own
patch. At the 1994 reunion I sat down next to a chap and got talking and found out that he was a member of the
Admiralty patrol whose OB we watched being constructed. He was most surprised to find out that we knew exactly
where it was, and could tell him what was happening.
About two or three miles to the west of our OB was Claverton Manor. This is now the American Museum. Then it was
the headquarters for an ack-ack unit. To give ourselves practice we used to infiltrate the grounds, lie up in the
bushes and log vehicles in and out, watch where the sentries were, and take notes on what was happening. We thought
that perhaps if there was an invasion, this building could possibly be used by the Germans as a headquarters so it
would be interesting to try and sort it out. I don't know what the Regular Army would have done or thought if they
had found us trespassing on their properties, but they didn't, so fortunately that problem didn't arise.
In the valley below the OB was the railway line that came up from the south coast and a couple of miles to the west
it joined the main London-Bristol line. At Bathampton, where the junction was, there were the points, and we
considered that this would be an important target in the event of an invasion. So we used to reconnoitre the line
and inspected the points and junctions and estimated the size charges that would be needed to put them out of
action, and, in fact, made up three or four charges in readiness.
Practice with the actual equipment was limited because firearms and explosives are noisy and attract unwanted
attention. We did do one or two limited experiments with fuses and explosives just to satisfy ourselves that we
knew that they worked, and really left it at that.
We experimented too with incendiary devices because you could get a nice blaze and they weren't quite as noisy. One
of the things we found very early was that it's not easy to light a piece of fuse if it's windy or wet. Matches
show up at night, blow out, and even lighters with wind guards on them give a light which give you position away.
So we did devise one device which enabled us to light fuses under most conditions.
This was in the autumn of 1941, as far as I can remember, and we were instructed to undertake sabotage against
aircraft parked on the perimeter of the airfield at Colerne, the RAF airfield at Colerne, which was defended by the
RAF Regiment. We were to get no further briefing except that the attack was to take place in the early hours of the
Sunday morning. As we had previously reconnoitred the area, we thought we had a pretty good idea of the lie of the
land. Our plan was to approach the target as a patrol and then split up and work in pairs. We arranged a sign
between us for identification. The Morse letter 'X' (da-dit-dit-da) which could be tapped, or flashed on pencil
torches which we had, whistled, or used, so it was our identification mark.
We rendezvoused as a patrol with the sergeant at the Three Shire Stones on the Bannerdown road out of Bath, and
then proceeded around the edge of Westwood Farm down into a valley. Around the edge of the valley, following the
stream and worked our way up towards the road. As we approached the hedge bank, which aligned alongside the road,
three of us stopped and Sergeant Giles moved ahead at this point to see what was about. Unfortunately for him and
us, unbeknown to us, they'd built a Lewis gun post just down below the road and he was spotted and caught. We heard
a shout in the dark of "oh we've got one of the buggers", and then John created a loud disturbance and a lot of
noise. We could hear him being taken across the field to the, to the road, but we waited a minute or two and
thought "well, we can only go on".
So we crawled on our stomachs along, under the hedge, and spotted the sandbags of the gun pit, and lying on this,
on top of the sandbags was the Lewis gun. And we could hear no sound or hear anybody about, so we thought "in for a
penny, in for a pound", and gently removed the Lewis gun from the top of the sandbags and crawled further along in
the hedges and laid quiet. It wasn't long afterwards that we heard a shout of "the bloody gun's gone", and more
noise and more disturbance in the direction of the gun pit.
We now had to cross the road to the perimeter of the airfield. When we found the gun pit, we planted two small
charges with ten minute time fuses, they were the practice ones we had, and we thought that this would create a
disturbance and perhaps distract attention away from us. So we set up the Lewis gun by a farm gate pointing down
the road so that if we were spotted we could use it to our advantage and waited for the bangs. When the bangs went
off there was further noise from the sentry people who must have been, what, about 400 or 500 yards away down the
road. So we thought it would be safe to cross the road.
So one stayed with the gun and the other two rolled across the road into a ditch, which we knew
was on the perimeter of the airfield. Then as the gun was a bit big and noisy we decided that we
couldn't really take it with us so we tucked it in the hedge and the third person rolled across to
join the other two. We proceeded along the hedge towards what is now a restaurant - The Vineyards.
