In 1940 during the dark days of the Second World War, when the possibility of an invasion became more of a probability, the authorities began to make contingency plans in case the worst happened. First their strategy would be to try and hold the enemy at the beaches to allow time for British mobile reserve columns to man the stop lines formed by anti-tank ditches, either natural, that is rivers and canals, or the artificially man-made deep concrete ditches. But the Government was well aware that these measures might not be enough due partly to the poorly equipped state of the coastal defences and to the time that it would take to mobilise troops. Something more was required to slow down any invaders. Their solution to this problem was to form a highly secret volunteer army of saboteurs, to be called simply Auxiliary Units.
These units would consist of up to seven men under the command of a patrol leader, who in turn would come under, usually, a Captain of an area with perhaps several groups. Nearly all the men of this Secret Army were recruited on an ‘invitation only’ basis and were usually known to each other by links of family, job, or background. They had to be utterly reliable, discreet and trustworthy as their very lives could depend on it. Neither the Regular Forces nor even the local L.D.V. (local defence volunteers, i.e. the Home Guard) were aware of this secret army; only the top level at G.H.Q. knew of their existence.
The Auxiliaries were men trained in the use of explosives, booby traps, unarmed combat, weapon handling and guerrilla tactics. Their function in the event of an enemy invasion would be to ‘go to ground’ in specially built underground bunkers, pass on any information and observations, wait until the enemy passed over, then attack from behind causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible in an attempt to slow down the enemy’s progress. If the unthinkable had happened and the Secret Army had gone into action, the expected life span of an auxiliary was judged to be only about 10–14 days!
Now fast forwarding about 45 years to one night in one of the local hostelries in Easington, when a certain gentleman from north of the border who had imbibed a little too much, began talking in a slightly raised voice, saying that the last time he was in Easington was in 1940 when he was a member of the Royal Engineers. They had been tasked to build an underground structure, which involved the excavation of a large hole in a deep drain bank and the construction of a chamber and entrance tunnel with corrugated iron curved sheets and an iron door. He said that they had completed the excavation with a concrete wall in the drain bank side, and then moved on. He thought that after they had left, as far as he knew, the bunker was to be stocked up by a supply unit, but he could not remember the bunker’s actual location. Had this conversation taken place during the war, it could well have proved the truth of the warning on the posters of that time, that “Careless talk costs lives”, and it could have jeopardised the whole operation.
With the assistance of a friend the location of the bunker was eventually tracked down, revealed by the presence of its concrete wall in the drain side. Although we had an experimental dig and found pieces of the corrugated iron which we assumed formed the tunnel entrance, we never continued far enough to complete our investigation. I later spoke with Alan Williamson who at the time was researching for a book on the subject of the Secret Army. Alan revealed that because of the secret nature of the Auxiliary Organisation, it had been extremely difficult to find any information and most of the members had passed on without even their families being aware of the role they had played during the war. However, much to my surprise I found that even in my own family, I had an uncle and two half uncles who had belonged to the Skeffling patrol of the Secret Army.
The Skeffling patrol was in group 6 of the East Riding Auxiliary Units under the command of Captain Harry Dixon, a farmer on Sunk Island. The group Sgt.Clerk was Sgt. George Johnson of Halsham. The group consisted of the Skeffling, Sunk Island and Withernsea patrols.
The Skeffling Patrol members as per the 1944 list were as follows:
Sgt. Henry F.Robinson (Quarter Master); Farmer (an uncle by marriage of the author)
Cpl. Leonard Medforth; Farmer
Pte. Edward Wilkin; Farmer
Pte. Robert Pinder; Farm worker (an uncle by marriage of the author) Pte. Richard W.Dixon; Farmer
Pte. Arthur Owen Welton; Fruit broker (uncle of the author)
Pte. Walter Caley of Burton Pidsea had been an earlier member of the patrol.
Below are photos of the secret army personnel.
It would appear that the bunker which we found was most likely an observation post, linked to an operation base sited in the village of Skeffling. The base was built under one of two derelict cottages near Winsett’s farm, and access was via a trap door hidden under a pile of bricks next to the wall. The chamber was situated under the floor of one of the cottage ground floors and had an escape exit consisting of a short tunnel with a hatch into the scullery floor of the adjoining cottage.
Thankfully the group never needed to operate against invading forces, but one of their members, Leonard Medforth, distinguished himself when in 1943 he carried out the arrest single-handed of the crew of a German Dornier aircraft which landed in Out Newton.
By July 1944 the war had turned, the threat of invasion ceased, and the War Office decided to stand down the Auxiliary Units. This included the Special Duties Branch who were a part of the organisation. The Operational Branch was stood down in November 1944, but due to the fact that it was so secret, no public recognition could be given to any of its members, not even the Defence Medal, though after pressure was put upon the M.O.D., they were prepared to issue the Defence Medal but only if written proof of service over a three-year period could be provided — somewhat difficult in an organisation that did not officially exist! Their only reward was the issue of a small enamelled lapel badge with a crown and the numbers representing the three battalions (as illustrated)
My thanks go to Alan Williamson for his kind permission to use various quotes and information from his book entitled East Riding’s Secret Resistance (Middleton Press, 2004 — ISBN 1904474 21 7).
Mike Welton 2007