During the first half of the Second World War, the threat of invasion was very real. As a result, Britain embarked on a program of defence building which included concrete pillboxes, some of which remain in New Forest villages – Beaulieu Village is a great example.
To help guard against a possible invasion, the government also created the Local Defence Volunteers which eventually became the Home Guard.
On the evening of 14 May 1940, Secretary of State for War Anthony Eden gave a radio broadcast announcing the formation of the LDV and calling for volunteers to join the force: “You will not be paid, but you will receive a uniform and will be armed.The Home Guard, Wikipedia
There was no guarantee that this would prevent our shores being breached. Churchill knew this, so decided to create a network of hidden bunkers manned by a secret army which to this day remains clouded in mystery.
The secret army was divided into local patrols known as Auxiliary Units. The men were to act as an underground resistance network should Britain be invaded. They were trained in guerrilla warfare and built underground bunkers from which to operate from.
Men recruited to the New Forest Auxiliary Units tended to be those familiar with the land. This included professions such as foresters and game keepers. The men were sworn to secrecy and could not even tell their own family about their role. They had to dig and build their underground bases deep in local woods.
Locally there were 4 units, each consisting of 8 men. The local units were Brockenhurst, Cadnam, Fritham, and Lyndhurst. They were so secret that neither unit would know about the other, despite their proximity to each other.
If an invasion had come, the New Forest Auxiliary Units would have disappeared into their underground bunkers. They would then become a resistance movement, only coming out after dark to destroy strategic targets. They would also be tasked with assassinating high ranking German officers and even British collaborators.
Thankfully this never happened and it’s only in recent years that a lot of this has come to light. The men had signed the Official Secrets Act. Some of them took this so seriously, they ended up taking their secrets to the grave.
However, there are some local accounts we can draw upon.
One memory describes how the Brockenhurst unit started to build their underground bunker in local woods. A short while later, the regular army started using the same area for training. Rather than risk being discovered, the unit filled the bunker in and moved to a new location.
In “Keeping the Forest” by Jo Ivey, local forest keeper Jack Humby described his time serving in a secret local Auxiliary Unit.
“They taught us how to use high explosives and firearms for if the Germans did invade. They buried buildings in the forest for us to use as hideaways. Some were made of concrete. Others were caravans and even sheds. If we were invaded, we were to do anything to cause trouble. Disrupt their telephones, destroy their ammunition dumps, petrol dumps, that sort of thing.”
As we know, the Auxiliary Units were never called upon to act. Once the war was over, many of the secret underground bunkers were destroyed.
But not all.
You’re probably thinking are there any Auxiliary Unit hides and bunkers left in the New Forest? The answer is, yes, perhaps. It’s very possible that some of these underground bunkers still do exist, just waiting to be found.
However, they were so well disguised and hidden, and many of the men never confessed to this secret work, that it’s very hard to pinpoint exact locations.
In recent years some have been discovered in neighbouring counties. I’ve included a couple of photos of those in this article.
I’m aware of rough locations for the local bunkers, but so far have not been able to find the exact spots. If I do, or anyone else does, you will be sure to read about it in the blog or in the Facebook group.