Selkirk’s secret bunker, built for the British Resistance to fight Nazi occupation, has finally been discovered near Lindean Loch 70 years after World War II ended.
After the evacuation of British Army land troops from Dunkirk in 1940, when the United Kingdom was near defenceless against a German invasion codenamed Operation Sea Lion, Prime Minister Winston Churchill drew up plans for a secret British resistance network of civilian spies and saboteurs trained in guerilla warfare.
Having witnessed the fall of several Continental nations, Britain was the only country during the war able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion. The British Isles’ last-ditch line in defence was named the British Resistance Organisation or Auxiliary Units. As cover, the men were allocated to Home Guard battalions 201 (Scotland), 202 (northern England), or 203 (southern England) and provided with Home Guard uniforms, though they were not actually Home Guard units.
Highly secret Operational Patrols, termed OPs, operated in a network of isolated, self-contained cells consisting of four to eight men. They were expected to be self-sufficient and autonomous in the case of invasion, from 500 hidden underground Operational Bases, called OBs, around the UK. Many are still to be found – their concealed entrances are almost invisible, unless you know where to find them.
These volunteer combat units were recruited from the most able members of the Home Guard, chosen for their resourcefulness, local knowledge and ability to keep a secret and live off the land. Apparently innocent local folk – carpenters, doctors, gardeners, farmers, gamekeepers, ministers – would go to ground at the first alert of Nazi invasion, with a mission to sabotage and assassinate German forces in daring night-time raids.
The patrols were also provided with an arsenal of weapons, including silenced pistols or Sten guns, commando knives, plastic explosives, incendiary devices, and food to last for two weeks. Their life expectancy behind enemy lines was around 15 days and, if captured, they would be condemned to death as spies. Members were expected to shoot themselves first rather than be taken alive.
The Auxiliary Units would be kept informed of German movements by vetted, local spy rings, called the Special Duties Branch. These ‘eyes and ears’ for the action group would identify military vehicles, units and high-ranking officers, and leave reports in dead letter drops. Intelligence could also be signalled, via concealed radios, to a British government-in-exile, and its representatives still in the British Isles.
The Auxiliary Units were formed in utmost secrecy, fiercely protected during the existence of the units and after their stand down in 1944. The organisation was so secret most of the members did not know one another.
The units’ existence and obectives did not become generally known until the 1990s, though a book on the subject, The Last Ditch by David Lampe, was published in 1968. Only recently have a few of the Borders bunkers come to light.
Selkirk’s bunker was discovered in March 2015, by the research team of the British Resistance Archive, and recorded on their website – www.coleshillhouse.com – named after the British Resistance’s training school in England. The historically sensitive site’s exact location is still secret, but the website discloses it sits in once-thick woodland, “within a high plateau with commanding views. Looking west the town of Selkirk can just be glimpsed. The patrol base is situated near to the other Borders patrols of Newtown St Boswells to the east and Galashiels to the north.”
Out of the four Operational Patrols in Borders Group 3b - Selkirk, Lauder, Galashiels and Bowland - Selkirk’s is the only Operational Base to be found so far. Nearby, a similar horseshoe-shaped OB was discovered in Newtown St Boswells in 2013 “in a remarkable state of preservation”, still complete with its chemical toilet and escape tunnel, somewhere near the disused railway line – one of the targets for its patrol to blow up, equipped with plastic explosives, detonation cords and time switches.
Selkirk’s saboteurs’ bunker, once the discoverers shimmied down the narrow entrance shaft into “inky blackness” last month, was also found to be in “a very good state of preservation”, opening up into an arched main chamber of standing height, adorned with “graffiti of mixed genre”, cables for internal lighting, bunk beds, a fire, fresh water tank and ventilation pipes.
“The construction and use of material is impressive,” the site explains, “and the layout and design of this OB utilised a few thousand bricks used during its construction, as well as the corrugated sheeting, which would have needed a good cover story for any nosey locals.”
According to the website, the Selkirk Patrol was inaugurated in early 1941, and must have formed a lethal Dad’s Army, composed of Cpl. J. Walker, Pte. W. Reid, Pte. A. Dryden, Pte. J. McKnight and Pte. A. Hunter, led by bank manager Sgt. J. Allen. They were equipped with a Thomson submachine gun, plus six sten-guns, service revolvers and fighting knives.
From his St Boswells HQ, Major Peter Forbes, who died aged 95 in 2009, was tasked with setting up patrols in the Borders either side of road and rail main arteries. The Selkirk Branch was close by at Boleside, the intermediate station at Lindean, as the Selkirk branch serviced the other Border stations including Galashiels and Newtown St Boswells. In all there were approximately 650 men who were in the Auxiliary Units in Scotland. Men, who by day farmed the land, tended the sheep or managed industry, and come the invasion would have slipped into that dark night, possibly never to be seen again.