Thank you for selecting information on
the Wrackleford Auxiliary Unit and Operational Base in Dorset. The info below has come from our CIO for
Dorset, Dr Will Ward.
This page was last updated at on 21/5/17
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 our
researchers have not found it yet.
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This patrol was a part of Group 3, which comprised patrols in the area surrounding Dorchester. Group Commander was
H H “Bert” Gaunt.
Date of Birth
Joined Home Guard
ID card number
Sgt George Herbert Northover
Cpl Percy Cyril William Fost
Lewis Henry Downton
George William Henry Northover
William John Steer
Harry Frank Atkins
Horace John “Jack” Northover
*George William Northover left the patrol prior to the nominal roll being compiled in May 1943, which means he does not appear there and therefore we do not have details of when he was registered as joining the Home Guard. The patrol is thought to have been formed in late 1940 or early 1941. The joining dates may indicate when men joined the LDV or were formally registered with the Home Guard, rather than when they joined Auxiliary Units.
George Northover was the gamekeeper for Major A. Rolph Pope T.D., M.A., J.P. who was the main landowner in the area, living at Wrackleford House. He had grown up in the village, being employed as a dairy hand by the age of 14 and he also served in World War One as a corporal in the Army Ordnance Corps. The AOC (later RAOC) was responsible for the supply and repair of Army equipment and he may have known a bit about explosives already, making him an ideal choice for patrol commander. His son, George William Northover, was a member of the patrol until he joined the Royal Air Force Reserve as Lancaster bomber aircrew serving with 101 Squadron. His place in the patrol was taken by his brother Jack, though technically too young to join and he does not appear in Official records until he was old enough. Before this Jack, as he had always been known, was in the Home Guard but hadn’t heard anything about Auxiliary Units. Tragically, George William Northover was killed on 15th April 1943 when just 20 years old, when his plane was hit during a raid on Stuggart, Germany, crashing in France. His father died on 3rd September 1943 aged 58 and his wife, Gladys Sarah Louisa died on the 13th June 1944, aged just 53. Both are buried in Stratton. George Herbert’s funeral on the 6th September 1943 was reported in the local newspaper and in a surprising lapse of security, the wreath left by the Stratton Auxiliary Unit and the attendance of Capt. HH Gaunt, Lt V Boon and Lt P Weaver (Scout Section Officer and the acting Intelligence Officer for Dorset at the time) representing the Auxiliary Units patrol were openly reported.
His place as patrol commander was taken by Percy Fost, who was originally from nearby Bradford Peverell but lived at a Wrackleford. He was a water bailiff at the start of the war, a gamekeeper for fish, but had previously been a gamekeeper since he was 18. He took over as the gamekeeper for the Wrackleford estate on George Northover's death. Though listed as private on the nominal roll, Jack Northover recalls Percy Fost was a corporal prior to taking over command. In a newspaper article written at the time of his retirement, it is reported that he had been accepted for the RAF at the start of the war, but that the local farmers had requested he be excused service because of his unparalleled skill catching rabbits. More likely he was being exempted ax a result of being in Auxiliary Units. He is said to have thoroughly enjoyed his time in the Home Guard (no mention of Aux Units!) but was supplying rabbits sufficient for 100 meals/day to local markets. His biggest haul was reported to be 2000 rabbits in a single night! Percy Fost and Harry Atkins were neighbours in the estate cottages at Wrackleford and the latter was Best Man at Lewis Downton’s wedding in 1937. Lewis Downton had been an ARP Messenger before the war. He was well known locally for his use of the Dorset dialect (allegedly very similar to ancient Saxon) and his prize winning gardening skills
James Hounslow was listed as joining in September 1942, but discharged in Jan 1944 “SNLR” (Services No Longer Required - normally an Army phrase for “let go”, rather than dismissed - often used for those unable to carry out duties for non-medical reasons such as their civilian work).
George Herbert Northover working as a gamekeeper. Photo: Dave Northover via John Pidgeon.
George William Northover in RAF uniform in 1943. Photo Dorset Echo obituary.
The three members of the Northocver family that served in the Stratton patrol. George Herbert Northover centre, with George William to his right and Jack to his left. Photo: Dave Northover via John Pidgeon.
Percy Fost pictured by the Frome. Photo: Fost family via John Pidgeon.
Harry Atkins, with his wife Madeline and Lewis Downton to his right: Photo Margaret Cosh via John Pidgeon.
