A Northumbrian Auxilier - 'Tot' Barrass

 Tot Barrass

Taken from "Hartley to Seaton Sluice 1760 – 1960, The Military Connection" by David J Anderson.
Reprinted with kind permission of the author and Mrs Belle Barrass.

These Parish Invasion Committees were essentially passive but in the background a Resistance movement, one of Britain's best kept secrets , were training guerrilla ‘Auxiliary Units’ in a coastal strip thirty miles deep in readiness to harass the Nazi war machine when it landed on our beaches. Taken from the Home Guard these men were expected to blend into the countryside, to live rough and to go on fighting until they won!

Many of the ‘Auxiliary Units’ were assigned to sectors where they lived and ‘Tot’ Tommy Barrass, was in a local ‘CELL’. Part of the 202nd Home Guard, Tom’s Captain was Anthony Quayle, later actor Sir Anthony Quayle, and by 1941 fifteen patrols had already been formed throughout Northumberland. Cramlington Patrol numbered seven including Alf Smith, the cells Leader, D. Needam, Wilf Wood, Wilf Henderson, George Willey, Norman Thompson and ‘Tot’ Barrass.

Their hideout, an underground chamber with six months rations and ammunition, was in Hartford Woods near Bedlington, Northumberland and they met in secret at an empty house in Shankhouse, Cramlington, Northumberland. Secrecy was all important and each cell was not known by name to any other cell just in case of interrogation or collaboration. Each member of a cell carried an American 45 automatic pistol, a Thompson ‘Tommy’ sub-machine gun, a Mills Bomb, a Fairbairn dagger and a sabotage manual disguised to look like The Countryman’s Diary!

Anthony Quayle letter

Training of these units was intense and it was often difficult to disguise the fact that ‘Tot’ was away from the coal face for long periods but being part of the Home Guard meant that excuses could be made for his absence. For training to be effective it had to be authentic and many exercises were carried out on real soldiers and many camps, who were supposed to be informed of an impending exercise, were not; with disastrous consequences.

Scotland was a popular training area and at Coupar ‘Tot’ was crawling up a gully on one exercise, with blackened face and knife between his teeth, when a blow from the boot of a guard crashed between his ribs. Fortunately his cell-mate behind came to the rescue and gave the guard the heel of his rifle right between the eyes and both ‘Tot’ and the guard ended up in hospital. Strapping up his ribs with bandages ‘Tot’ was soon back at work down the Avenue Drift coal mine, Seaton Delaval trying to make excuses for his painful posture!

Perhaps the most important exercise in his career was defending the Royal Family at Balmoral, Scotland. For this occasion ‘Tot’ remembers how he was provided with a new suit and Glengarry Beret and how during one Sunday morning, accompanying the Royal Family to Crathy Church, he had to desert his King and Queen during the service for a call of nature and was nearly arrested! During the D-Day landings ‘Tot’ also relieved regular soldiers on the Isle Of White guarding a Power Station.

For his services at Balmoral ‘Tot’ received a personal commendation from King George VI. Headed 490 and dated 1st October 1944.

Balmoral citation

ã David J Anderson

Tot Barrass died in 1999. Mrs Barrass kindly helped prepare this article for publication and offered some reminiscences of her own.
When Tot was training at Coupar in Scotland he and his colleagues were addressed by Lord Lovat at a mansion -she says this house was once owned by the SUNLIGHT SOAP people.
Other names she mentioned regarding the auxiliaries/home guard were Lord Gort and Lord Rowallan.
When Tot was guarding the King at Balmoral he was away for six weeks and she received censored letters from him by the field post office. She never suspected anything whilst he was an auxiliary only the rucksack he always used to carry when he went out but did not enquire about it. She was at the time working at Cramlington Airship Station inspecting ammunition cases and camouflage nets which were made there. 
She remembers some of the trades of his Cramlington patrol:
NEEDHAM- Electrical engineer in the mines, lived Cramlington
WILLEY - Co-op Butcher, Lived Seghill.
THOMPSON- Market gardener lived Cramlington
SMITH - School Board man- 'hookie' man. lived Cramlington
WOOD-Colliery surveyor. lived Cramlington.

The only thing that Mrs Barrass can think of is that all these men were associated with the Scouts/Rovers as not all of them were miners but most had some association with the coal mines.

Hartley to Seaton Sluice 1760 – 1960, The Military Connection by David J Anderson is published in aid of the Northern Counties Kidney Research Fund.
It is now available on CD for £4 inc p+p.

Cheques should be made payable to NCKRF and sent to:

Seaton Design Group Architect
53 Collywell Bay Road
Seaton Sluice
NE26 4RG


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