March 20th 2014: Dad’s Underground Army by Bill King

Coleshill Park Gates (2013)

Colehill gates

At the March meeting Bill King gave his usual informative, entertaining and gripping talk about Dad’s Underground Army, the Auxilliary Units an intentionally uninformative title. These were part of the precautions taken during WW2 if the German invasion had taken place. Bill has had a 35-year interest in this secret organisation. All members had been bound by the Official Secrets Act, and therefore never spoke about it. In 1994 a reunion was organised. Advertisements were place in national newspapers asking all ex-Auxilliers to meet at their old HQ [not named], about 100 ex-Auxilliers turned up. Thus a lot more information has been found out about these brave men.

Each unit was made up of 7-10 people who did not know anyone else. They had three underground ‘hides’ hidden in their area of about a five-mile radius within striking distance of targets suitable for being sabotaged in the event of an invasion. The bunkers were built by Canadian Engineers who were employed to dig holes not knowing where they were or what they were for. Suitable civilians who showed signs of leadership qualities were identified and recruited as suitable candidates for these. They carried on their day jobs as usual but if invasion had come a password meant they would have all disappeared underground away from the families who would not have known they were part of it. In 1940 the password was ‘Cromwell’ and at this time the country had been within a hair’s breadth (or 21 miles across the Channel) of invasion. These units had their specific targets to sabotage, their life expectancy was about two weeks, they would not have survived.

Having given the background Bill went on to explain about the bunkers and equipment that was used and the methods of sabotage which might have been employed. Coleshill House was the training centre for men and Hannington Hall for the women. The men were given a railway ticket to Highworth and told to present themselves at the Post Office, a pre-arranged conversation took place concerning stamps and change and the postmistress, Mabel Stranks, went to the back of the shop ostensibly to get change but in fact ring up Coleshill to come and collect the men.

This is just a very brief snapshot of Bill’s talk in which there was a huge amount of detail.

In June Bill will be conducting a walk around Coleshill, there are a few places left, please contact A mock hideout has been built and there is some evidence of the former occupation of the site. It is thoroughly to be recommended.

Entrance to one of the hides at Coleshill (2013)

Hide entrance at Coleshill