Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit Patrol

This page was last updated at 6:35pm on 1/8/14

Thank you for selecting information on the Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base. The info and images below have been supplied by CART's Devon CIO Nina Hannaford.

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.

Newton Poppleford is a village on the (present) A3052 on the west of the River Otter in East Devon.

From the very first meeting in Whitehall in July 1940 the Intelligence Officer for Devon and Cornwall (named Auxiliary Units SW Area) was Captain (later Major, then Colonel) J W Stuart Edmundson, an officer in the Royal Engineers. He liaised with the regular army and received supplies and equipment and formed all the Patrols. He was assisted by Lieutenant (later Captain) John “Jack” Dingley who became IO for Cornwall in 1943 though he may have assumed the roll before that.

In November 1943 Devon and Cornwall were separated and Edmundson was succeeded in Cornwall by Captain John Dingley and in Devon by Major W W “Bill” Harston who would remain in command until near stand down. At the end of Harston's command he would cover “No 4 Region” being the whole of the South West Peninsular and Wales.
The IOs were being withdrawn from around August 1944 leaving the Area and Group Commanders.

After 1941 a “grouping” system was developed where some patrols within a demographic area would train together under more local command.

At Stand Down, Devon is recorded as area16 and Newton Poppleford is part of group 6 along with nine other patrols, including Sidbury, Branscombe, Beer, Bovey and Seaton.

The East Devon Area Commander was Captain Leonard Howes of Colyford. The Group 6 Commanders were Captain S B Wood of Seaton and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur W Pope of Newton Poppleford.

 Currently unknown.

Sergeant Percy Retter
Jack B Pyle
Arthur T Rose
Reginald J Stone
Dan Pring
F H Haslam who was awarded the Defence Medal
George W Cross who was awarded the Defence Medal
Albert Garnsworthy who was transferred to 2nd Clyst Battalion Home Guard April 1943

The Patrol was ideally placed to cause havoc to supply routes from the coast to inland areas and so routes north and east to the rest of the country.

The highest ground in the area is open heathland so building the OB below the highest points gave the Patrol far better camouflage.

Public lanes allowed the Auxiliers very easy access from their homes to the OB attracting very little attention.  

The OB is located on the edge of a thinly planted Hazel copse. The nearby bank and hedge contains larger and more mature trees.

The entrance shaft drops down to a small passage with a small alcove or chamber leading off to the right. At only 3ft x 2ft it could have been a storage or toilet area.

The floor then drops down 3 feet into the main chamber. Two wooden lintels support the passage roof as it steps down and the concrete block between has been rounded off to a smooth curve. The Auxiliers must have learnt that this was a place to constantly bang a head against !

Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 1

In the entrance passage looking into the main chamber

Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 3

The main body of the chamber

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 2

 Ladder showing the entrance shaft. Small chamber is on the left.

The main chamber is approximatively 15 x 8 feet. A concrete floor supported a 9 inch block surround topped with wood. Fixed to this is the curved “Nissen” structure creating the main chamber. Four ventilation pipes meet in a square at the highest point in the ceiling and there are various ventilation pipes within the concrete block end walls. There is also at least two “soakaways” in the floor.

Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 4

Four ventilation pipes meeting in the ceiling of the OB

Two half height block walls are present at the far end of the chamber separating off the last 3 feet. These do not appear to ever have been full height and one has been partially knocked down post war.
At the far end wall is the blocked in “exit” where a wire enters the chamber.

Some people appear to have used the OB to dump more modern day rubbish which is sad to see. There was however the wooden remains of what could have been a chair which may have been original to the OB.

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 5

Remains of a chair which maybe original to the OB

A rectangular entrance shaft approximately 2 x 2 ½ feet built with concrete block and concrete lintel drops down approximately 7 feet. There is no evidence of any rungs or ladder so it is suspected this may have been removable.

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 6

Entrance shaft

At the opposing end of the OB to the entrance shaft is a matching square void in the block wall. A wooden lintel implies it was built as an entrance or exit. This has been blocked up and the work appears contemporary with the build of the OB.

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 7

End wall of main chamber showing blocked up exit.

This may have meant to lead through to a second chamber and / or an escape route but for some reason the plan was altered during construction. This could have been due to the geology of the site or the lay of the land.
This left the OB without an escape route.

At some time post war, someone has tried to search for further remains by knocking a hole in the in filled block work. This has only revealed natural infill behind implying no further structure was built.
From the surface the OB is still completely concealed.

Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 8

Looking over the top of the OB. Entrance shaft concealed to left of Hazel coppiced tree.

Observation Post: Currently unknown, though a wire leading from the wooden lintel on the far end wall of the OB could have been used to communicate with an Observation post located near the bank surrounding the copse. This would have allowed observation of the main coast road and almost to the shoreline.

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 9

View from the bank near the OB and an ideal place for an Observation Post.

Other physical remains nearby: Alongside the entrance is metalwork that could have been part of the hatch opening mechanism. Slightly further away is a water tank that again could have originated in the OB as there is no surrounding pasture land.

 Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 10


Newton Poppleford Auxiliary Unit 11

Maybe part of hatch mechanism    

Water tank 

In the 1940s Newton Poppleford stretched  the A35, the main road from the city of Exeter along the coast to Sidmouth. It is assumed this and the nearby railway line would have been important supply routes from the coast to Exeter and beyond.

Damage to bridges crossing the River Otter would have slowed progress from the coast.

Newton Poppleford is within easy travelling distance of Thorverton where the Devon Scout Section trained Auxiliers on weekend courses from all over Devon. The proximity may have meant that Newton Poppleford Patrol trained here quite regularly.

 Unknown, but it is assumed that they had the standard weapons and explosives issued to all patrols.

Sgt Retter, Jack Pyle and F Haslam are all very near neighbours from Hillside, Burrow.

The wartime deception of a decoy airfield was constructed at the nearby Aylesbeare Common. This was intended to attract bombing raids aiming for the nearby Exeter airport.

TNA ref WO199/3390
Hancock data held at B.R.A
The kind help of Noel Thornton and Mike Barber and Mark Taylor

If you can help with any info please contact Nina by emailing