Auxiliary Units

From Historical Hastings

The Auxiliary Units were a special branch of the Home Guard who had received additional training in hand-to-hand combat, demolitions with explosives and booby-traps.In the event of a successful German invasion during WW2, their role was to stay concealed behind the enemy front lines conducting saboteur type operations against the invaders. In the event of an invasion, their life expectancy could be measured at about 15 days.[1]The organisation took shape in the early years of the war and by August of 1940 there were over 370 cells with more than 2,000 men enlisted and four hundred arms and explosive stashes around the country. Training was provided at Coleshill House in Wiltshire and the men, although nominally members of the Home Guard, wearing the same uniform were entrusted to keep their true role secret (even from their families). A hide certainly existed in the vicinity of Beauport Park, although it would appear that this was not utilised. The Observer of October 18th, 1947 carried the following reporting as a result of a letter from the estate manager of the park[2]:-

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Underground Citadel as Resistance H.Q.

Beauport Park War Secret Revealed

One of the most closely guarded secrets of the defence system of Southern England has been revealed this week by the excavation of the entrance to a series of amazing tunnels and chambers which has been carried out in Beauport Park under the supervision of a War Office expert. Constructed by Canadian soldiers in the middle part of the war, this underground network, others of which were built in various parts of the county, was intended as a hiding place for bands of highly trained and daring men who would have fought behind the German lines had the enemy succeeded in gaining a footing here.

The "Observer" is now able to give the facts for the first time.

On Tuesday a captain from the War Office and a second lieutenant, with four German prisoners, arrived at Beauport Park and were shown a subsidence in the ground by Mr. D. W. Rawlence, senior partner in the firm of Messrs. Rawlence and Squarey, chartered surveyors, of London, agents for the property, of which the mansion formerly the home of Sir Archibald Lamb, is now the Beauport Park Hotel.

The German prisoners started to dig, and about two feet underground they came upon a large number of oak planks laid horizontally. The planks were lifted and it was seen that they covered a six foot hole, into which the party descended.

In front of them they found an upright screen also made of oak boards which they knocked down. Behind the screen was a well-made door, spring-hinged, which opened inwards.

"We pushed it open," Mr. Rawlence told an "Observer" reported "and found a gallery running straight into the hill, about nine or ten feet long, and opening out into a big underground chamber about 12 ft. square."

"The chamber had a concrete floor and concrete sides, which formed a bench upon which men could sit, and the walls were covered with board and studding."

"The roof, which was about seven feet high, was of cross beams and galvanised iron."

"Inside the chamber we found a bench, a flap table against the side of the wall, and a Canadian dinner knife of rustles steel which was in as good condition as the day it was left there."

"For a time we thought that was all, but we banged the walls and suddenly came upon another flap door leading into a tunnel about 20 yards long, running round the sie of the hill and emergine at another spot in the bank."

"At the back of the living room was yet another door, which gave access to what appeared to be a food cupboard. In the floor of the chamber was a drain for letting away water, and inserted in the wall was another pipe to give ventilation, and possibly provide a chimney for a stove."

"Growing on the bank was a big sycamore tree, protruding from the bark of which was noticed a bit of rubber-covered cable. We were all perplexed, and then one of the experts said it was an aerial."

"It was most cunningly constructed, for a groove had been cut to the top of the tree and the cable laid in the groove and then covered over with putty so that it was completely hidden and would never have been noticed."

It is understood that similar underground chambers have been discovered in other parts of the coastal area. They were constructed for the use of a resistance army which had been secretly prepared, consisting of specially trained me who would have been left behind in the area in the case of a German invasion.

Groups of men were allocated to the various hide-outs, and at a given signal would have occupied them. Each hide-out would have been furnished with stores, ammunition, food, first-aid and other equipment sufficient to maintain a group of men for a long period.

The wireless aerial in the tree would have enabled them to keep in touch with their command and receive instructions and give reports.

Safely hidden by day, they could have emerged at night to carry out surprise attacks on the German invaders, destroy bridges and other communications, wreck lorries and generally harrass the invading troops.

There is no doubt that this resistance army would have been a constant source of danger to the Germans and would have done much to un-nerve their troops operating in strange country.

Because the need never arose, it appears that no stores or equipment were ever put in this secret citadel in Beauport Park, but it could have been made ready at a moment's notice.

Mr Rawlence said that the underground fort has again been covered over, and having been there about five years, the timbers were getting rotten, and the structure would in time collapse and disappear.

He said that he had long known of some secret defence works in the park but did not know their exact nature.

In company with the estate bailiff he was walking through the woods in the earlier part of the war - 1942, to the best of his recollection - when in the woods at the back of the Telham petrol station, they found a party of Canadian soldiers digging a hole in the ground on the edge of the wood at the foot of a steep bank.

"They were down a hole about eight feet square and ten feet deep" he said. "I asked them what they were doing and they said they did not know, except they were digging a hole."

"I pointed out that I had not received a commandeering notice, and accordingly, I met an officer at 5 o'clock the same evening and asked him what it was all about."

"He appealed to me to ask no quesions, as the mattter was secret, and said the authorities were most anxious that nothing at all should leak out about it. The officer assured me that when the work was finished I should have no reason to complain."

"The men were working at the spot for about two months and no one was allowed to go near. At the end of that time I visited the place and there was not a thing to be seen except for a few marks in the new turf which was growing over the hole. The matter was then forgotten."

"Recently, however, I became a little anxious, as I thought perhaps the place was full of ammunition, so I wrote to the War Department and asked them if they could inspect it, and if necessary, clear it. They replied that they knew nothing of it, as the work was done by Canadians, who had now all left the country."

"The visit from the War Office expert and the events of Tuesday which I have described to you, were the result of my letter."

References & Notes

  1. Our Uninvited Guests (Julie Summers) pg.197 ISBN: 9781471152535
  2. British Newspaper Archive Hastings & St. Leonards Observer 18 October 1947 Pg. 0001