Secrets, spies and saboteurs at Buscot and Coleshill

Second World War officers on the steps of Coleshill House, Coleshill, Oxfordshire

Coleshill House became the base to train Auxiliers for the British Resistance in the Second World War. Find out how we're commemorating their bravery 70 years later.

Voices from the past

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 or listen online .
 

 

The birth of the Auxiliers

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 Auxiliers were born.
 

Choosing Coleshill

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.
 

Funk holes

An important part of the Auxiliers' 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.
 

Brutal tactics

Auxiliers 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 have built a new secret bunker at Coleshill in memory of the Unit.
 
In line with the old 1936 Royal Engineer handbook of construction, it replicates the surviving fragile base. The new bunker helps give a vital insight into the world of the Auxiliers, who had a life expectancy of just 10-14 days in the event of invasion.