Then it was, I presume, a farmhouse, and through the side of the farmhouse there was a gate into a
We could see a little way down the road the RAF Regiment standing in the road talking and
muttering amongst themselves. So we slipped through into the garden and there was a bean fence and
we could lie down behind the bean fence, and waited to hear what happened. While we were there we
saw the sergeant being taken out of the house down towards the, sort of a small outhouse in the
And the door was opened, he was pushed in and one chap went in with him so we assumed that
he was there and this one chap was going to look after him.
Bob Millard with a keen re-enactor in 2012
We then wriggled across the ground to the door of the hut and hoped that it would open easily, hoped it
wasn't going to be locked or bolted on the inside.
We rapped on the door the Morse letter 'X' so the sergeant would know it was us on the outside, put
our shoulders to the door and burst in, and fortunately there was one rather weak lamp lighting the place up. This
chap who was supposed to be guarding the sergeant was lying on one bunk and the sergeant was lying on the other. So
we promptly, with the rush, charged upon him and said "right mate, you've had it".
We left one of the patrol in the hut to look after the prisoner and the sergeant, myself and Mike went to The
Vineyards. We crawled across the ground. The cover was good so it was quite easy to get to the wall of the house,
and we stayed there to see what was going to happen. Somebody came up from the road, knocked on the door. We heard
a voice inside shout "Come!", the door opened, and he went in, and a few minutes later he came out again. So we
thought "well, if he can go in so can we". So we knocked on the door, there was a shout "Come!". So we flung open
the door, barged in brandishing our pistols and fighting knives and trying to look fierce.
In the room was a captain, and from the name on his desk he was Captain Hope-Paul. There was a flight sergeant and
another captain who had a white armband on, who was obviously an umpire for the exercise. So we turned to the
umpire and said "we think we've managed to take over this office". Oh I forgot to mention too, in the hut when we
rescued the sergeant we found under one of the bunks two boxes of Mills bombs. So we helped ourselves to two Mills
bombs each and we had those in our pockets. So we said "we've got these Mills bombs, we're armed. We were taught
how to sort people out, we would take this place over". So the umpire turned to the captain and said "I am afraid
to admit that they've got you". Well, I've never seen anybody as mad as the flight sergeant, and heaven knows what
he said to the chaps the next day, but he was literally purple with rage.
So while we were standing there wondering quite what to do next, we were surprised by our own success, there was a
knock on the door again. So the sergeant waved to Mike and myself to stand either side of the door and he put his
hand on the door and shouted "Come!", and as the door was opened he dragged it opened and the chap tended to
stagger in and we jumped on him and said "right you're now our prisoner". As he came in he had said "I've got the
patrol outside to collect the prisoner sir", and that was when we pushed him over.
So we said to the umpire "I don't think so", and he said "no, once again, no, that's alright. What are you going to
do now"? And we said "well, we have timed explosives, we'll deposit one or two of those in the building and proceed
through the back into the airfield where the aircraft are". He agreed and we went through the back door. Oh - we
also said.... "There was a telephone up there. Obviously that if this was for real that we should damage the
By this time it was the early hours, in the, very early in the morning, about half past five in the morning and the
exercise was due to finish at six. So we thought, we decided we would call it a day, because if it was the real
thing, we could have proceeded to the perimeter where the aircraft were parked and put explosives on the aircraft.
So we then came back, and it was about a five mile walk back home feeling very, very pleased with ourselves.
Read more about Bob's patrol and their Operational base here
Leaving the Auxiliary Units
Fortunately for all of us the Auxiliary Units were never called upon to put into practice the clandestine skills
which they had learnt. However in the words of their motto we were "ready when called". By 1942, mid 1942, the
immediate threat of invasion had disappeared and we were allowed to volunteer out. So September 1942 I joined the
Fleet Air Arm as aircrew. This involved me in anti-submarine patrols, attacks on The Tirpitz off Norway, and then
eventually with the British Pacific Fleet working the Pacific with the Americans in their campaign against the
Japanese mainland, but then that's another story...
In September 2012 Bob was asked to open the new replica Operational Base at Coleshill and after a
brilliant speech he cut the ribbon with his Fairbairn Sykes dagger before taking the time to talk to young and old
about his training and service. See more on that event in the video below and here.
Sources: Bob Millard interview with CART and others.