Thursday, 12 October 2017

The dark side

The wonderful BBC TV comedy Dad's Army may have left us with an impression that WW2's Home Guard was a group of bungling amateurs and a bit of a joke, but during my research for the latest Esme Quentin novel, The Malice of Angels, I discovered there was a much darker and deadlier side to our Local Defence Volunteers as they were originally called.

My grandfather, Ernest 'George' Shelley served in the Home Guard and I have his "Certificate of Proficiency" and the associated badge.

The form certifies that Granddad was proficient in using a rifle and a grenade – no doubt from his previous military experience during WW1, as was the case with many members of the Home Guard.  It also notes his ability to use a B.A.R., the Browning Automatic Rifle issued to the Home Guard at the time.

The Dad's Army image did have some element of truth to it, however. There were weapons shortages and volunteers were forced to practice drill using whatever they had to hand, including brooms and golf clubs!

The secret army

But as well as this visible force, there was another covert group of individuals, ready to become a thorn in the side of the enemy should the worst happen and Britain be invaded by Germany. These were the auxiliaries, trained in the sort of guerrilla and sabotage tactics being undertaken by secret agents in occupied Europe.

A bunker's secret entrance
© Copyright James T M Towill 
Hiding places, along with ammunition stores, were created all over the country, unknown to even the local population. If invasion happened, these trained men would retreat to their hide-outs, ready to disrupt the activities of the enemy at every opportunity.

Fortunately for Britain, they were never needed and such places were dismantled after the war. 

One such example has been recreated on the Coleshill estate in Oxfordshire, owned by the National Trust.

You can take a peep inside the bunker shortly before it opened to the public in 2012, courtesy of a BBC camera crew, by clicking HERE 

The video also includes an interview with Bob Millard, who served as an auxiliary during the war when he was a teenager.

Plot inspiration

I can't imagine my grandfather was a member of this clandestine group – at least, I've found no evidence so far! – but I still found the story about the auxiliaries fascinating. 
I discovered that there'd been a hiding place very near to where I used to live and a secret ammunition store only a few hundred yards away. 

Research into the activities of this secret group stirred in my writer's brain and found its way into the plot of The Malice of Angels

If you're keen to find out in what way such secrets from the past impact on Esme's story, then click on the title to learn more.


An excellent book which tells the story of Britain's Secret Resistance, is THE LAST DITCH, by David Lampe

Another, telling the true stories of the West Country at war, is SOUTH WEST SECRET AGENTS , by Laura Quigley

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