Operating in the same areas as the patrols but completely separate and unknown to the patrols were the wireless networks, designated the Special Duties Section. Early in 1941 the Royal Corps of Signals established an HQ at Bachelors Hall at Hundon in Suffolk under G2AW Capt. (later Major) Hills and his aide Capt. Ward, where radio 'hams' were recruited to design and manufacture a small radio telephony set, simple to use, able to withstand damp conditions, and operating on high frequency over a short distance of 10-20 miles. With G2QV Capt. Shanks and G2RD Ron Dabbs appointed sergeant in charge, G8CK Bill Bartholomew designed the transceiver; G8JI Tom Higgins and Ron Dabbs the receiver; G8CK Bill Bartholomew and GM8MQ Jack Millie the transmitter; G8PP Les Parnell, GM2CQI Jimmy McNab, and John Mackie the power supply and metalwork; 2FWX Bill Air completing the team. G2K1 George Spencer joined Capt. Hills at Hundon before the arrival of the other 'hams' but, as they proceeded with their project, he was allocated the task of choosing suitable sites for the planned wireless control/zero stations which required concealment from the public (and a potential invasion force) and nearby trees for the erection of aerials, providing good wireless reception. Units of the Royal Engineers were then detailed to construct these underground dugouts but were unaware of their intended use. The dugouts consisted of an entrance chamber accessed by a hidden trap door and a straight-down ladder and appeared to be complete but a cleverly concealed door led to the operating chamber. At the far end was another door, well sealed against fumes, leading to the generator chamber where batteries were charged, the generator providing lighting and ventilation facilities. In the far wall was an escape tunnel extending some distance from the dugout. The majority of zero stations were built to the same design.

The wireless set produced by the team was code-named TRD (transmitter/receiver and coincidentally using the initials of Ron Dabbs), was housed in a metal case about 15in. long, 9 3/8in. wide, and 9¼in. high, powered by a large conventional 6-volt 85 A.H. accumulator battery, the voltage being boosted by the vibrator in the set to 240 volts with a power output of approximately 11/2 watts. The frequency range was 48-65 mcs, then rarely used but now commonly used by BBC1 television. After extensive tests a sum of £2,000 was allocated for the purchase of parts which generally were obtained from commercial companies.

The metal case was constructed by the Metalbox Company of North London, the back and sides in one piece and access to the components was by removing the front panel with the attached component chassis. The transmitters were TVO/31Os or RK34s, twin triodes and were used in a se1f-excited configuration, having a coil across the two grids, while the anodes were connected to a coil between them, the anodes being fed by a centre tap on the anode coil, and an RF choke and capacitor to the HT supply, which was supplied by the vibrator pack, using mainly a 4-pin vibrator and an OZ4 cold cathode rectifier, producing around 250 volts DC. Occasionally, the vibrator was a self-synchronous 6-pin type which produced the DC without a rectifier. These were fed by a transformer, all contained in a Masteradio vibrator pack made by the Masteradio factory in Rickmansworth Road, Watford, Herts. The self-excited oscillators were anode modulated by a 6V6 fed by a 6C5, both metal valves of the octal variety, as were the OZ4s. The aerial terminals inside the front panel were connected inside via a piece of flat twin feeder, ending in a single-turn loop the same diameter as the coil and pushed in between the turns at the low impedance point at the centre tap at which point the HT was fed via an RF choke with a value of 2.5 milli-henries. Outside the front panel, the aerial terminals were connected to a 72 ohm flat twin feeder leading to the dipole antenna hidden in a tree. The microphone was an ordinary Post Office telephone handset. The receiver was a super-regenerative type and, although very sensitive, had to be isolated from the radiation caused (and thereby giving away the position to the enemy) by the simple means of using an untuned buffer RF amplifier, which was an EF50, a popular valve at the time with tiny pins. The super-regenerative valve was a Mullard Red 'E' type EF39. The output was via a 6V6 tetrode and could be via either a loudspeaker or headphones.

