A tale of two villages
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Buscot’s history is inextricably linked to its proximity to England’s longest river, the Thames. And the fortunes of this extensive estate have ebbed and flowed, just like the iconic river it straddles.
Churchill's secret army
What if the Germans had invaded Britain 70 years ago... Imagine life under enemy rule! Who would have co-ordinated the fight back for freedom? Well, wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill imagined just this... setting in motion a hush-hush network of spies and saboteurs, weapons and espionage, where brave men lived a secret life to keep their country safe. And it took place here at Coleshill.
Who were the Auxiliars?
When war broke out in 1939, most fit and able men were called up for active duty. But for some, the war was not to be so straightforward. They were destined to live a completely secret life, as members of the British Resistance or the Auxiliars. In peacetime they might have been farmers, mechanics, gamekeepers, butchers, labourers or miners. They were specially selected, very fit and very brave.
Training model still used today
Unbelievably, over 3,000 men were trained as Auxiliars at Coleshill. And their model of training – using small cells of six people working independently and in complete isolation from other groups - has been described as the precursor of modern-day warfare.
Secrets, spies and sabateurs
Having signed the Official Secrets Act, these brave men never told a soul about their secret lives, not even their nearest and dearest… until now, 70 years later. Listen to reminiscences of life as a saboteur first hand in this award-winning documentary, Sons of the Soil, produced by Emma Coleman.
You can hear more voices from the past using our wind-up Black Box audio unit at the Guard House at Coleshill.
The birth of the Auxiliars
Following France's fall to Germany in 1940 and the humiliating evacuation of Dunkirk, Hitler's Operation Sea Lion, or invasion of Britain, seemed imminent. Visit the Guard House and learn how Churchill's appeal for volunteers saw one and a half million men sign up to the Home Guard. Colonel Gubbins of British Intelligence was tasked with forming a secret army… and so the Auxiliars were born.
Coleshill was chosen as the GHQ after the bombing of the original offices in Whitehall. Major Henderson was given the task of finding a central, secluded site with good transport links. Henderson’s brother, who lived at the nearby Buscot estate, recommended Coleshill House. The house’s very private position, set behind two high walls from the main road, its 48 rooms and only two resident sisters, made it ideal.
An important part of the Auxiliars' training was learning how to create their own operational base or hide. Some were built in existing ice houses, disused mines or quarries, but others were built underground with a standard elephant shelter design. Furnishings were sparse, with bunks for four men, self-closing inner doors to prevent light escaping, a small kitchen, a toilet, and an escape route in case of detection.
The surviving operational base
The original model for the perfect operational base is still here, complete with blast walls in case of grenades, and an underground corrugated chamber. The escape route into the nearby ha-ha has now collapsed. The remains of the old stove pipe, which was hidden in the trunk of a tree, can still be seen. Recovered secret documents reveal great emphasis was placed on camouflage, door operation and maintenance.
Auxiliars were trained in the brutal tactics of one-to-one combat (how to stab from behind with a knife, garrotte with fine cheese wire, fight with fists, guns, grenades and plastic explosives). They were also taught the art of sabotage: tracking and silent killing, blowing up bridges and destroying vehicles, mapping houses and booby trapping buildings, all at Coleshill, without anyone ever knowing they were here.
Commemoration 70 years on
Thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding, a team of archaeologists, our experts and volunteers are building a new secret bunker at Coleshill in memory of the Unit. In line with the old 1936 Royal Engineer handbook of construction, it will replicate the surviving fragile base. The new bunker will help give a vital insight into the world of the Auxiliars, who had a life expectancy of just 10-14 days in the event of invasion.