By day they were ordinary civilians — from dentists and clergymen to gamekeepers and roadmenders – in a Britain gripped by fear of imminent invasion by Hitler’s blitzkreig troops.
The only clue to their alter egos might have been the pieces of paper in their pockets – informing any police officer suspicious of their behaviour “to ask no questions of the bearer but phone this number”.
But new details have now emerged of the highly secretive role played by a “resistance” army of fit young men and women chosen as would-be saboteurs and spies in the event of a German landing.
In the dark days of 1940, the unit grew to about 6,000 members, who knew little of each other and operated in small guerrilla groups. Recruited to disrupt a German occupation force – including roles such as blowing up tanks, lorry parks and communications – the teams prepared by carrying out covert missions, known as “scallywagging”, at night.
…Their role was to engage in irregular warfare, which meant that, as civilians, their capture by the Germans would have led to their instant execution as spies. Not everyone in the military hierarchy approved of the concept, believing that only men in uniform should be recruited to fight the enemy.
Official records of the GHQ Auxiliary Units – whose creation was authorised by the inner War Cabinet, chaired by Winston Churchill – have rarely been released by the National Archives. …
Even those recruited for bombing missions never knew who was really behind the idea. Mr Warwicker said that they had thought they were working for the War Office, but GHQ Auxiliary Units were financed by MI6, and one element of it, the Special Duties Section, became so experienced in covert operations that after the threat of invasion receded, members of the section were snatched up by the SAS for the rest of the war.
… “They were a secret guerrilla group – the members were not to know each other. As cover for their activities they were to appear to continue their lives entirely normally,” Mr Warwicker said. The key man in each patrol group had a store of explosives and weaponry hidden away and only he knew where it was.