My great uncle was in Churchill's secret army
Anna Wilson was amazed to discover that her great uncle was part of Churchill's secret army - a highly trained sabotage organisation during the Second World War
Britain was under threat of invasion in 1940, so Winston Churchill devised a plan to create a guerrilla taskforce across Britain. This became the Auxiliary Units – a highly trained and secretive network whose mission it was to inflict maximum disruption on any invading force, Churchill's secret army.
Anna Wilson, who lives in Bath, Somerset, and has been researching her family tree since 2004, found out that her great uncle Angus Bruton Wilson (pictured above, seated second from the left) was a member of this elite division.
“Angus was born in 1894 in Tupsley, Herefordshire, to John and Rachel Wilson,” she says. “John was a seed merchant, and Angus joined the family business after he left school. “I never met my great uncle, but I always felt that I knew him through stories shared by my father and uncle. He was a charming man, as well as a keen football and rugby player. Angus also won many trophies for his beloved Hereford Rowing Club.
“In 1930, he married May Hatton, widow of the acclaimed artist Brian Hatton who was killed during the First World War. I have one of Brian’s beautiful sketches in my lounge.” Angus was a member of the Royal Flying Corps, and served in France with the Balloon Section during the First World War. He was a Local Defence Volunteer for the Home Guard, and his obituary mentioned that he had served as a ‘special sergeant’.
“In July 2020 I realised the benefits of having my tree online when I received an email via Ancestry from a researcher for the British Resistance Archive (staybehinds.com). They were researching members of the Auxiliary Units, who were known colloquially as the ‘stay behinds’.
“The researcher told me that my great uncle Angus was patrol leader for the Hereford group of the Auxiliary Unit Patrol, codenamed Caleb. I had never heard of this organisation before. “The British Resistance Archive website is fascinating. Its researchers aim to find information on those involved in the Auxiliary Units, and recognise their service. Volunteers were usually recruited locally because they had excellent knowledge of the land. Farmers, miners, gamekeepers and poachers were particularly valued.”
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Approximately 3,500 men were recruited nationwide and dispatched to Coleshill House in Oxfordshire for training. They became highly skilled in sabotage, demolition, combat and assassination. Local patrols operated from underground bases, some of which still exist today. They had the most modern weaponry available, including machine-guns and explosives. If a patrol unit was overwhelmed, they were expected to shoot themselves rather than be taken alive.
“There were ‘James Bond’ elements to their experience, especially when they arrived for training at Coleshill. They would have a coded exchange with the local postmistress, who would then telephone Coleshill House to inform them that a new trainee had arrived.
“Coincidentally, a friend of the family has read a book that mentioned Angus B Wilson as a patrol sergeant. The Mercian Maquis by Bernard Lowry and Mick Wilks provides fascinating detail about recruits’ assassination training and the use of gadgets such as the pencil detonator, a delayed ignition device.”
Members of the Auxiliary Units were required to sign the Official Secrets Act. As a result, no one in Anna’s family knew of Angus’ involvement in covert operations.
He had many qualities that made him perfect for service in the Auxiliary Unit. “Angus was very physically fit, was a good leader and had a great sense of humour. His outlook would have put patrol members at ease.
“Angus died at the age of 51 in 1944 due to cancer. My grandmother recalled that despite being very ill, he remained his cheerful self until he passed away. I feel immensely proud of him and the other brave men who were willing to make a huge sacrifice for their country.”