Lewis Downton in Home Guard uniform. Photo: David Downton
James Hounslow. Photo: Bill Hounslow via John Pidgeon
The Operational Base (OB) had been thought to be at Quatre Bras, on the line of the Roman Aqueduct to Dorchester, but it is now known that this was incorrect.
The OB was in a small copse known as the Rookery in Wrackleford, owned by the Pope family and farmed by the Legg family. Norman Legg recalled being told as a young lad that he had to stay away from the area by his father while the Army were working. He didn’t see what they were doing but afterwards went back to the area and you could see that they had been digging in the ground.
This was an elephant shelter type OB. The entrance hatch was in the hedge line and a section of the hedge lifted up to allow access. The men were careful to approach the site along the hedge lines, so as not to leave a clear track across the fields approaching. The OB was equipped with a wood burning stove (the chimney venting up through the hedge line). They had a primus type stove for cooking and a paraffin lantern for illumination. Jack does not recall the patrol staying overnight in the OB during his time with them.
Towards the end of the war, after the Home Guard had been stood down, Norman Legg with his brother and brother in law entered the OB. They found the hatch under loose beech leaves. They opened the hinged lid and went down the ladder inside. As many Dorset OBs have two vertical shaft entrances, rather than a long tunnel, it may be that this was the escape exit. They had torches with them and found a couple of bunks on each side, and beyond this were boxes. Inside they found some Mills bombs and Molotov cocktails (possibly AW bombs which came in glass bottles). They took one of the latter into the adjacent field and shot at it. They were amazed how far the flames spread and it was lucky that the field was recently ploughed as it would have set a field of stubble ablaze.
The site is on Private Land and was accessed with the landowner’s permission. The area is now occupied by a badger sett and no remains of the bunker could be seen. Jack pointed out the point in the fence line where the vent had emerged and there was a large upturned tin can buried in the soil at this point, perhaps covering the vent itself.
Jack Northover at the site of the OB. The area immediately to his left is where the OB was buried.
According to Jack, the aerodrome at Woodsford, RAF Warmwell, was a target. During an exercise, he and other Auxiliers crawled across the airfield in the dark, past the guards. They attached tags to the planes, all fighters, to show they were “hit”. The CO was so mad, that he cancelled all passes for a week! The same attack was recalled by members of the Dorset Scout Section.
Capt. Gaunt taught unarmed combat. He was very strict about talking to others. Even Jack’s mother and sister didn’t know he was involved. You had to try and attack him with a knife, but the next thing you knew, you found yourself on the floor.
Jack recalled one day spent shooting in the wood with revolvers to use up ammunition. Normal Legg recalled seeing the men in the fields practising with their weapons, but more often just moving around the area.
George William Northover went to Coleshill. He recalled on his return that they had to run everywhere! You weren’t allowed to walk. He said that training was by some Commandos. He then showed his brother how to deal with explosives and silently despatch a sentry.
The men were issued with fighting knives. Jack had a truncheon and .38 revolver. He also carried the patrols only Tommy gun. The other men just had their daggers and revolvers and none of them had rifles. They had hand grenades and plenty of explosives, described as enough to blow up Dorchester!
After the war, Jack only kept one hand grenade (later correctly disposed of) though he still has the inert base.
They wore battledress with just Home Guard shoulder titles. But the local Home Guard knew something was different about them as they carried revolvers and daggers.
Some members of the patrol travelled to Langton Matravers to guard radar facilities as part of the Auxiliary Units support to the invasion of Europe. Lewis Downton’s pass survives and shows that he was allowed to travel to the area on 3rd July 1944. The pass is signed by Lt Wilshire, who was a deputy group commander for the Weymouth area, but presuming was involved in this Dorset wide operation. Other patrols were there at different times and the local Wareham group also served here, including Sgt Fred Simpson of the Creech patrol and Ron Vallis of the Maiden Newton patrol.
MEMORIAL PLAQUE PRESENTATION
Highlights video below.
Watch the full ceremony below.
Listen to Jack Northover and David Downton talking on BBC Radio Solent about the Memorial Plaque unveiling. Press play below.
Interviews with Jack Northover
Information from John Pidgeon, David Downton, Margaret Cosh, Dave Northover, Fost family and Stratton Local History Society
1939 Register (FindMyPast)
Hancock file held by CART