THE history of a secret army of men trained in the art of sabotage will be more accessible thanks to a newly created bunker.
In the early 1940s, Coleshill in West Oxfordshire was the training base for 2,500 to 3,000 men – known as Auxiliars – who were recruited in the art of sabotage in readiness for a Nazi invasion.
On Saturday a replica of a bunker used as the Auxiliars’ operational base was officially opened by one of the men trained there. Although they were never called to action, they were taught to track and kill, to blow up bridges, destroy vehicles and booby-trap buildings.
Former Auxiliar Bob Millard, now 89, visited Coleshill twice for training before joining the Fleet Air Arm. He said: “It was exciting. They made you feel you were part of something.
“We never won any battles but our motto was ‘Ready When Called On’ and training at Coleshill would have made us ready if we were called.”
A key part of training was how to create an operational base or hide, and one exists in Coleshill – but now more than 70 years old, it is fragile and starting to deteriorate.
The National Trust, which owns the site, won £28,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve the site, build a replica of the bunker and add to its school visits programme.
Liza Dibble, the trust’s Coleshill community learning officer, said: “There’s probably only a handful of Auxiliars who are still alive.
“They would have had lectures at Coleshill House and then practical sessions, particularly in explosives.”
During the weekend, an estimated 4,000 people visited the site and learned about the history of the work which went on there, as well as visiting the replica bunker.
Mrs Dibble said: “The single most important thing people will realise is just how incredibly brave those people were.
“It’s very claustrophobic going underground. They would have known if they heard the codeword ‘Oliver Cromwell’ they were prepared to walk out of the door, go to their operational base and join the other five people in their unit and literally go to ground.”
Mr Millard, whose operational base was on Hampton Rocks in Bath, where he lived at the time, said: “It is very nice to hear about the work they are doing with schools letting people know what the auxiliary units were.”
Among those enjoying activities at the weekend was Ben Perrigo, 12, from Swindon.
His dad, Andy, said: “We didn’t know anything about it before we went.
“My son’s into all that sort of thing – it was good stuff.”