Auxunits in Northumberland

Newcastle Evening Chronicle April 1968

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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

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