Churchill’s secret army in Uplyme

A similar patrol set up in Spetisbury, Dorset (photo courtesy of Halsgrove Community History Series)

RESEARCHERS are seeking information on a highly-secret patrol of local volunteers set up in the Uplyme area during the Second World War. 

In 1940 the prospect of a Nazi invasion was a very real one. Britain, having lost most of its military equipment in the Dunkirk evacuation, was to all pretence and purposes on its knees.

The Local Defence Volunteers, later renamed as the Home Guard, had just been formed and was famously armed with pitch forks and ancient weapons. However, a group of civilian volunteers were also put together to help resist the initial stages of any invasion.

The Auxiliary Units were patrols of six to eight men in reserved occupations or under or over the age to join the regular forces. They were formed into units the length of the country, from The Orkneys to Cornwall, along the east and south coasts, with the full support of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

They were dug operational bases – underground bunkers where they would disappear as soon as the invading army entered their area. From there, they would come out at night to cause as much chaos as possible; destroying transport and transport routes, blowing up ammunition or food dumps, destroying airfields and causing as much disruption as possible to slow down the advance and give the regular forces time to recover and counter-attack. Their life expectancy was about a fortnight at most.

These men were highly trained in sabotage and silent killing. Some patrols had weapons to take out high-ranking German officials and even British collaborators. Each man had to sign up the Official Secrets Act and told the nearest relatives and friends nothing of their role.

There were around 32 such patrols around Devon and a group of researchers with the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) are starting to uncover more evidence about a patrol from the Uplyme area.

Nina Hannaford, Devon County Information Officer for CART, said: “There are a few local names linked with the patrol, such as Walter Charles Hellier, Cyril Freeth, Reg Quick, Francis Hutchings, N.H. Austin, all of whom appear to have lived in Uplyme.

“However, we also have a large number of other names associated with the areas around and near to Uplyme, which is proving very confusing. It is likely there are a number of patrols, but we don’t know where.

“In terms of the Uplyme patrol itself we have a few clues as to the location of their underground operational base a but what we really need is information from the public to help build our understanding.

“If anyone has links to the names mentioned above, have heard stories of relatives undertaking ‘secret’ work locally during the war, played in abandoned underground structures after the war, or even local rumours – we’d be delighted to hear from them!”

Anyone with any potential information is asked to contact Nina Hannaford by emailing

Woodmead Halls
About Francesca Evans 2626 Articles
Francesca grew up in Lyme Regis and has worked in community journalism in the area since 2011, having gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University.

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