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Alan Edgar (Eggy1948)

Auxunits in Northumberland

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An interesting article posted in the Sixtownships History Group site about a secret army of resistance fighters from our region and their leader from East Riggs Bedlington. 

The link to the Evening Chronicle article of 1968 is :- http://www.auxunit.org.uk/chronicle250468.htm

As a 'backup' to the 'auxunit' site entry I vae copied the article into this page.

 

If there is any problem with this then I am sure admin will delete and just leave the link.

 

 

 

Auxunits in Northumberland

 

Newcastle Evening Chronicle April 1968

 Evening Chronicle logo

 

25th April 1968

 

The North-East's secret army of resistance fighters undertook vital tasks in testing the defences of airfields and army headquarters throughout the invasion "scare years" of 1940-41.But until now, their pledge of secrecy has concealed another more unusual role. At least two North-East groups, composed entirely of Bedlington miners, formed the Royal Family's personal bodyguard during residence at Balmoral. Their task: To fight off German paratroopers who may have landed with orders to kidnap or even kill the King, Queen and the two Princesses. One formed of Scremerston men headed by Mr. Lambert Carmichael. Today he remembers his guard on the Royal Family with pleasure and pride as the highlight of his war service. He performed two periods of duty at Balmoral and recalled that the Queen had a good memory. "She recognised me the second time as 'the Tweedside farmer'". He spoke of grouse shooting with the late King, striding side by side over the hills surrounding Balmoral. Then there were the moments of relaxation when the Royal family and their guard got together at informal functions.

The Bedlington miners were led by Mr. Robert Charlton Hall, then a 42 year old bank manager who lived in a semi-detached house in East Riggs Road Bedlington. It was a house with a difference. Stored at one time in the wooden garage was "enough plastic explosives, gelignite, detonators and other paraphernalia to blow up not only Bedlington, but Ashington, Morpeth and Blyth to boot". Mr. Hall lived three roles, by day, he carried on the respectable role of bank manager, at weekends he was a Home Guard Major. At night he played out his third more secret role, "Obviously, my wife never knew what I was up to. But I had been appointed a group commander of the resistance in our area and most of our training had to take place in darkness. "It was not until years later that I dared tell her what I'd been up to. It was safer for her not to know because if the invasion had come she would have nothing to tell interrogators". Mr. Hall was recruited to the secret army shortly after the outbreak of war. He was a first war veteran who already carried hand wounds from the Battle of Passchendaele. He personally recruited each man in his five patrols for "Maquis" work in Bedlington, Chevington, Stobswood, Ellington and Cramlington. They were then despatched to a secret headquarters at Colesworth House, in the South for training in unarmed combat, demolition, fieldcraft and blowing up railways. Each man was told that if he was wounded after occupation and proved a hindrance to his colleagues—he would be shot. "I suppose that in the event I would have carried out that distasteful job" said Mr. Hall. "But you must remember, the feeling of the times. They were, of course, quite desperate and invasion seemed very likely. "The patrol members had to know the truth to a large extent and were told what to expect if the Germans came. In spite of family responsibilities, they volunteered to a man. "I had a splendid bunch of chaps-mostly all pitmen-even today I regard them as the salt of the earth. Frankly, I recruited them on unusual grounds. I liked to hear of trouble makers, rabble-rousers and fighters, or the chaps who obviously wanted excitement.

 

"I would then interview them to try and establish their adaptability to the job required. Then they had to sign the' Official Secrets Act'—and as an additional incentive to secrecy it was sometimes mentioned they'd be shot, if they broke silence!!". Among the first tasks required of the newly formed Bedlington group was to establish suitable places for their underground hideouts. Some, Mr. Hall recalled were "gems" of ingenuity. They were situated at widely scattered points throughout the area. One near the Mona Taylor Maternity homes, Stannington, was next to a stream. "It was almost on the Bedlington-Morpeth boundary in a small wood. You lifted a small tree to reveal the entrance. At Stobswood, the hideout was next to the pit heap, in some scrub. There was a third near Acklington airfield where you had to squeeze behind a tree, the entrance was in the bankside covered in moss". Each hideout was constructed of brick and contained bunks for 9 to 12men.There was food to last a month, explosives, ammunition, weapons and usually a "concealed air pipe". "There was a hide in Hartford Woods, the entrance consisted of a flat tray on balanced rollers. Over the tray we grew a pile of brambles. It would have been near-impossible to spot it even inside the clump of brambles as the entrance opened by pulling a small ring attached to a wire" said Mr. Hall.

