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Auxiliary Units, or “Churchill’s secret army,” were a team of volunteers similar to Britain’s Home Guard, charged with carrying out a “last-ditch” defence of Britain should Nazi Germany reach our shores. But, unlike the Home Guard, this covert group was a guerrilla warfare brigade shrouded in secrecy and told to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. Each unit, which held up to eight men, based their operations out of hundreds of tiny, concrete-capped bunkers buried throughout the British countryside.
For years, the activities of these men have been subject to speculation, their operating bases and activities shrouded in mystery, with no official acknowledgement of their wartime activities.
But a new scientific investigation, published in the Journal of Conflict Archaeology, sheds fresh light on the covert combat group.
Records indicate that patrols consisted of four to eight civilians with expert local knowledge – farmers, country landowners, gamekeepers, and even poachers.
After training at Coleshill House, they went to operate from below-ground Operational Bases (OBs), set in remote locations in order to avoid detection.
The survival rates for these men is said to have been as low as 12 days.
To the men themselves, their subterranean homes were known as “Scallywag Bunkers” – after their proposed “scallywagging” activities.
Some of these have been uncovered by accident recently, including one in Craigielands Forest near Moffat, Scotland in March.
Researchers Jamie Pringle, Ian Stimpson, Kristopher Wisniewski and Peter Doyle looked at three surviving OBs on private land in Suffolk in various states of preservation.
The team noted their “deliberate positioning was perfect for scallywagging” – as they were close to railway lines, main roads, or large country houses.
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They conducted surface surveys, including recordings of any artefacts, before carrying out near-surface geophysical surveys to pinpoint OB locations.
Some limited intrusive investigations were carried out at two bases, discovering escape hatches, intact chambers and artefacts that included heating stoves, lighting and cooking implements – evidence of planned long-term occupation.
The experts noted that it is the first such study to evidence the physical activities of this clandestine force.
The team concluded in an article for the Conversation last month: “Ultimately, it is a matter of conjecture how effective the Auxiliary Units would have been if the German invasion had happened.
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“Certainly, unlike the earnest but largely unskilled Home Guard, the Auxiliary Unit comprised accomplished landsmen, ready to bring their skills to bear.
“Their scallywagging activities would surely have been disruptive, buying vital time for regular troops to assemble at the GHQ line for the final defensive stand.”
Sir Winston deployed the Auxiliary Units in 1940, though thankfully they never had to use their guerrilla training on the home front.
When the units were stood down many joined the SAS or other special forces for D-Day and served with distinction.
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