Chelmsford Patrol

County Group
Locality

Chelmsford is the county town of Essex.

Patrol members
Name Occupation Posted from Until
Captain Harold Cowell Berry

Production and Radio Engineer

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Sergeant William Theodore McNab

Production and Radio Engineer

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Bernard Charles Ager

Production and Radio Engineer

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Philip Walter Bartle

Technical Assistant Wireless Communication AFS Marconis WT Co Chelmsford

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Rodney Martin Carter

Scientific & Electrical Apparatus

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Herbert William Pratley

Wireless Engineer

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Arthur George Taylor

Railway Clerk

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Operational Base (OB)

This was a typical pattern OB with an elephant shelter and an escape tunnel. The Patrol dug the hole for the shelter. Regular troops came and installed the shelter and the Patrol back filled the soil. The escape exit was camouflaged. When the Patrol first moved in, they had a housewarming party, but noticed the candle flames getting smaller and smaller as all the oxygen was used up by the seven men and the paraffin stove keeping them warm!

It was built in woodland near what is now Hanningfield reservoir, this only being created in the 1950s. The OB was apparently still in existence in the 1980s, though cannot now be located.

The OB was supplied with a first aid kit and an Elsan. They also had a heating stove and primus for cooking, with a Tilley lamp for lighting.

OB Status
Location not known
Location

Chelmsford Patrol

Patrol Targets

With the Patrol having special knowledge of the Marconi works it is likely they would have been involved in sabotage at this site. Local railway and road links would also have been targets.

Training

The Patrol practiced creeping through the undergrowth to shoot numbered cards 1 foot high, these being guarded by observers. If they spotted the Patrol members they had to give themselves up.

On another exercise various Patrols were reaching a common set of coordinates from various points. The Chelmsford men found themselves working along a field at the base of some gardens. A dog started barking at them, but it was the dog that was chastised by its owner and taken into the house. For the last hundred yards of the exercise they found themselves following a trail of feathers, finding a plucked chicken at the destination. A valuable prize when meat was rationed.

Philip Bartle recalled the Patrol travelled by car to Wiltshire for a large meeting, presumably attending Coleshill House for a training course. This included some formal "square bashing", memorable as they needed to clean their boots. There were also target shooting exercises and unarmed combat sessions. Berry did a weekend course at Coleshill in March 1942 and again in November 1943. MacNab went on the same initial course, but returned on 10th March 1944.

They also travelled to the Essex HQ at River House, Earls Colne for training sessions.

Weapons and Equipment

The men each had standard battle dress, forage caps and steel helmets, gas masks and boots. They also had a length of hessian used to camouflage boiler suits.

The records held by Keith Seabrook were extremely detailed and provide a precise account of the equipment for every Patrol Member. We even know their uniform measurements (the shortest man was 5’ 10”, the tallest 6’ 2” for example). Each man had a Battledress blouse and trousers, forage cape, leather boots, overcoat, belt, holster and anklets (the last all marked “w” – presumably meaning web rather than leather). Each man had a field dressing, 2 GS Blankets, Ointment AG3 (antigas), a ground sheet, respirator (gas mask), denim suit, rubber boots and a cap badge. They had 4 each of the Hoe Guard, Essex and 202 uniform badges and 6 sets of eye shields. They also had a steel helmet, face veil (a head size camo net), haversack, mess tin, lanyard and knife. A personal steriliser set was recorded as being handed back in August 1944 by each man.

Each man had a revolver, which was little used. The records show they had 36 rounds of ammunition each. They are recorded as being SWS, presumably Smith and Wesson Short, except for Prattley, who had a “C”, presumably Colt. They also each had a fighting knife. MacNab made his own version before any Official issue was made.

The Patrol had a .22 rifle and this was used heavily thanks to the donation by a local Army unit of ammunition that had been in an air raid and water damaged. A certain proportion of rounds didn't fire and they would have to wait a while before reloading. 3 or 4 members of the Patrol could manage 10 shots in a 1/2 inch group. This is recorded as having aperture sights and a silencer and serial number 498, but seems to have been replaced by another with a telescopic sight, serial number 184. The Patrol had an official issue of 200 rounds of ammunition for this.

The patrol leader had a Tommy Gun, serial number 153340. They also had two .300 Ross rifles, serials 398765 (Carter) and 259746 (MacNab then Prattley), each with 100 rounds, sling, oil bottle and pull through. Taylor was issued with a .300 Springfield 05835 and 500 rounds.

There were extensive supplies of explosives. The Patrol had four Aux Units Mark 1 and 15 Mark 2 packs (each contained 20lbs polar gelignite, 100 detonators and various booby trap devices). The Patrol did not receive plastic explosive. They had 50 each of the pull and pressure switches and 20 release switches. They had 72 No 36 Mills grenades and also Smoke grenades. They had a monocular (72707), torch (201441) and two field telephones (62917 & 62738) all recorded as being handed in August 1944.

Thus we have an extremely detailed account of what one patrol was issued with.

Other information

As the Patrol leader at the end of the war, MacNab received stand down letters for each member of his Patrol from his Group Commander Keith Seabrook.

This letter, dated December 22nd 1944, some time after the official stand down, confirms when these documents were distributed. Seabrook also makes reference to his award – he had received the MBE (Military Division) in the Home Guard honours list, for his work as Group Commander. He also mentions certificates, which are likely the Home Guard service certificates issued to all members of the Home Guard, including Auxiliary Units.

 

 

References

TNA ref WO199/3389

Hancock data held at B.R.A

1939 Register

The Book of Chelmsford, Gilbert Torry, 1985
Personal Correspondence with Dave McNab
Correspondence between Defence of Britain Project and Philip Bartle and the wife of Bernard Ager
Keith Seabrook’s notebooks (copies held by Essex Record Office)