"On another exercise I was shown a flat expanse of lawn about living room size. "I was told there was a bunker beneath and instructed to find the entrance, I discovered _after examining almost every blade of grass—that it was opened by a partly concealed matchstick attached to a wire" Such were the kind of concealment places constructed for the miner "maquis" of Bedlington. Their exploits sprang readily to mind for Mr. Hall "What a fantastic bunch of chaps they were. Their fieldcraft was magnificent. I had one man who could actually catch rabbits with his bare hands and proved it to me repeatedly. On one occasion we saw a rabbit in a field rubbing his whiskers, Tommy I can't remember his second name, but he was a leading poacher said "D'ye want that rabbit, Sor?" then off he went on his stomach. "You could not see him move but if you looked away for a few seconds you could see he had advanced a couple of yards. "He just crept up to that rabbit and lifted it. It was truly amazing—and can you imagine what damage a chap like that could have done after an invasion. Mr. Hall who now lives in retirement in a cottage in Newgate Street, Morpeth, recalled other exploits of the Bedlington miners when they were chosen for personal guard duty for the Royal Family in Balmoral. "They were so good that they were invited to remain longer. During that time I met the Royal Family personally, even played games with the Princesses. The task of the Royal Guard was to spot intruders inside the Balmoral grounds. Outside the boundaries, guard duties were performed by regular troops. Each of the 12_man patrol was instructed to stay under cover and to keep out of the way of the Royal Family. They flitted from tree to tree with faces blackened or maintained watch in hideouts strung along the hill slopes above the castle. Each incident was reported to Major Hall "One of our chaps was actually spotted by the King and Queen when they strolled in the grounds. I was rather annoyed about it at the time" he said. At Balmoral, however, there was time for recreation when informalities were relaxed and the Royal Family joined mess functions and chatted with their guards. Thus it happened that Major Hall accidentally "flattened" the future Queen. "The two princesses-aged then about 10 and 14-insisted on playing a game called 'Statues'. The idea was to touch an opponent, who froze until touched and rescued by a colleague. "Princess Elizabeth could run like a hare-really good at the game ,then I saw her creep out of a door and peeked out of the window. Sure enough, she was passing beneath, so I just jumped on her". Mr. Hall still retains copies of a 'plan' of the party games drafted by the two princesses.

 

"Unfortunately, my wife did not know where I was. My brother died during Balmoral guard and so tight was security that the news did not reach me until after the burial". Back in the North-East, his group continued with their night training. Each patrol was armed with a specially-built high powered .22 rifle with telescopic sights. The familiarity with this was awesome. "Each man was trained to hit a man directly in the eye in darkness. The weapon was silenced and a near miss in war conditions could have spelled disaster. It had to be a direct, quick killing shot—if there was doubt, the men had to use their 'Fairbairn' daggers for a silent 'kill'. Former patrol members today can still demonstrate the knifing methods used. They were also taught killing karate blows. Their effectiveness was fully demonstrated during a mock raid on Acklington airfield when the patrols broke silently through the prepared defences overpowered guards and within a couple of hours demonstrated their ability to blow up every installation and aircraft on the field." It was a terrible night—we were all soaked to the skin within minutes but we got through unseen. I was with my second-in-command Jack Whitfield from Barrington and together I recall sneaking up on a guard who was just walking round and round a plane on the runway.

"I grabbed him behind the neck and told him: 'move and you're dead'. We tied him up then went around the planes chalking swastikas everywhere to prove we could have put them out of action". "Meanwhile, the rest of the men were chalking swastikas over the main buildings, at one point, just for fun, we set off a flare, then climbed the roof of the main building and watched the guards running about." Towards daylight, Jack and I gave ourselves up and were taken to the guardroom .Another couple of my chaps were there, so to avoid boredom we shoved a guard in the toilet. We then told the other guard-on duty with bayonet and loaded rifle that his mate had disappeared into the toilet and hadn't emerged. He went to look—then we bundled him inside too and went to cause a bit more bother". Mr. Hall recalled that they were years of 'great fun' but the strain of the early days proved testing. "The worst part was being able to tell families what we were doing. And of course, during the time when invasion was a real possibility, there was the worry of what would happen to our families after we went to earth and started to fight, I had one sergeant at Stobswood, for instance who had seven children. I used to worry about him". Preparations made for the threatened invasion in the North-East were extensive —and only now have come to light. In the Mid-Northumberland area, the resistance men secretly earmarked for destruction key points on railway lines and bridges. On one secret manoeuvre they even blew up colliery railway wagons to give practical effect to their knowledge. It caused quite a bit bother—no one knew, of course, that we were responsible". The bridge carrying the main line through Percy Woods, near Morpeth had a stone removed ready for an explosive charge.

 

Potential supply routes for an invading force were reconnoitred and made ready for sabotage. "We would have made things damn awkward for Jerry", said Mr. Hall. Today he lives a life of quiet retirement among the roses in his extensive gardens. He has a three months holiday each year in the Canary Isles and corresponds regularly with his daughter Mildred-a former member of General Eisenhower's staff during the invasion.

