Churchill’s secret army: The men ready to lay down their lives to fight Hitler

Last defence against Germany… The Spetisbury Auxiliary Unit Patrol in Dorset (Picture: Halsgrove Community History Series/British Resistance Archive) Last defence against Germany… The Spetisbury Auxiliary Unit Patrol in Dorset (Picture: Halsgrove Community History Series/British Resistance Archive)

It seems unthinkable looking back now, but during the darkest days of the Second World War a German invasion of Britain appeared inevitable. With Adolf Hitler’s forces surging through France and efforts to halt their advance abroad faltering, Britain’s high command at home began making secret preparations. That meant assembling a civilian army that would act in what Winston Churchill described as ‘guerrilla formations’ to mount a last-ditch attempt to preserve the nation’s liberty. Thousands of volunteers signed up to ‘stay behind’ in a mission so secret they could not even tell their families to, quite literally, go underground in the event of an invasion and destabilise invaders in any way they could. The Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Sections were dubbed Churchill’s ‘secret army’, but despite the sacrifices they were prepared to make – they were given a life expectancy of just a fortnight in the event of an invasion – official recognition since the war has been scarce. But almost 70 years after they were stood down, a campaign to raise awareness about the groups has been gaining momentum and an application for veterans to be included in the march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day for the first time this year is being considered. After the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940, the arrival of German troops from France looked imminent. So, military chiefs began work to establish a network of civilian saboteurs to attack invading troops from behind their lines. Auxiliary Units were highly trained volunteers who were to strike at targets from underground bases beneath the British countryside. Recruits were drawn from reserved occupations and those who were too old or young to be called up to the mainstream services. They they were subjected to a rigorous interview process. According to one unconfirmed story, members were vetted by a senior local police chief who was to be assassinated in the event of an invasion to prevent membership of the Auxiliary Units being revealed. Recruits were issued with explosives, weapons and vital supplies. They were to disrupt and where possible destroy the enemy’s supply chain and take out strategic targets in their local areas. They would be supported by the Special Duty Sections, whose members were trained to identify vehicles and military units so they could go underground to pass on messages to the combat sections of the Auxiliary Units. Bob Millard was a teenager in the Home Guard in 1940 when he was approached with a cryptic sounding proposition. He told Metro: ‘It was not whether there was going to be an invasion, but when it was going to come. ‘I was approached and asked if I wanted to join something “a bit more interesting”. So I said yes and they asked me all sorts of questions and then a week later I was contacted and told, “You can join my lot,” and I replied, “Who are your lot?” ‘So I had to sign the Official Secrets Act before being told we were to go underground and come up behind the lines in the event of an invasion.’ Their operation was top secret – Mr Millard’s wife of 67 years, Josephine, was unaware about his involvement with the Auxiliary Units until he attended a reunion in 1994. ‘You just didn’t talk about it, really,’ he said. ‘As far as my family were aware I was still in the Home Guard. It was all very hush hush. After the war, it was water under the bridge.’ In the event of an invasion, Mr Millard, now 90, was to report to his unit’s operational base in an 18th century stone mine near Bath. Hundreds of hideouts were dug in the dead of night so that no one would know they were there. They were so well hidden that many remain undiscovered to this day. Members were given a life expectancy of just two weeks if the Germans arrived. Mr Millard said: ‘They didn’t tell us that. We were given about three weeks of rations. The story was that some patrols were given suicide pills because you weren’t to be caught.’ He felt ‘apprehensive’ but not scared. ‘There was a job that needed doing so you volunteered to do it,’ he said. ‘You didn’t think much more deeply about it.’ The Auxiliary Units were kept in place after the immediate Nazi threat had passed, before being officially stood down in 1944. In 1945, the War Office gave some details about a resistance organisation but the groups’ existence was not widely known for more than fifty years. Mr Millard received a letter of thanks from a commanding officer at the end of the war and a small lapel badge. He said: ‘You didn’t join for glory and publicity. After the war we forgot about it. It’s only in recent years that people started talking about it again. It would be nice to be publicly recognised.’ Historians at the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) have been lobbying for members of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Sections to be included in the Remembrance Day march. CART founder Tom Sykes said: ‘After over 70 years of silence, the veterans of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Section, now more than ever, deserve to get the official recognition that has for so long been lacking. ‘They were, in this country’s hour of need, willing to give up everything, families, friends and ultimately their lives in order to give us a fighting chance of surviving. ‘Although they, thankfully, were not called on, these volunteers would have undoubtedly done their duty effectively and to the end. As each year passes we lose more of these veterans and in the not too distant future there will be no one left for the country to thank and honour. ‘After all they were willing to do for us, that will be a very sad day for the country indeed.’ North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson, who has backed the campaign, said: ‘This would be an important step in our campaign to secure the rightful recognition of their incredible efforts and sacrifices.’ The British Legion said the request ‘will be considered alongside all others received and we will do our best, as always, to accommodate them’. A decision is expected by June. Source:  
Log In / Register to comment
Your comment has been sent for approval. You will receive an email when it gets approved. Got It!


Search for a name in our archive

Please enter a surname

Follow Blog

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
Join 9643 other followers

Please enter your email address
You are now following this blog.
Something went wrong. Please try again.

Get the latest from our blog in your favourite RSS reader or direct to your browser by using our RSS feed below:

RSS Feed

Top Stories

Top Tags

Small Medium Large Landscape Portrait