COLESHILL HOUSE – TRAINING HQ
Early training was undertaken by each intelligence officer, supported by disguised training manuals, which at first sight appeared to be innocent calendars, or farming handbooks
In late 1940, Gubbins moved his HQ from Whitehall, to Coleshill House in the small hamlet of Coleshill on the Oxfordshire/wiltshire border. Coleshill was also used as the training centre for Patrols throughout the country.
Such was the secrecy that surrounded the Auxiliary Units, that those attending courses were instructed to get a train to the nearby town of Highworth, and told to report to the local Post Office, where they had to give the postmistress, Mabel Stranks, a password. She would then call Coleshill House who would send a vehicle, which would drive a convoluted route back to the stately home before off-loading the volunteers. Such was the seriousness with which Mabel took her role, when Montgomery came to visit, he too was subjected to the same vetting process and forced to wait sometime while she confirmed his credentials.
When the Auxiliaries reached Coleshill House, they spent weekends training in all aspects of sabotage and guerrilla warfare. Navigating through the countryside at night, explosives training, unarmed combat, firing ranges, learning to be comfortable staying in OBS, and much more. A core training staff stayed in the house with the Auxiliaries billeted in the stables. The training was of the highest level, much more so than the regular Home Guard. Many of the techniques learnt by the Auxiliaries were also passed onto the Special Operations Executive (SOE) later in the war (Gubbins and Fleming were to leave the Auxiliary Units at the end of 1940 to start SOE). Indeed, some Auxiliaries were recruited into the SAS due to their high level of training and aptitude.
Picture of Coleshill House taken by photographer Charles Latham