Admiralty 4 (Prior Park) Patrol

Locality

Prior Park is now a National Trust garden off Ralph Allen Drive, Bath.

Patrol members
Name Occupation Posted from until
Sergeant Robert William Bennett

Civil Service Royal Navy

20 Jun 1940 03 Dec 1944
Private Harry Banham

Mechanical Engineering Draughtsman

20 Jun 1940 03 Dec 1944
Private Alexander Watt Campbell 20 Jun 1940 03 Dec 1944
Private John Dilworth

Civil Servant Admiralty

21 Jun 1940 03 Dec 1944
Private Herbert Stephen Masters 04 Feb 1943 03 Dec 1944
Private Leonard Montague Pusey

Civil Servant Draughtsman Engineering Department

29 Aug 1942 03 Dec 1944
Private Herbert David Rees

Aircraft Engineering Draughtsman

10 Feb 1943 03 Dec 1944
Operational Base (OB)

The OB was constructed in an existing structure of an ice house in Prior Park which was built c1750. The Ice house is made of Bath stone.

The building that was Prior Park had been a school for many years and the grounds had long been left  to nature to reclaim. Though the ice house would have been a structure that was known about, the patrol would have been well hidden in the general decay of the gardens.

The ice house was situated just below the Ralph Allen Road and a long way from the original house which was (and still is) a Catholic boarding school.

Today Prior Park is owned by The National Trust and the gardens are open to the public. There is no public parking on site at Ralph Allen Drive. The icehouse can be viewed from the outside but there is no public access into it.

The structure in good condition but OB evidence minimal. When the structure was being renovated it was unclear to restorers what some fixings and alterations were and from what era.  The Trust then received a letter from Auxilier Dennis (Admiralty No 3 Patrol ) in 1994 explaining its war time use and he was able to confirm the layout of the operational base. Auxilier Harry Banham also explained what various fixings were for.

According to Auxilier Bob Bennett, when intact, the OB was entered via the main entrance tunnel which was a 4ft high stone lined cut in the hillside. This lead into an underground chamber approx 8ft in diameter by 12ft deep. The patrol concealed the main entrance and dug an escape tunnel. They built wooden floors and bunks and shelves.

Auxilier Harry Banham remembers building a drop down entrance shaft and using the ice house entrance as an escape tunnel.  This version is corroborated by Ron Frost who found the OB as a child. He recalls an iron ring attached to a wooden hatch cover covering a deep shaft and a wooden step ladder leading down about 10 feet to a dug out room with four bunks and a table. He remembers finding guns and ammunition.

In a newspaper interview in 1996, Bert Masters described the OB as a “noisome” place. He recalled the dank, damp smell and especially the spiders.   

What the patrol constructed whether it be entrance or exit, has been filled in.

When the OB was discovered by school boys (Ron Frost) they thought they had found a German spy hideout or something to do with the black market. They rushed to tell the police. The police informed the land owner and the Patrol found themselves on a raft of charges from trespass to damage of property to theft of timber. (The timber used to build the shaft had been acquired from the landowners stable.). When the Intelligence officer for Somerset, Ian Fenwick, arrived to deal with the situation, he had a quiet word with the land owner. Being a retired Lieutenant Colonel, the owner allowed the Patrol whatever they wanted and dropped all charges. Ron and his brothers were told NEVER to speak of it again !

The Admiralty Patrols also had a central explosives / arms store in an out building at The Royal School, Lansdown Road and according to Harry Banham another one built into the bank of the car park of The Ensleigh estate.

Patrol & OB pictures
OB Image
Caption & credit
Left to right, H.D.Rees B.E.M., L.M.Pussey, H.Banham, B.Masters, R.W.Bennet.
OB Image
Caption & credit
Admiralty Patrols 1943 to 44
OB Image
Caption & credit
CART CIO Dr WIll Ward passing through the tunnel into the main Ice House chamber, with Mrs Ward looking into it from above. (Image © DR Will Ward)
OB Image
Caption & credit
Here is a view from the base of the chamber up to the hole she is looking down. (Image © DR Will Ward)
OB Image
Caption & credit
This picture shows bricks removed from the wall to create small shelves for candles
OB Image
Caption & credit
A view down onto the circular base of chamber with a load of debris, including some of that wood. (Image © DR Will Ward)
OB Image
Caption & credit
Bank where Operational Base is in ice house
OB Image
Caption & credit
Admiralty 4 Somerset View of Bath from Prior Park
OB Image
Caption & credit
Prior Park Inside ice house
OB Image
Caption & credit
Prior Park Inside ice house showing cabels
OB Image
Caption & credit
Prior Park OB Drawing (Will Ward)
OB Image
Caption & credit
Prior Park Outside of ice house showing entrance
OB Image
Caption & credit
Prior Park Gardens
OB Image
Caption & credit
Patrol 4 1941
OB Image
Caption & credit
Patrol 4 Going to stand down
OB Status
Largely intact
OB accessibility
The OB site is publicly accessible
Location

Admiralty 4 (Prior Park) Patrol

Patrol Targets

Possibly RAF Colerne as Auxilier Bert Masters talked of a big break in there and it is known the other Admiralty Patrols were involved. 

Training

Admiralty 4 trained with the other Admiralty Patrols and sometimes along with the City of Bath Patrols. Initial training was carried out in local quarries. On one exercise they even trained with sections of the cadet force from one of the local public schools when there was 80-100 men involved.

The Patrols were sent to test the defences of the local RAF Station, all the men gained entry and plastered the aircraft with destroyed notices. The commander was even held at gun point in his office. All RAF leave was cancelled for 2 weeks.

A training target was a disused water mill on an island in the River Avon. Number 4 Patrol approached via a long heavy plank. Another patrol choose to rope themselves together and crawl along the weir.

Auxilier Bennett remembers leading the patrol crawling along in the shadow of a field hedge. Turning, he found they had been followed by a group of curious cows. 

Later, training became more commando like ie climbing cliffs and swinging over ravines.

There was a shooting competition on 20th Feb 1944 at Monkton Coombe between the Admiralty Patrols. A resounding win for Patrol 4.

Weapons and Equipment

Gelignite, plastic explosives, fuses, detonators. Also Colt, Tommy and Sten guns which they were told was a gift from New York Police Department. Phosphorous bombs came later and Auxilier Bennett can remember being trained with sticky bombs but not being issued with them.

They were also given a G licence for petrol, camouflage paint and rubber boots.

Other information

Auxilier Bert Masters joked the Auxiliers in his Patrol were “Middle-class types... not swede bashers !”

He recalled “ We were more or less told if anything happened, we'd be on our own. We did the spit and polish stuff because it kept up the fiction we were Home Guard but our REAL job was to keep our heads down – until invasion.

Any man who tells you he was not afraid is a liar”

References

TNA ref WO199/3391. WO199/3390
CART CIO for Northumberland Stephen Lewins for Nominal Rolls
Auxilier Bob Millard
List of Admiralty Auxiliers from 1950 reunion held at B.R.A
Hancock's data held at B.R.A
Images of wartime Bath
Donald Brown “Somerset V Hitler”

Auxiliers Bob Bennett and Harry Banham, The National Trust, Ron Frost, The family of Bert Masters, The Mail on Sunday 09 Nov 1996