In preparation for the use of these sets Intelligence Officers had been vetting civilians along the coast for their suitability as clandestine operators to send information to control stations farther inland, all to be capable of operating under enemy occupation. The civilians were chosen from all walks of life: doctors, vicars, farmers, shopkeepers, housewives, and, at Ringwood, Hampshire, a barmaid. They had no uniform and would undoubtedly have been shot as spies if caught. The outstations were concealed in various ways. Some were in attics (Rene's secret wireless in Granny's bedroom in the TV farce 'Allo 'Allo was true in Britain!), sheds, barns, dugouts, and other ingenious hides. One was at the top of the mausoleum 'folly' in Brocklesby Park in Lincolnshire; another in a summerhouse on the roof of a mansion in Ottery St. Mary, Devon; and a chicken farmer near Axininster entered his bunker by lifting the complete wooden seat, together with bucket and contents, of his outside privy. The small radio compartment was revealed by swivelling a wooden beam. His 'runners' would swing aside a tree-stump to reveal a hole into which they dropped a split tennis ball containing any messages which would then run down into the bunker. A large number of 'spies' would have been engaged in gathering information of enemy activity for this purpose and 'letter boxes' were set up in birds' nests, chicken houses, hollows in trees, empty cans, drain pipes, etc., for collection by the runners. With 125 outstations and 78 sub-outstations, the number of civilians involved in this intelligence-gathering organisation amounted to at least 3,250.

The Royal Corps of Signals personnel eventually numbered 69 men, including the radio 'hams' engaged in construction and maintenance of sets, sergeants who were in charge of the area networks, and wireless operators and instrument mechanics to man the control stations. Seven officers each had control of several areas and had at their disposal several drivers, engineers, and carpenters from other units. Earlier, Major Hills had left Aux. Units Signals and Major R. M. A. Jones (who had been with Pye Radio) took over command. At stand-down, Major Green was in charge, while Capt. Shanks remained with Aux. Units Signals from its inception.

Beatrice Temple, niece of the then Archbishop of Canterbury, was appointed Senior Commander of ATS personnel and began recruiting young women, many officers in the ATS, as operators in the control stations. Unaware of the work involved, 93 women were invited to volunteer for a special and possibly dangerous assignment, Major Temple conducting the interviews in the public lounge of Harrods in Knightsbridge. A number were selected for voice tests at Hundon and eventually 43 were chosen for training in the use of the TRD sets, each given officer status. They were later allocated to three-woman units manning the Area HQ control/zero stations situated close to Brigade/Corps HQs, forming the final link between the civilian outstations, their control stations, and the conventional defence forces.

Snr Cmd Temple

Each control station covered an area about the size of a county, serving five to ten outstations and manned by three Royal Corps of Signals personnel, using a hut for everyday use. After invasion this would have been destroyed and the operators would have moved to an identical 'zero' station hidden a short distance away. It was equipped with stores for a month; cooking, sleeping, and toilet facilities. In the adjacent sealed chamber was a generator to provide lighting and ventilation and to charge batteries which was necessary as the sets were in constant use, unlike the outstations where the sets were used only for occasional messages. The zero stations were also cleverly hidden. One was built under the vegetable garden of a manor house at Winchester, sliding a cold-frame to one side to reveal the ladder down to the dugout. Another at Hume Castle was under the ruins, the aerials concealed in the ramparts, and at Buckland St Mary, near Taunton, the bunker was in the rim of an old Roman defence work at the end of the Blackdown Hills, part of a farm where the Signals were billeted with the farmer and his wife.

Winchester Zero Station

Auxunit Signals Net (part)
Area H.Q. Salisbury. Manned by ATS
Area 15 Zero Station. Manned by R.Signals
Outstations and Sub-outstations. Manned by civilians (Special Duties Personnel)


All the control/zero and outstations required copper-wire dipole aerials 7ft. 9in. wide (3ft. 10in. each side) with Belling lee 80 ohm flat twin down-leads. Where possible these were strung in the highest trees, for good transmission and away from prying eyes. The down-leads were buried behind the bark, sometimes requiring imaginative camouflage. A broadcast distance of up to 30 miles was expected but this was extended in many areas when sited on high ground and sometimes with the addition of an 8ft reflector. A good example of this was at Abergavenny where the control/zero station was on the Blorenge Hills, now the site of a large TV mast and within a few yards of the memorial to the famous showjumper "Foxhunter". The longest operational link was 64 miles.

Pre-invasion, the Signals operators had a dual role. With one operator manning the set, the other two were required to visit each outstation each week, replacing the batteries with fully-charged ones, checking the equipment, and climbing the trees if necessary to check that the aerials were secure. These maintenance visits required extreme caution in avoiding detection, taking place in daylight. Having parked the scout-car some distance from the outstation, two heavy accumulator batteries and other equipment had to be carried to the site and the entrance approached only when safely undetected. Any tree maintenance needed especial attention, sometimes taking several hours so as not to be seen. On completion, camouflage of the site was paramount, removing any signs of activity. Where sets were in private houses, security was again difficult and precautions taken to avoid apparent contact with the military.

