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Forces War Records Blog

WAS YOUR RELATIVE SERVING IN THE TOP SECRET ‘HOME GUARD AUXILIARY UNITS’ IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR?

Was your relative serving in the Top Secret ‘Home Guard Auxiliary Units’ in the Second World War?

The records of one of Britain's best-kept secrets of World War II, the Home Guard Auxiliary Units, are available as a fully searchable database on Forces War Records.

In the summer of 1940 the German War machine appeared invincible. Britain stood alone as the only free country in Western Europe fighting back against Germany, and all the signs suggested that Hitler intended to launch his invasion soon. The country’s leaders knew that Britain would likely fall in the event of a well-coordinated attack, but they were determined that if she fell she would go down swinging. Now was the time to formulate an audacious contingency plan… while they still could.

The ‘Home Guard’ status was used to cover up the real activities the secret units, which were often called ‘Britain’s Secret Army’ or ‘Churchill’s secret weapon’.

The records on Forces War Records involve individuals serving in the top secret ‘Auxiliary Units’ comprised of men who were to act as resistance fighters if Britain was ever invaded during WWII. These highly secret units were made up of men that were specially trained with the aim of resisting any eventual occupation by Nazi Germany. The Auxiliary Units were created after a planned invasion from Germany called ‘Operation Sea Lion’. The UK, after seeing the fall of several continental nations, was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of a potential invasion. Winston Churchill initiated the units in the early summer of 1940 and appointed Colonel Colin Gubbins to recruit them. Gubbins had gained considerable experience and expertise in guerrilla warfare during the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 and in the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-1921. He had also previously headed the Independent Companies in Norway, which were the predecessors of the British Commandos. Gubbins eventually moved to the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Specially selected recruits – usually middle-aged ex-army men who were considered too old to go to war, but still badly wanted to do their bit for their country – were trained in the use of plastic and other explosives and where to set them on various vehicles to inflict the most damage, how to make their own explosives when supplies ran low, the setting of booby traps, how to destroy petrol dumps, the use of various weapons, hand-to-hand combat and the art of silent killing with the double-edged Fairbairn-Sykes Commando knife. They would be formed into small units of one officer, a ‘striking force’ of 12 soldiers commanded by a subaltern, and as wireless technology grew more advanced and could reach an appropriate range, two wireless operators. This main cell would then be supported by a group of carefully vetted locals, the Special Duties Section, who would carry messages and provide intelligence. Secrecy was of course key, as the less the people of the counties knew about these operations, the less vulnerable they would be to pressing by the Germans to give information. It was only years after the war was over that most people even heard of these units.

The Auxiliary Units were kept in being long after any immediate Nazi threat had passed, and were stood down only in late 1944. Several Auxiliary Unit members later joined the Special Air Service. Many of the men saw action in France in late 1944, notably in Operations ‘Houndsworth’ and ‘Bulbasket’ (the coordinated French Resistance delaying and harrying tactics to prevent German units from reaching the Normandy area after D-Day).

Records in this collection are likely to include the following:

  • Surname
  • First Name/Initials
  • Rank
  • Home town/address
  • area
  • group number and commander
  • patrol number and leader and national identity card number
  • date of birth & date of promotion.
  • however because we have compiled the record from multiple pages within the TNA source these can also include further information such as: Next of kin

However, because we have compiled the records from multiple pages within our TNA source, they may also include further information such as next of kin, date of birth and date of promotion. Please be aware also that, due to the way we collate and cross reference our databases, some records will contain even more information than that listed above.

Original Source: the records consist of information hand transcribed by Forces War Records’ own staff from the original nominal rolls held at the National Archives under reference WO199/3388-3391.

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