Lancashire At War.co.uk
Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire
Secret World War Two Sites - our "secret army"
The Mellor "Tommy Gun"
the following text taken from the The Old Vicarage, Mellor 2000 and 2001 Season Interim Report written and compiled by Stuart Holden:
"3.4.8 During the summer of 2001 members of the Marple Active Volunteer Initiative
Squad, together with professional Firefighters from Marple Fire Station and headed
by Peter Clarke, endeavoured to establish the origins of the well in the triangular field
to the north of the Old Vicarage gardens. After lowering the depth of water and
removing the stone debris, the silts were dredged out and sieved.
3.4.9 Numerous artefacts were recovered however most dated back only to the last century.
These included a plastic comb-complete with case, a penny whistle, a pocket watch
and around three hundred rounds of ammunition-most still live. This complimented
the ‘Tommy’ gun retrieved from there some years before by Professor and Mrs
Hearle. During the Second World War the well was used to stockpile weapons in
order to fight a guerilla war, should England be invaded. As they were retrieved, some
fell down into the water below."
See photos of the dig at the well here:
The above website link includes the following further information:
"It was then that the first handful of live bullets was revealed, to be followed by more and more until we had nearly a bucket full of live World War II ammunition. There were two different types, most appeared to match the sub-machine gun found years earlier but there were also some larger calibre rounds that were similar to those used in Officer's pistols during the First World War. maybe there's one of those down there but we didn't find it today"
Here is a bit more from the site:
"Not knowing what to do with the large bucket of live ammunition collected from the well, Ann contacted the local Police to enquire about disposing of it safely. Initially they were a little perplexed but eventually agreed that they could do this. Having negotiated this hurdle, Ann decided to mention the Thompson Sub-machine gun. This was less well received and within 10 minutes three Police Land Rovers and six policemen (including a Tactical Armed Response Unit!) had descending on the Old Vicarage. Fortunately after examining the gun, which is so rusty there is no risk of it ever being fired again, the Officers allowed Ann to keep it."
Auxiliary Units were effectively a “secret army”, trained to give covert resistance if Britain was invaded by the Germans. They would operate in the area where the occupying army was and participate in guerilla like tactics. Drawn from all walks of civilian life, they would be expected to attack military vehicles, destroy ammunition dumps, wreck railway tracks and disable enemy aircraft that were on the ground.
There were two types of units. The first was ‘A’ Auxiliary Units (later called Operational Patrols). Consisting of a small group of between four to eight men they would be responsible for an area of 15 miles around their base. They would be completely isolated from other auxiliary units, not even knowing the names of the people in the neighbouring ones. If Britain was invaded, the unit members were told their life expectancy would only be around two weeks. They were to stay in their designated area and if not relieved by a counter attack by the British forces, they were expected to fight until all their resources were exhausted.
The second kind of unit was Objective ‘B’ Units (later called Special Duties Section and Signals). These included both men and women and their job was to gather intelligence. They would be interested in identifying military units, their vehicles and officers. This information was passed on through the “dead letter drop”, where information could be left by them in a location to be picked up later by a runner and taken to a secret civilian radio operator.
Auxiliary Units were given intensive guerilla training. Many were trained at Coleshill House GHQ while others were trained closer to their homes. They were issued with truncheons, knives, pistols, .22 rifles, Thompson submachine guns, Sten guns and explosives. It’s thought there were 500 operational bases built in local woodlands for them by the Royal Engineers. They also had hidden observation posts. Many of these bases and posts have still not been found.
The nature of their secret role meant that many did not tell their partners or other family members about their training or role. It’s only in recent years that information has started to emerge about the dedication and bravery of the men and women who were prepared to risk everything if the worse happened and Britain was invaded.
In Lancashire, information about the activities of Auxiliary Units is understandably scarce. In fact, the map from the British Resistance Archive at Coleshill (see website below) shows them to be concentrated on the East and South coasts, coming up as far as south Wales on the west coast. However, Ron Freethy in his book “Lancashire 1939-1945 The Secret War” gives some insight. He names Roger Fleetwood- Hesketh of Meols Hall, Churchtown as someone involved in recruitment and training. At Worden Hall, Leyland, Major Armstrong trained men in unarmed combat, camouflage and marksmanship. Freethy states that cashes of weapons, ammunition and manuals about German guns were stored at Altcar Rifle Range, to be used in the event of invasion. Similarly, Fort Crosby had ammunition dumps. For Auxiliary Unit hideouts he suggests the coal mines around Wigan and Bacup. And at Mellor, Stockport, we have the case of a Tommy and ammunition (see more below).
The Home Guard, Neil R. Storey, 2009, Shire Library
Lancashire 1939-1945 The Secret War, Ron Freethy, 2005, Countryside Books,
ABOVE: A "Tommy Gun" found at the bottom of a well in Mellor, Stockport. Part of a stash of weapons and ammunition for an secret unit in World War Two.
More information about this site can be found at the bottom of the page.
Left: The "inner ditch" at Mellor, Stockport. This rock cut ditch surrounds the site of the Iron Age Hillfort / defended farmstead.
This site is in a prominent position with views all across Greater Manchester and Lancashire. A stonesthrow away from this ditch is the well in the "triangular field" where the Tommy Gun was found.
This is a wonderful site and it is easy to see why it was re-used through 10,000 years of occupation.
We were recently contacted by Malcolm Atkin, author of 'Fighting Nazi Occupation: Planning for British Resistance 1939-45'. His book details the difference between Auxiliary Units and those of the SIS (MI6). In short, the SIS units were citizens bearing arms for a long term engagement, whereas the Auxiliary units were a short term commando force in uniform. There is much misunderstanding of the roles and existence of these different groups. Mr Atkin believes the finds at Mellor, Stockport belonged to an SIS unit. Once we have read his book we may well change some of the text below, which was written a year or so ago.
The site of the well where the Tommy Gun and ammunition were found.
What a fantastic view this site has across to Manchester and Stockport and beyond.
Update June 2019
We found this important reference on P18 of The Mellor Archaeological Trust's 2002 publication 'The Hillfort At Mellor Excavations 1998-2002':
"Eric Knussen who lived in the Old Vicarage in his late teens has written:- "During the war of 1939-1945, I served for some years in the Home Guard. Our main task being to relieve the Army of routine duties such as guarding factories, strategic bridges and in the event of an invasion, holding German invaders until our Regular Army arrived. No doubt it was the success of the French Underground which prompted the establishment of secret weapon dumps.
It was in this respect, and knowing that I lived at the Old Vicarage, considered at the time to be in a remote area that I was asked if I knew of any discreet places where guns could be stored. My suggestion of 'our well' was approved, whereupon one Sunday night, I lifted the slab covering it and in smuggler's fashion a line of men approached in silence, holding bundles to the one storing said down the steps of the well. All this was done without the knowledge of my family. Early in 1945 the weapons were recovered again at night, but with an occasional splash as something fell or was dropped in the water."
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