Churchill's British Resistance - The Special Duties Branch


Telham Out Station

The Special Duties Organisation, branch of the Auxiliary Units, was formed after the sabotage side of the resistance had already been established. Its members were never told of the many patrols in existence all around the country. The Special Duties Organisation's role involved radio communications and spying. The headquarters for the unit was located at Hannington Hall, Hannington, Wiltshire. The section's personnel consisted of spies, cut-outs, out-station radio operators and the people who would operate the control and zero stations.

Unlike the sabotage-minded patrols both men and women could be chosen for the task of spying. The main people recruited for this role were people whose jobs allowed plenty of movement - doctors, midwives, postmen, vicars and farm workers. These people were trained separately in their own areas, being taught how to make simple intelligence reports. In the event of a German invasion they would have carried on their usual business or routine, making reports of any German troop movements, or anything else of interest they had observed. Once a report was completed the spy needed to pass the information on to a radio operator. This was achieved by use of a secret 'letter box'. This could take many forms. For instance an old tin can, or hole in a tree or under a rock could be adopted. All that was required was a place where the report could be hidden and be accessible to the radio operator.

Telham Out Station 1

Photo:The main chamber - a table with a radio stood in the pit
Photo by
Nick Catford

If the radio operator did not pick up the report himself, someone known as a 'cut-out' would pick it up and transfer it to a second secret letter box where it could be retrieved for transmission. The use of this system kept the identity of the spies and cut-outs from the radio-operators and vice-versa.

Telham Out Station 2

The aerial cable still runs up a nearby Maple tree

A radio operator along with his equipment was classified as an out-station. The radio's whereabouts had to be kept totally secret. This was achieved by siting most of the radios in underground hideouts. The radio used by the Special Duties Organisation was purpose built to be basic in design and simple to use. The radio sets measured approximately 15 inches long, 6 inches high and 5 inches wide. They worked on the, then rarely used, frequency between 60 and 65 megacycles that was probably not even monitored by the Germans. A six volt car battery was used to power the radio set.

This needed a 40 feet long aerial to be able to transmit its messages. Had the Germans landed the radio operators would have carried on with their normal occupations, only visiting their out-stations to transmit short reports of information. These out-station operators would all be transmitting to their local control stations, of which Sussex had three. The purpose of a control station was to relay information gained from the various out-stations back to headquarters at Hannington Hall.

Telham Out Station 3
Plan: Redrawn from an original drawing by Stewart Angell

A control station was operated by three specially trained women of the ATS Auxiliary Unit, each station having two transmitters and two receivers. One set was for everyday use whilst the whole radio network was in training, the other to be used in the event of an invasion. The training set was often housed in a surface building. The other set would have been close by in an underground hideout known as a 'zero station', so-called because when the station's code-name was used it was always followed by the code suffix 'zero'. There were no transmitting schedules for the out-station operators to keep so the women would have to listen for messages coming in for long stretches of time. The purpose of a Zero Station was to receive coded information from the many out-stations in the surrounding area, passing on the details via a direct phone line to the Special Duties headquarters at Hannington Hall.

Telham Out Station 4
Photo:The entrance tunnel - now very unstable
Photo by Nick Catford

The Telham Out-Station was manned by Henry Thomsett, a gamekeeper in Crowhurst Park, Telham just outside Battle. He shared his radio transmitter with a Mr Calder, a farmer from Breadsell Farm, Telham. The radio was sited in an underground hideout within nearby Ring Wood, west of the present Beauport Park Golf Course.

Positioned on the edge of the wood, near to a footpath, the hideout has over the years, gradually collapsed and silted up. A nearby maple tree still has the aerial cable running up its trunk. The site was excavated to ascertain the method of construction employed. The ceiling and the walls were all made up of corrugated iron and timber, apart from two small sections where bricks were used for walls. After removing the collapsed ceiling it was discovered that the main chamber had a concrete pit at its base. This measures six feet long, four feet wide and one and a half feet deep. This would have no doubt have had the radio set sitting on a table, along with a chair for the operator positioned inside of it. The pit had its own drainage gully and was dug deep enough for a person to stand upright in the hideout, in fact this is the only area in the hideout where this was possible.

Two emergency exit tunnels ran out of the main chamber, the longest being 40 feet long. Both terminated in an earth covered wooden hatch.

Although still accessible, the hideout is in a very dangerous and unstable condition and should not be entered. Much of the corrugated sheet and timber lining has fallen away or rotted, especially from the roof of the chamber and the tunnels leaving unsupported soil held together by roots. The whole network of tunnels could collapse at any time.

For a detailed history of the Auxiliary Units in Sussex see Stewart Angell's book The Secret Sussex Resistance available to buy in our shop.

Thanks to Stewart Angell and Sub Brit for the info.