Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Chelmsford (Marconi) Auxiliary Unit Patrol

This page was last updated at 8:55am on 23/3/14

Thank you for selecting information on the Chelmsford (Marconi) Auxiliary Unit Patrol located in Essex. The info below has been compiled by Dr Will Ward CART CIO for Dorset.

Research into this patrol and its training is ongoing. The information below is published from various sources and is by no means conclusive. If information is not listed below it does not necessarily mean the information is not out there but normally means CART researchers have not found it yet.

If you have any information on this patrol or can help with research in this area please do contact us.

The local group commander was Captain Keith Seabrook, who kept detailed notebooks of the equipment issued to the men under his command. This seems to suggest that some of the patrols were rearranged midway through the war. The notebooks also record that he took over the stores from HRG Potts in February 1942.

It is not known exactly when the patrol was formed.

Name DOB Occupation   Died
Sgt Harold Cowell Berry     23/9/1907 Radio Engineer
Cpl William Theodore MacNab (later Sgt) 10/8/1912 Radio Engineer
Ronald Martin “Bill” Carter 15/12/1919 Radio Engineer 1976
Bernard Charles Ager 9/1/1914 Radio Engineer 2000
Philip Walter Bartle 8/1/1911 Radio Engineer
Herbert William Prattley 5/10/1897 Radio Engineer
Arthur George Taylor   24/6/1905  Railway employee     

The first five men listed all worked at Marconi’s New St Test Department in Chelmsford, all of them also being members of the works fire brigade. Prattley was at Marconi’s Gt Baddow works and Arthur Taylor worked for the LNER at Liverpool Street station. Only MacNab and Taylor were married at the time. Philip Bartle had been in the Officer Training Corps (OTC) as a student at London University and Bill Carter had done the same at Westminster, but otherwise the patrol had no military experience. Later in the war, Berry was commissioned lieutenant to serve as Assistant Group Commander and MacNab took over as patrol Sergeant.

WT MacNab
W T MacNab, known as “Mac”, photo courtesy Dave MacNab

Macs Marconi permit.

Mac’s Marconi’ permit. Courtesy Dave MacNab

Arthur Taylor

Arthur Taylor, photo courtesy Dave MacNab

The patrol used two cars to get around. Berry & Carter apparently used a sporty 1937 Singer 8hp (DXA 181) with the other 5 using Bartle's 8hp 1930 Morris tourer (RT6292). Bernard Ager's father managed a small garage and helped service the cars, including replacing the back axle on the Morris. Mac had an official permit to be in possession of the crucial petrol coupons. They parked their cars at a bend in the road when visiting their Operational Base. Bernard Ager is recorded as having a 1934 Panther (BGJ 857) and Carter later changed to a Standard (FKM 514).

 Mac's Permit

Mac’s permit confirming his entitlement to be in possession of petrol coupons, signed by Lord Glanusk, the commander of Auxiliary Units. Note that the registration is that of Philip Bartle’s car. photo courtesy Dave MacNab

This was a typical pattern OB with an elephant shelter and an escape tunnel. The patrol dug the hole for the shelter. Regular troops came and installed the shelter and the patrol back filled the soil. The escape exit was camouflaged. When the patrol first moved in, they had a housewarming party, but noticed the candle flames getting smaller and smaller as all the oxygen was used up by the seven men and the paraffin stove keeping them warm!

It was built in woodland near what is now Hanningfield reservoir, this only being created in the 1950s. The OB was apparently still in existence in the 1980s, though cannot now be located.

The OB was supplied with a first aid kit and an Elsan. They also had a heating stove and primus for cooking, with a Tilley lamp for lighting.

With the patrol having special knowledge of the Marconi works it is likely they would have been involved in sabotage at this site. Local railway and road links would also have been targets.

The patrol practiced creeping through the undergrowth to shoot numbered cards 1 foot high, these being guarded by observers. If they spotted the patrol members they had to give themselves up.

On another exercise various patrols were reaching a common set of coordinates from various points. The Chelmsford men found themselves working along a field at the base of some gardens. A dog started barking at them, but it was the dog that was chastised by its owner and taken into the house. For the last hundred yards of the exercise they found themselves following a trail of feathers, finding a plucked chicken at the destination. A valuable prize when meat was rationed.

