Britain’s secret army prepared to hit the enemy

Home Guard in training.
Home Guard in training.
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DURING the early days of World War II as Hitler swept all before him in Europe and stood poised to invade Britain, things looked very bleak. The Germans were coming over the English Channel so what did Britain have to defend our plucky little island if the battle for the skies failed and jack boots clattered along our streets?

Not everyone was sure the Wehrmacht would invade from the south, it could perhaps even come across half way up the coast around Yorkshire where the defences were weaker.

So an audacious plan was devised by Winston Churchill to create a secret army of volunteers drawn not from soldiers but the general public.

This is a brief synopsis of its story, a story which included men from Doncaster amongst many other towns and villages.

Recruitment was done in absolute secrecy and kept to the most suitable men within the trusted Home Guard.

It was looking for men who “knew the forests, the woods, the mines, the old closed shafts, the hills, the moors, the glens - people who know their stuff.” Veterans of the First World War were especially welcome.

The recruitment drive was very successful and included poachers and gamekeepers, stalkers, farm workers as well as miners. parsons, physicians and council workers.

They were all men with deep knowledge of the countryside and their environment who could blend in, be able to live rough and when the time came, would fight until they triumphed or were killed.

Wives and families would only be told when necessary, the need for signed oaths of secrecy within the Official Secrets Act was paramount. Times were uncertain and the less the men’s families knew, the better, for them and for the Resistance itself.

No-one in the Resistance known as Auxiliary Units was enrolled officially and could never claim the protection by the Geneva Convention.

This meant of course that if the invasion came those captured could and would be executed - they all knew that and ignored what may happen, duty came first.

Later, when the Resistance was eventually disbanded, members were told to still say nothing as they might be needed again in the future. They were told to maintain secrecy and this they did for many years. They became the forgotten men, no medals, no citations, only gestures of thanks from those on high, who knew what had been done - just in case.

It is possible that most of those who took part in this heroic and dangerous subterfuge are now sadly all gone, but there are still some with us as one elderly gentleman told me a little about his experience in the grounds of one local stately home, it was obvious just how little was known about this dangerous venture.

Is there anyone out there who could tell me more, were you in the Home Guard? Did you know someone who took part in the Secret Army?

Contact me on barry.crabtree@doncastertoday.co.uk or telephone 01302 347223, photographs would be especially helpful to Barry Crabtree, Nostalgia, Doncaster Free Press, Sunny Bar, Doncaster, DN1 1NB.