Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Thundersley Auxiliary Unit Patrol 

This page was last updated at 9:00am on 1/7/14

Thank you for selecting information on the Thundersley 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.

Currently unknown.

Currently unknown.

Name DOB Occupation   Died
Sgt Mick Allen      Initial patrol Sgt, lefdt for mines.  
Sgt Fred Harris  Builder 
Cpl Charles Pugh 1901 Builder
Pte. Don Handscombe 1920 Farm manager 
Pte. David Antill Left to join RAF
Pte. S H Duckett Left patrol
Pte J W Hunter
Pte C W Mummery      Left patrol   
Pte Harry “Ike” Blackshaw 1903 Builder   1979

The membership of the Thundersley patrol has a complex history with many members, though it appears that some were discharged as not coming up to the mark, using the “returned to unit” process also adopted by the SAS and other elite units. It is difficult to know who this applied to and who served when for the most part. Don Handscombe records that at times there were as few as four men in the Thundersley patrol.

Sgt Mick Allen was the first patrol leader, but Sgt Harris took over later in the war, ahead of second in command Cpl Pugh. Mick had worked for Phillips in Holland, but left to work down the mines.

Don Handscombe joined in 1940, having been a member of the Home Guard for just about three weeks at the time. Je managed his father’s farm which included large greenhouses and two extra farms they operated at the request of the War Ag.  After an initial approach from Fred Harris, he was passed to Mr Kenneth Maryan Green, who it turns out was one of the SD operators, to be put in touch with the man who would later be Group Commander Captain CG Ford. Don recalled to The Times in 2009, when aged 90, that he had been arrested by a policeman who wanted to know why he was about at night with a revolver in a holster, “I said I was with the Home Guard but he didn’t believe me. He didn’t like the look of me — this was after Dunkirk when we expected to be invaded. I had to spend a few hours in a police cell until our intelligence officer arrived to release me.”. This lead to Auxiliers being given a chit that said they should not be prevented from their duties with a contact number. (see this example carried by a Worcestershire Group leader)

David Antill joined after Don Handscombe and later left to join the Air Force.

Due to the various coming and goings, the patrol was never at its intended strength. Men with the right sort of experience of the countryside were in short supply in the area.

The patrol members can be seen in this wartime stand down photo.

 Essex Auxiliary Units

Back Row
Don Williams (Rochford), David Antill (Thundersley), Charlie Fance (Rochford), John Tomlinson (Rayleigh), Michael Ford (Hockley), Eddie Southern (Rayleigh)

Middle Row
Jack Murphy (Rayleigh), Bert Cocks (Hockley), Don Handscombe (Thundersley), Doug Cater (Rochford), George Clarke ( Hockley), George Sargeant ( Rochford)

Front Row
George Billardis (Canvey), Rupert Ives (Canvey), Jack Rodwell (Hockley), Bill Heath (AGC), Jack Ford (GC), Bob Baptie (AGC), Jack Burles (Rochford), Len Downes (Rayleigh), Fred Harris (Thundersley)

Don Handscombe

Don Handscombe pictured at the BROM on 27th April 2013.

Don Handscombe described the patrol OBs in 2013. The patrol had two OBs. The first was built by the Army, but was abandoned because it kept flooding to a depth of a couple of feet.

A new OB was built a couple of miles away, in a well-drained sand pit between Hadleigh and Rayleigh by the patrol themselves. The pieces of the Elephant shelter were delivered by the Army, but as the patrol contained a couple of men who were bricklayers, they built the rest. This included a shaft with iron steps. Unlike many patrols, the hatch was a simple hinged lid, not the counterweighted vertical rise type. They did not build an escape tunnel, but their escape route was along an overgrown ditch, where the vegetation formed a natural tunnel. If you looked hard in the right place, you could just about see the entrance to the OB through the bushes. The entrance was by a field where cattle grazed, and they churned up the area under some trees by the water trough that was the route to the bunker, meaning there was no obvious track to be discovered. The patrol also hoped that the smell of the cattle would put off any dogs being used to track them.

Once, after the war, Don went back to look for the OB, but found that it had collapsed due to rust in the corrugated iron.

The patrol had considered what to do about collaborators and were clear that they would have killed them where necessary.

Several members went to Coleshill House for training. Don Handscombe went on two occasions, the first with Fred Harris, the second being as a replacement for a patrol member who couldn’t make it. He remembers the first trip by train, travelling in uniform, arriving at the Post Office in Highworth, where postmistress Mabel Stranks asked for their names, then asked them to wait outside by the postbox to be collected. Don was pleased to find out that all the answers on the papers were the same as before! He stayed in the stables and remembered lots of explosive practice as well as shooting on a range. They were kept very busy and certainly didn’t get a chance to get to the pub! 

The patrol also went to River House at Earls Colne to train.  This was the headquarters for the Essex Units. The patrol would camp in the grounds when they visited. Most of the training there was with explosives, in an old sand pit. Don Handscombe was given the task of blowing up a dummy railway bridge as part of a demonstration for Lord Glanusk, CO of Auxiliary Units. The patro were using plastic explosive for the first time and were not sure how much to use, so advised their commander to move a bit further away. Don detonated the charge using a pull switch with a long cable rather than a time pencil. The explosion was so big it blew him right off his shooting stick perch!

On another occasion the patrol drove to Thetford for a training exercise. This of course was also where the outdoor scenes for Dad’s Army were filmed.

The patrol used the firing range at Fambridge. His had a target that could be pulled along by two men. It was on the way to this range that the incident of being stopped by the police occurred. The back seat was covered with revolver bullets for use on the range.

The patrol was issued with morphine as part of their first aid kit. However, they were also instructed how to use it on a man too badly wounded to get away from the Germans, to ensure they couldn’t be tortured to reveal information.

Don Handscombe recalled the patrol being issued with .38 Colt revolvers, which were later withdraw and replaced with Smith and Wesson Revolvers. They had a .22 rifle with sniper sites and a Tommy Gun. The latter was withdrawn to be replaced with Sten Guns. The patrol reckoned (as did many) that the cheap mass produced Sten was a better weapon than the expensive precision engineered Thompson.They also had two .303 rifles. They made their own commando knives from bayonets. Don recalls that all the equi[pment was kept at home, except the explosives which were buried.

In 1984, David Antill recalled helping to dump arms near Daws Heath Road, Thundersley, near a water tower. He also recalled having explosives, ammunition and a submachine hidden in his wardrobe at home.

David Antill and Don Handscombe were regular attendes at reunions for Auxiliary Units in he 1990s.

Don Handscombe appeared in the Meridian TV series about the Home Guard, made by Peter Williams and Channel 4’s “The Spying Game” talking about his experiences in Auxiliary Units.

Don’s son had experience of one of the .32 Colt revolvers issued to some Auxiliary Units after the war. A friend was an RSPCA inspector and was called to help at the rescue of a cow that fallen down a cliff. Don’s son was lowered down the cliff, armed with the Inspector’s .32 revolver. As it seemed they wouldn’t get the cow out, he shot it at point blank range between the eyes. As there was no apparent effect, he did the same again, with the same result. When he broke the pistol to check the rounds, a bullet fell out of its brass casing! Never a particularly powerful round, they had deteriorated since the war to be nearly useless!

National Archives file WO199/3329

Evening Echo 5/6/1984 “Hunt for Army’s legacy of death”

With Britain in Mortal Danger and Churchill’s Underground Army