His son, Major R.Hall, has had a distinguished military career and was mentioned in despatches for his recent exploits in Aden. Mr. Hall has a constant reminder of his days as a resistance leader in the North-East. He had a finger and thumb blown off when demonstrating explosives to his men in the 1940's.His other hand still bears the 1914-18 war wounds.

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Text supplied by Mr. Charles Richards from original articles in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle

 

ã Newcastle Chronicle & Journal Limited

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Edited by Eggy1948
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"Greedy miners....."  ........"Get the rats down their holes where they belong"..."The Enemy within.."........."..like sheep......"

Aye,a bet the aad King and Queen didn't agree wi Churchill and thatcher-the hatcheter ....and their opinions of the miners!!

Great article Eggy,and thanks for posting it!

What the world also didn't know was that the Germans,AND the Japanese, had loads of miners [including my now-deceased old friend and neighbour..]driving the the Burma road through the jungle...[as well as all the other campaigns]

My friend,Tommy, joined the territorial army,when he was 17 years old,with his pit marra's,"ti get  a free holiday doon at Catterick in the summer,for a fortneet.."

Within days of him joining,war broke out and he was sent for training in the regular army,and posted out to the war front.

He was taken prisoner by the Germans,and worked in the German mines,then after escaping,was captured again by the Japanese,and put to work on the railroad.

One funny story he told me,[cos he never told me about atrocities..],went like this.....

The rail gangs came to a massive ,[and he emphasised MASSIVE!] ,tree,bang in the middle of the track-line,and halted progress.

The Engineer in charge,had Tommy,and the other miners,dig holes around the roots..[in jungle heat and humidity!],and filled the holes with explosives. 

After firing the shots,the tree trunk was virtually unmarked.

The tree was probably a Mahogany or similar tree,with a diameter of about 10 feet,and about 300 feet high....a BIG tree!

After several attempts at firing it,and getting nowhere,the Army Officer-in -charge,started threatening the Engineer with his life if he didn't get things moving quickly.

So the Engineer called the miners together,with spatterings of broken English,and asked Tommy how they would blow it up.

Well,it was obvious to anybody who had experience with explosives,except this Engineer,who was brilliant at laying rails,and building bridges,but no good at blowing trees out of the ground.!

Tommy,in his wisdom,saw a way to delay the effort,without failing the task,cos he knew if he failed he would be disposed of.

One thing he did tell me was that the Japs wouldn't waste a bullet if they could kick you into a river to drown,or even leave you in the heat without water.

So he told the engineer that they would undermine the tree roots,which would take a day or two,or three if Tommy had his way!

When they had a decent sized hole made,the Officer wanted to blow the tree.

Tommy insisted it was not deep enough,and got the go-ahead to carry on digging.

After a few days,the Officer was becoming agitated,and ordered the tree to be blown.

Tommy told the Engineer to fill the hole with explosive,and when the engineer had placed a small amount of Dynamite under the tree,and was going to fire it,Tommy stopped him,and insisted he would need to completely fill the whole cavern with Dynamite.

The Engineer did so,piling box after box of powder into the cavern.

When he eventually fired it,Tommy said that the ground shook for several seconds,like an earthquake!!

When the reek cleared,and they all went back to see the results,Tommy said there was no sign of the tree,no branches,leaves ....nothing!!

But there was an almighty crater where the tree had been!!!

The Officer was pleased the tree had gone,but wasn't too happy about it taking a fortnight to fill it in with ballast...!!

Tommy and his marra's probably helped our lads out a lot more than they realised,by creating the delay!

When the rails came to a huge ravine,where the bridge was being built,near to completion,by other gangs of prisoners,the Officer was horrified to find that his rail track was forty yards down stream,from the bridge,out of line by miscalculation.

The Officer went downstream and shot himself,out of humiliation.

Well,he would have been shot anyway,by his superiors.

"The Bridge Over The River Kwai",didn't include this episode....

Aye,there was some mighty clever and tough old miners in those days!!

Tommy was liberated by the Americans,in a totally emaciated and mentally unstable state,as were all the other prisoners,basically worked to death.

He carried on the rest of his working life,back down the pits,and was a really canny old neighbour to have.

The kids nowadays need to learn and have some respect for these guys....but they never will....sadly....

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Wonderful stuff!

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Well,being an old ex-miner mesel',and having fired up to 250lbs of "Polar Ajax" in one single shot,at a time,[Ajax being a "P1" Permitted explosive-the highest explosive you can use underground...],I know what it feels like to have the ground,indeed ,the whole roadway,shake like hell,as if an earthquake WAS taking place!!

