Churchill's British Resistance - The Auxiliary Units


Sussex Auxiliary Unit Headquarters - Tottington Manor

Article kindly supplied by Stewart Angell, author of 'The Secret Sussex Resistance'

Read about CART's special event at Tottingon Manor here.

Tottington ManorTottington Manor, at Small Dole in West Sussex, is described as a typical Sussex country manor house, and is currently used as a small hotel and restaurant.

However, during the war, it was the regional headquarters for the Auxiliary Units in Sussex.

The Manor had booby traps all over it in case invading Germans took it over. Various ingenious devices were used, such as hand grenades disguised as coal and left in the coal bucket by the fireplace, and cut-down bottles with candles in them which were in fact an explosive charge, the wick being the fuse. Green glass bottles were used so the charge could not be seen. Traps were attached to trip wires on cupboard doors and inside drawers.

The Commanding Officer (known as the Intelligence Officer) was based here. The first CO was Captain J N W Gwynn. He remained in this position until October 1941. Then Captain CFG Bond took over until July 1942. The next CO was Captain I J Benson; it is unknown how long he remained in this post, but he was certainly there in February 1943.

Captain Benson talking in March 2011 at Tottington Manor.

Also based at Tottington, but not quartered there, were the two scout patrols. These were made up of regular army personnel, one patrol to cover the east, and the other the west of the county. The scout patrol in the east was led by Lieutenant William Ashby, with thirteen men from die Queen's Royal Regiment under him. The western scout patrol was led by Lieutenant Roy Fazan, with thirteen men from the Royal Sussex Regiment. These patrols were used to help organise and assist in the localised training of each Auxiliary Unit patrol throughout the county. They remained at Tottington until February 1943, when they had to leave the Auxiliary Units to rejoin their regiments.

Tottington had various other personnel based there, such as a couple of drivers, two RAF radio operators, a full-time cook, Sergeant Heasman, who was a clerk in charge of the paperwork, and Sergeant Frank Mayston who was an explosives expert in the Royal Engineers Auxiliary Unit.

Frank Mayston related his involvement as a Royal Engineer with the Auxiliary Units at Tottington. He was a builder by trade, and became involved when he helped build the hideout underneath the so-called 'airship hole' in Kings Wood near Bilting in Kent. He was part of the team of Royal Engineers which included sappers from Hastings and Eastbourne. However, he never saw this hideout completed, as he was called back to Sussex halfway through its construction. This large hideout was intended to be used as a communal meeting point for any patrol members in Kent who were on the run. Compared to an ordinary patrol hideout, it was big, with enough room to sleep a hundred and twenty men, with food and water stores as well.

On his return to Sussex, Frank Mayston was made a full-time member of the Royal Engineers Auxiliary Unit, permanently based at Tottington. Initially, he and a few othermen started building, mostly by hand, the hideouts for the Sussex patrols. They had very limited supplies of building materials, and usually used second-hand wood from other buildings, besides cutting down trees close to where construction was taking place. He remembers constructing the Ringmer and Cooksbridge Patrols' hideouts as well as the latter's lookout.

Climbing out of the operational base located under Tottington ManorTottington Manor had its own underground hideout. This was built by Frank Mayston and a few of his men, "in their spare time", as he puts it.

Entrance was gained by sliding part of the cellar floor under the foundations of one of its walls. This section of the floor was, in fact, a piece of wood with the bricks that made up the floor cemented on top of it. After this was moved, it revealed a three foot drop. Beyond this, a 12 foot long passage led into the main room of the hideout. This room measured 12 feet by 12 feet and was 8 feet high. It would have contained the bunk beds, food stores and ammunition. There was a smaller, adjoining L-shaped room which was used as an explosives store and contained the Elsan chemical toilet. Leading off the main room, another passage carried along for about 12 feet, then made a right turn and continued on for another 8 feet, terminating at the emergency exit which was in the form of a 2 feet wide concrete tunnel.

Climbing out of the Tottington Manor escape tunnel

This tunnel is 43 feet long and runs out under the Manor's garden, with its exit disguised as a drain cover. It was built close to a row of existing drain covers, to help it blend in and disguise its true purpose. The hideout had electric lights and a water supply. Both of these were tapped from the Manor above. A primus cooker was built into one of the walls and had a wash basin next to it. In the event of an invasion, this hideout would have been used by the men based at the Manor.

Take a tour of the Tottington OB with Stewart Angell below.

They would have received information about German troop movements around the Tottington Manor area from either of the two underground lookouts which Frank Mayston and his men had dug on the Downs. One of the lookouts was half a mile to the south of the Manor, and gave a good view of the Manor and its grounds. This lookout had a direct telephone link with the hideout under Tottington. Laying the telephone wire was a major problem because of the Poynings to Small Dole road. This was solved by running it along a ditch at the edge of the road and putting it inside an existing pipe which ran under the road, to get it back to the Manor.

The other lookout was three miles to the east, and looked out onto the roads around Poynings. Both lookouts measured approximately 8 feet by 6 feet and were dug directly into the chalk, then lined with wood. Each would have had only one man positioned inside it, with a small amount of food and water. He would have noted down the details of the German troops and their movements. The nearest lookout would telephone the information back to the men in the hideout under Tottington. They in turn would have a good idea of targets they could sabotage at night, and what sort of equipment, such as explosives and detonators, were needed. The men in the lookouts would have been replaced every twenty four hours when possible, but it was thought that they could have been confined inside their small holes for anything up to a week at a time.

Tottington Manor was used for weekend training of the Sussex patrols, and inter-patrol competitions were regularly held there as well. Frank Mayston constructed an assault course in the grounds of the Manor for the purpose of night-time training. This included such obstacles as trip-wires, a rope over a pond and a chalk cliff hazard which had to be scaled. This course proved to be very popular with all the patrols. Although Frank Mayston was initially in charge of constructing various hideouts, he later went on to become an expert in explosives, the use of which he would teach to patrol members on training weekends.

He devised tests and compiled over 150 questions in the form of three quizzes, to help the men learn the many different techniques for using plastic explosives. He is still in possession of the quiz papers, and his official training manual which was issued at Coleshill House. This differed slightly from the 'Countryman's Diary' manual issued to the patrol leaders. Its cover was green and only had 'Calender 1938' written on it. Inside, it had an additional seven pages, mainly covering several types of booby trap, including the anti-personnel (AP) switch. The AP switch is described as being a "self-contained booby trap of considerable nuisance value. When a man steps on it, a bullet passes through his foot and usually re-enters his person. It will also puncture motor tyres". This device, although available, was never used. The major drawback would have been recovering the unused switches. The preferred method of removal was to use a garden roller to fire them.

Frank Mayston would travel to Coleshill House every month to pick up fresh supplies of explosives which he brought back to be stored at Tottington Manor. These he delivered all over Sussex to each patrol as they were required. One use for the plastic explosive stored at the manor was for fishing! Apparently, only a small piece about the size of a golf ball was needed. After the explosive was thrown into the water, the shock waves from the explosion would stun the fish, which would rise to the surface and then would be fished out with a net.

Read about CART's special event at Tottingon Manor here.

Stewart Angell is available to give talks in the Sussex area on 'The Secret Sussex Resistance' covering the sabotage side and 'The Auxiliary Units - Special Duties Section' which covers the radio side.

Images show re-enactors and were kindly donated by Arthur Ward, author of 'Resisting the Nazi Invader'