In 1942, the Signals HQ was moved from Hundon to Coleshill where construction and improvements to the TRD sets continued including the TRM and TRF. At stand-down the number of sets in use numbered 250 TRD, 28 TRM, 36 TRF, and 200 No.17 sets. At the same time the Special Duties Section established their HQ at Hannington Hall, owned by the Fry cocoa family, five miles from Coleshill. Here, Major Maurice Petherick recruited additional Intelligence Officers to continue the expansion of the spy organisation supplying the information for the wireless networks and Beatrice Temple administered the ATS section

Maj. Petherick

The ATS officers were accommodated in approved civilian billets, being ferried to their secret operational stations by Royal Signals personnel. Watches were programmed throughout the day, not only for their own network but also for any broadcasts by enemy agents, which were immediately notified to Intelligence. Early versions of the sets were sensitive to thunderstorms and sunspot activity and sometimes to tank radios. No instructions were given in writing except changes in the codes used. These were on special 'digestible' paper which had to be chewed and swallowed. As with all parts of the organisation, security was so tight that at no time was any indication given of the numbers, stations, or activities of anyone else. These details were known only by the Intelligence Officer and his Royal Signals sergeant in charge of each area.

The Royal Signals personnel also lived with civilian families, who were completely unaware of their work, and wartime discipline was well observed by not prying into details. (After the war many men maintained contact with their wartime 'mums' remembering how well they had been treated.) During their daytime work Signals personnel obtained their meals locally, sometimes in British Restaurants, the meal-places set up by the government in many towns, and were left to fend for themselves, being responsible only to their Intelligence Officer who had two or three stations under his supervision. Each day's journey required a transport movement form, conventionally signed by a transport officer but in the Signals case it was signed by an NCO or Signalman. Auxiliary Units were directly answerable to GHQ Home Forces and avoided contact with conventional forces. This required a particularly resourceful and independently minded breed of soldier.

With the threat of invasion lifted through the successful establishment of the Normandy landings, Auxiliary Units Signals were disbanded in September 1944 and the patrols in the following November, the dugouts being destroyed after the contents had been removed, although there have been some instances where patrol bunkers hastily established in 1940 being overlooked and the contents, badly deteriorated, coming to light many years afterwards. The zero station at Winchester has been known to the property owner for many years but unaware of its purpose and the Shipley zero station has also been excavated. Both are in good condition, with original construction features intact Some younger patrol members, with their specialised training, enlisted in the SAS and other active units. Older members resumed their normal lifestyle, receiving no public recognition other than a letter from the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, expressing the value to the country of their devotion to duty in facing the dangers of an invasion and the maintaining of secrecy was a matter of special pride. Some training officers were parachuted into France and both Capt. Bond and Capt. Ian Fenwick and a dozen of his men were killed there. Signals personnel returned to Catterick in Yorkshire for retraining and allocation to other theatres of war; some were retained by the Operator Training Battalion as instructors because of the expansion in training required for the final effort against the Germans in Europe and the Japanese in the Far East.

The National Trust now administer Coleshill House Park at the Coleshill Estate Office. The house, built in 1662, caught fire during refurbishment in 1952 and was demolished. The main stable block still exists, as do the impressive main gates. Early in 1996, as part of a tree-planting scheme, it was decided that seven should be dedicated to the memory of Auxiliary Units. Members of the Somerset group, the South-East Essex and East Anglian group, and Auxiliary Units Signals made donations for the planting and maintenance of a tree dedicated to their units, while another two trees were dedicated to individuals who joined the SAS and were captured behind enemy lines in 1944 and executed by the Germans, Henry James Pascoe, aged 28, and Alan George Ashley, aged 24. Another two trees are dedicated to Auxiliary Units members in all other areas.

Satellite technology has obviated the need for trig pillars and, to avoid these falling into disrepair, Ordnance Survey invited members of the public to adopt them. Four families of former Aux. Units members have adopted pillars in Gwent, Sussex, and Devon, near former O.B.s, and these now bear plates recording their dedication. The Imperial War Museum in London has allocated a section to Auxiliary Units in its permanent SOE exhibition "Secret War" and a British Resistance museum has been established at the WWII Memorial Museum to the 390th Bomb Group of the United States AAF at Parham (Framlingham) in Suffolk where planning application has been made to re-erect an underground bunker for public viewing. The connection was formed when the trustees of the museum discovered that the airfield was built on farmland owned by the Kindred brothers who had been patrol members. Unbeknown to the brothers, one of their relatives was a civilian wireless operator on the Signals side. The story of Auxiliary Units has remained a well-kept secret for 50 years and the sacrifice that members, many now passed away, were prepared to make, unknown to their families, receiving no recognition, has now been recorded in many ways for the benefit of future history.

Arthur Gabbitas

Reproduced with kind permission of his family

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