You get used to it after a while,but when visitors used to come down,in organised parties,led by the Manager and Safety Officer,some of them wanted to get back out of the pit,especially when they couldn't see their hand in front of their faces,because of the dense shotfiring fumes which we referred to as "the reek"..!!...and also the red hot,burning Sulphrous fumes which the reek contained.

Ajax was 33% Nitro-Glycerine,and was pretty potent stuff to handle!!.....especially when the shots didn't fire,and you had to go back into the roadway to check every detonator connection.....it had been known for delayed detonation to take place,even long after the regulatory waiting time after a failed shot 

before going in to examine and check for faulty detonators.

In effect,and practice,we were our own "bomb disposal squad",but never ever saw it like that!!...it was a job,and we just got on with it.

So I understood,and appreciated every word of Tommy's story,as he was telling me.

Edited by HIGH PIT WILMA

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For those who aren't familiar with the coalmining industry,and purely for reference,to give some idea of how powerful 250lbs of explosives are,a normal ripping lip..["the caunch.."],on a longwall coalface,would have been shot down using about five,maybe ten pounds of a much less powerful explosive,which would have been "Unigel",or similar.

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 some of the early SAS units after the reorganisation deliberately recruited miners - (back to the items on secret bases) but also because they had experience with explosives and other things. they diverged into 2 units - regular - and very irregular lol - the (piss)artists rifles '21' and 23.

during eth first world war many miners were recruited and utilised and their story is only now being told because of the 100 yr centenary - Birdsong is worth reading -- and I was surprised that they actually made a decent job of the book when it was broadcast as I really couldn't see how a tv drama could do it justice

Edited by pilgrim

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I am up to my neck in Grandchildren and sorting out an unfair situation with Cross Country trains.

Your posts on this thread have made my week.

They are excellent and so important for our Bedlington History.

They make you feel proud to be associated with the town.

HPW you might be interested to read :-

The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

By Richard Flanagan.

It is not easy to read but gives an insight into the War and the building of the Railway.

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Heh heh Maggie!

A dinna envy ye!![aboot the bairns...!].....whey,seriously,we haven't got any Grandbairns,but we wud have tried to be the best grandma  n granda on this planet if we had had any![Little Black Jess is wor little bairn,and she is cosseted as much as any bairn could possibly be,and knaas ivry word we say to her!]

Thanks for your nice comments,Maggie,and it hasn't gone unnoticed how very diplomatic you always are,with a very sensible view of all the topics and disagreements!!!

Cheers,Mate!

p.s. Thanks for the advice about the book,I will look for it,and check it out,if I can fit in between my other commitments!

 

Pilgrim,thanks to you also,I will look out for Birdsong.

Cheers Mate!!

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Well,being an old ex-miner mesel',and having fired up to 250lbs of "Polar Ajax" in one single shot,at a time,[Ajax being a "P1" Permitted explosive-the highest explosive you can use underground...],I know what it feels like to have the ground,indeed ,the whole roadway,shake like hell,as if an earthquake WAS taking place!!

You get used to it after a while,but when visitors used to come down,in organised parties,led by the Manager and Safety Officer,some of them wanted to get back out of the pit,especially when they couldn't see their hand in front of their faces,because of the dense shotfiring fumes which we referred to as "the reek"..!!...and also the red hot,burning Sulphrous fumes which the reek contained.

Ajax was 33% Nitro-Glycerine,and was pretty potent stuff to handle!!.....especially when the shots didn't fire,and you had to go back into the roadway to check every detonator connection.....it had been known for delayed detonation to take place,even long after the regulatory waiting time after a failed shot 

before going in to examine and check for faulty detonators.

In effect,and practice,we were our own "bomb disposal squad",but never ever saw it like that!!...it was a job,and we just got on with it.

So I understood,and appreciated every word of Tommy's story,as he was telling me.

I was a Deputy /Shotfirer here in Aust 250lbs of Ajax seems like a hell of a lot of Ajax did you have to get special permission to set of a charge of this size HPW ?

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Heh Heh High Pit Wilma thanks for your comments.

I may need to quote them to my own Kids when they say:-

'Why can't you just admit your wrong?'

Diplomacy or 'Working your Ticket' depends on which side your on.

A member of my extended family ( in Bedlington) worked on the 'Railway' and basically it was 'Mans inhumanity to Man'.

The book defines life as those who worked on the line and those who did not.

Some experiences mark people for life.

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Nearly forgot .

Birdsong is one of my favourite books.

The main character returns home and finds everyone moaning about the basics.

Guess that is the message for me.

War is suffering for the majority.

The people not involved have no concept of that basic fact.

This was sent to me recently

post-2999-0-96071900-1424171253_thumb.jp

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Maggie re the 'Time of Your Life' -- nice comment - reminds me of the old thing that you have to be 'taught to hate' as it doesn't come naturally

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