On May 14th 1940 Anthony Eden broadcast an appeal for Local Defence
Volunteers to come forward, soon to be renamed the Home Guard.
authorities, having weighed up the situation so painfully learned during the invasion
of Europe decided once the Germans had landed no amount of barricades, bottomless
pits and poorly armed troops could ever hope to hold off a well trained enemy
It was decided to form some twenty odd "Auxiliary Units"
which were to include regular army soldiers and picked members of the Home Guard.
of these units was left to Col Colin Gubbins (Military Intelligence Research)
and they were to become known as 202 Battalion or the BRO (British Resistance
Battalion was part of the 202nd GHQ Reserve Battalion. 201st covered Scotland
and Northumberland, 202nd down to the Thames - Severn and 203rd south of that.
The Auxiliaries wore Home Guard uniform but they would have raised their
suspicions had they worn local insignia or no badges at all, so the 'fiction'
of a GHQ Reserve was created to give them some cover.
The men then had
a legitimate badge to wear and their officers could correspond with Area Headquarters
without having to mention Auxiliary Units.
Intricate plans were
drawn up, so that once the enemy had landed, men of 202 Battalion would
not fight amongst the other Home Guard, but slip away to previously
built hiding places to await the call to action.
They would only come
out of hiding once the bulk of the enemy had moved on and to cause as
much disruption as possible, guerrilla warfare. They were never planned
to be more than a nuisance, slowing down the Germans while the regular
Six man patrols were set up in vulnerable coastal areas all around the UK. Each
member of the patrol had to know his area well and had to be able to survive of
Regular Army officers, known as Intelligence Officers were seconded
to recruit patrols and train them in the art of setting explosives, sabotage and
About 3000 people were involved in the BRO, going about their
daily working life before secretly slipping off to an underground hideout to train
By September 1940 the units were at full strength ready to take on
the might of any invaders to our shores
However, they had the best eqpt going
and often tested new weapons before they were released to the Army,
Sticky Bombs and plastic explosives were all used by the BRO before
the Army or Special Forces.
The men of the BRO were all trained to make and set explosives charges
and boobytraps to kill silently. They were often used to test the defences
of the RAF and USAF airfield, leaving sticky notes on planes to show
they had successfully bypassed the guards. Whilst the Home Guard were
drilling with Broom Sticks the BRO were training with more sophisticated
equipment such as Rifles, Sten Guns etc.
In 1942 the BRO was given Home Guard cover which meant
they had a proper uniform to wear during the day.
It was not uncommon for the men of the Home Guard, to be totally unaware
of their colleagues other role.
Members of the BRO were
not expected to survive for more that ten days once they performed an
act of sabotage. If Europe (Poland & France) was anything to go
by, the Germans would exact retribution swiftly.
They would typically select ten or twelve of the local villagers out
for execution, and as an example too the rest of the population. The
men concerned might also have been inadvertently caught in the roundup.
The BRO members were supposed to be secret but it is hard to believe
that the regular Home Guard would not suspect anything, when six members
of its platoon appeared to go AWOL at the same time.
In reality, their identity was in the hands of their own colleagues,
perhaps family members and scared villagers.
Churchill gave the codeword
"Cromwell" for the imminent invasion of the British Isles.
Subsequently on 7th September 1940 the codeword was issued and Church
bells rang throughout the land. 1.5 million Home Guard troops were mobilised.
BRO members were instructed to gather all the food they could muster
from home and report to their respective hide-outs. Fortunately they
stayed only for 2 days as the alarm was soon withdrawn.
It is rumoured in some instances they were given the means to commit
suicide to avoid being captured and tortured.
The chances of them being successful in stalling the German Army were
very slight. Some Auxiliary Units were given permission to kill local
collaborator's if they felt security was being put at risk.
BRO stood down in 1944, fortunately never having to put their training into practice.
At the time of Stand Down, volunteers were told that "no public recognition
would be possible due to the secret nature of their duties" and that, since
no written records of service had been kept, they were not eligible for the Defence
The BRO in Bures
During 1940 when the
Auxiliary Units were set up, Gordon Drake Snr was requested to set up
such a unit in Bures and become its Commanding Officer. He was drafted
with finding five or six men who were fit and had intimate knowledge
of the local area.
The selected six men consisted
Gordon Drake Snr - CO
Pat Baker - Sergeant
Suffolk 202 Battalion
The unit for some reason, had a
CO and PC for a group of three men
No idea why !
|Company Commander: Capt
Tylor, The Hall Lamarsh
Platoon Commander: Sgt Gray, The Hall Lamarsh
Pat Baker - Sergeant
|Company Commander: Capt
Platoon Commander: Sgt Bird, Overhall Farm, Bures
|Gordon Drake Snr - CO
Gordon Webber recalls
how they built their underground shelter capable of holding the six
men on private property in the grounds of Little Bevills along the Sudbury
The first suggestion was to locate it at Parsonage Hall because Dr Wood
the owner was a keen supporter of the Home Guard, unfortunately it would
have been too exposed.
The Observation Bunker (BO) had a primus stove and oil lamps for heat
and light. They unit was equipped with magnetic bombs for use on vehicles
and tanks, together with Molotov Cocktails and petrol.
The only other personal weapons were a knife and a cal38 revolver. Records
indicate they often had joint exercises with other units from the local
Gordon Drake recalls,
"we has a quarter of a ton of high explosives and a couple of
hundred hand grenades"
Official training was carried
out on Sundays over at "River House" at Earls Colne,
where they were trained in the use explosives and guerilla warfare.
Official records show this to be River House beside the River
Kelvedon Vicarage (left) was
the Headquarters of the Resistance Organisation in East Anglia
Courtesy of David Lampe
Gordon Drake also attened a training excercise
This would have been at Coleshill,
the UK headquarters for the "Secret Army"
Left - artists impression of
a typical BRO underground bunker equipped with oil lamps, bedding
and food supplies.
Ventilation was by means of a camouflaged shaft acting as a chimney.
Usually a Tilley Lamp was hung
near to the ventilation shaft in order to force the circulation
of air inside the bunker.
secretly deployed around the countryside for easy access.
need for such an organisation receded when the enemy was on the
defensive and the unit was disbanded in 1940 - thankfully, a shot
never fired in anger.
Today surviving members of the BRO are very proud of their potential
role in the war and still hold on to their secrets, some 60 years
this personal interview with Gordon Drake
Gordon Webber, Azure Anderson.
"East Anglia at War" by Derek Johnson.
"The Last Ditch" by David Lampe
David Waller, BRO Museum Parham,
Logo courtesy of BRO website