Coleshill's Second World War secrets

Interior of the Guard House at Coleshill, Oxfordshire
Voices from the past inside the Guard House at Coleshill National Trust Images / John Miller

What if the Germans had invaded Britain 70 years ago... Who would have co-ordinated the fight back for freedom? Well, wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill imagined just this and he set 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.

Coleshill House

In the Second World War, the House had a hidden history. Unknown to villagers, it was requisitioned to become the top secret training headquarters for the British Resistance or Auxiliary Unit.
Builders were finishing renovations in 1952, when the tragic fire broke out. Despite the efforts of firemen from three counties, it caused such massive damage that the house had to be demolished. The 60th anniversary of the loss of Coleshill House was commemorated with a special exhibition by artist Robert Stiby, who witnessed the blaze from his school, 20 miles away.

Go on a history walk

Fascinated by the Second World War? Why not visit the original underground training bunker and find out about the extraordinary lives of the Auxiliars during one of our guided Second World War history walks.