Philip Bartle recalled the patrol travelled by car to Wiltshire for a large meeting, presumably attending Coleshill House for a training course. This included some formal "square bashing", memorable as they needed to clean their boots. There were also target shooting exercises and unarmed combat sessions. Berry did a weekend course at Coleshill in March 1942 and again in November 1943. MacNab went on the same initial course, but returned on 10th March 1944.

They also travelled to the Essex HQ at River House, Earls Colne for training sessions.

The men each had standard battle dress, forage caps and steel helmets, gas masks and boots. They also had a length of hessian used to camouflage boiler suits.

The records held by Keith Seabrook were extremely detailed and provide a precise account of the equipment for every patrol member. We even know their uniform measurements (the shortest man was 5’ 10”, the tallest 6’ 2” for example). Each man had a Battledress blouse and trousers, forage cape, leather boots, overcoat, belt, holster and anklets (the last all marked “w” – presumably meaning web rather than leather). Each man had a field dressing, 2 GS Blankets, Ointment AG3 (antigas), a ground sheet, respirator (gas mask), denim suit, rubber boots and a cap badge. They had 4 each of the Hoe Guard, Essex and 202 uniform badges and 6 sets of eye shields. They also had a steel helmet, face veil (a head size camo net), haversack, mess tin, lanyard and knife. A personal steriliser set was recorded as being handed back in August 1944 by each man.

Each man had a revolver, which was little used. The records show they had 36 rounds of ammunition each. They are recorded as being SWS, presumably Smith and Wesson Short, except for Prattley, who had a “C”, presumably Colt. They also each had a fighting knife. Mac made his own version before any Official issue was made.

 Mac's Homemade fighting knife

Mac’s homemade fighting knife (photo courtesy Dave MacNab)

The patrol had a .22 rifle and this was used heavily thanks to the donation by a local Army unit of ammunition that had been in an air raid and water damaged. A certain proportion of rounds didn't fire and they would have to wait a while before reloading. 3 or 4 members of the patrol could manage 10 shots in a 1/2 inch group. This is recorded as having aperture sights and a silencer and serial number 498, but seems to have been replaced by another with a telescopic sight, serial number 184. The patrol had an official issue of 200 rounds of ammunition for this.

The patrol leader had a Tommy Gun, serial number 153340. They also had two .300 Ross rifles, serials 398765 (Carter) and 259746 (MacNab then Prattley), each with 100 rounds, sling, oil bottle and pull through. Taylor was issued with a .300 Springfield 05835 and 500 rounds.

There were extensive supplies of explosives. The patrol had four Aux Units Mark 1 and 15 Mark 2 packs (each contained 20lbs polar gelignite, 100 detonators and various booby trap devices). The patrol did not receive plastic explosive. They had 50 each of the pull and pressure switches and 20 release switches. They had 72 No 36 Mills grenades and also Smoke grenades. They had a monocular (72707), torch (201441) and two field telephones (62917 & 62738) all recorded as being handed in August 1944.

Thus we have an extremely detailed account of what one patrol was issued with.

As the patrol leader at the end of the war, Mac received Stand Down letters for each member of his patrol from his Group Commander Keith Seabrook. This letter, dated December 22nd 1944, some time after the Official Stand Down, confirms when these documents were distributed. Seabrook also makes reference to his award – he had received the MBE (Military Division) in the Home Guard honours list, for his work as Group Commander.

 Keith Seabrook's Letter to Mac

Keith Seabrook’s letter to Mac. He also mentions certificates, which are likely the Home Guard service certificates issued to all members of the Home Guard, including Auxiliary Units.

Copies of Stand Down Letters

Copies of the Stand Down letters received by Mac at the end of 1944. Photos courtesy Dave MacNab.

The Book of Chelmsford, Gilbert Torry, 1985
Personal Correspondence with Dave McNab
Correspondence between Defence of Britain Project and Philip Bartle and the wife of Bernard Ager
Keith Seabrook’s notebooks (copies held by Essex Record Office)