Thundersley Patrol

Locality

The Thundersley area lies at the western end of Southend-on-Sea.

Patrol members
Name Occupation Posted from Until
Sergeant Max Edward Allen

Smallholder pig & poultry

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Sergeant Frederick Harris

Builder

1940 03 Dec 1944
Corporal Charles Pugh

Builder

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private David Stanley Antill

LDS Dental Surgeon after WW2

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Harry Blackshaw

Builder

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Stanley Hunt Duckett

Insurance agent

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private John Richard Durrell

Dairy and milk round

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Donald Arthur Handscombe

Market Gardener & Tomato Grower in Partnership with father

1940 03 Dec 1944
Private John William Hunter

Fish curer

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Private Cyril William Mummery

Landscape gardener

Unknown 03 Dec 1944
Operational Base (OB)

Don Handscombe described the Patrol OBs in 2013. The Patrol had two OBs. The first was built by the Army, but was abandoned because it kept flooding to a depth of a couple of feet.

A new OB was built a couple of miles away, in a well-drained sand pit between Hadleigh and Rayleigh by the Patrol themselves. The pieces of the Elephant shelter were delivered by the Army, but as the Patrol contained a couple of men who were bricklayers, they built the rest. This included a shaft with iron steps. Unlike many Patrols, the hatch was a simple hinged lid, not the counterweighted vertical rise type. They did not build an escape tunnel, but their escape route was along an overgrown ditch, where the vegetation formed a natural tunnel.

If you looked hard in the right place, you could just about see the entrance to the OB through the bushes. The entrance was by a field where cattle grazed, and they churned up the area under some trees by the water trough that was the route to the bunker, meaning there was no obvious track to be discovered. The Patrol also hoped that the smell of the cattle would put off any dogs being used to track them.

Once, after the war, Don went back to look for the OB, but found that it had collapsed due to rust in the corrugated iron.

Patrol & OB pictures
OB Image
Caption & credit
Essex Group 8 Patrols
OB Status
Collapsed with few visible remains
OB accessibility
This OB is on private land. Please do not be tempted to trespass to see it
Location

Thundersley Patrol

Training

Several members went to Coleshill House for training. Don Handscombe went on two occasions, the first with Fred Harris, the second being as a replacement for a Patrol Member who couldn’t make it. He remembers the first trip by train, travelling in uniform, arriving at the Post Office in Highworth, where postmistress Mabel Stranks asked for their names, then asked them to wait outside by the postbox to be collected. Don was pleased to find out that all the answers on the papers were the same as before! He stayed in the stables and remembered lots of explosive practice as well as shooting on a range. They were kept very busy and certainly didn’t get a chance to get to the pub! 

The Patrol also went to River House at Earls Colne to train.  This was the headquarters for the Essex Units. The Patrol would camp in the grounds when they visited. Most of the training there was with explosives, in an old sand pit. Don Handscombe was given the task of blowing up a dummy railway bridge as part of a demonstration for Lord Glanusk, Commanding Officer of Auxiliary Units. The Patrol were using plastic explosive for the first time and were not sure how much to use, so advised their commander to move a bit further away. Don detonated the charge using a pull switch with a long cable rather than a time pencil. The explosion was so big it blew him right off his shooting stick perch!

On another occasion the Patrol drove to Thetford for a training exercise. This of course was also where the outdoor scenes for Dad’s Army were filmed.

The Patrol used the firing range at Fambridge. This had a target that could be pulled along by two men. It was on the way to this range that the incident of being stopped by the police occurred. The back seat was covered with revolver bullets for use on the range.

Weapons and Equipment

Don Handscombe recalled the patrol being issued with .38 Colt revolvers, which were later withdraw and replaced with Smith and Wesson Revolvers. They had a .22 rifle with sniper sight and a Tommy Gun. The latter was withdrawn to be replaced with Sten Guns. The Patrol reckoned (as did many) that the cheap mass produced Sten was a better weapon than the expensive precision engineered Thompson. They also had two .303 rifles. They made their own commando knives from bayonets. A truncheon, cheese wire garrotte, and hand grenades were among other kit issued. Don recalled that all the equipment was kept at home, except the explosives which were buried.

In 1984, David Antill recalled helping to dump arms near Daws Heath Road, Thundersley, near a water tower. He also recalled having explosives, ammunition and a submachine gun hidden in his wardrobe at home.

The Patrol was issued with morphine as part of their first aid kit. However, they were also instructed how to use it on a man too badly wounded to get away from the Germans, to ensure they couldn’t be tortured to reveal information.

Their uniform was denims, the Army's dirty work fatigues. These were often in a poor state and headgear was normally a woollen hat. Footwear was either the issued rubber boots or plimsolls depending on circumstances. They also wore face veils, a camouflage mesh net used to hide the face.

Don’s son had experience of one of the .32 Colt revolvers issued to some Auxiliary Units after the war. A friend was an RSPCA inspector and was called to help at the rescue of a cow that fallen down a cliff. Don’s son was lowered down the cliff, armed with the Inspector’s .32 revolver. As it seemed they wouldn’t get the cow out, he shot it at point blank range between the eyes. As there was no apparent effect, he did the same again, with the same result. When he broke the pistol to check the rounds, a bullet fell out of its brass casing! Never a particularly powerful round, they had deteriorated since the war to be nearly useless!

 

Other information

The membership of the Thundersley Patrol has a complex history with many members, though it appears that some were discharged as not coming up to the mark, using the “returned to unit” process also adopted by the SAS and other elite units. It is difficult to know who this applied to and who served when for the most part. Don Handscombe records that at times there were as few as four men in the Thundersley patrol.

David Antill and Don Handscombe were regular attendees at reunions for Auxiliary Units in he 1990s.

Don Handscombe appeared in the Meridian TV series about the Home Guard, made by Peter Williams and Channel 4’s “The Spying Game” talking about his experiences in Auxiliary Units.

The group photo shows;

Back Row
Don Williams (Rochford), David Antill (Thundersley), Charlie Fance (Rochford), John Tomlinson (Rayleigh), Michael Ford (Hockley), Eddie Southern (Rayleigh)

Middle Row
Jack Murphy (Rayleigh), Bert Cocks (Hockley), Don Handscombe (Thundersley), Doug Cater (Rochford), George Clarke ( Hockley), George Sargeant ( Rochford)

Front Row
George Billardis (Canvey), Rupert Ives (Canvey), Jack Rodwell (Hockley), Bill Heath (AGC), Jack Ford (GC), Bob Baptie (AGC), Jack Burles (Rochford), Len Downes (Rayleigh), Fred Harris (Thundersley)

References

TNA ref WO199/3388, Hancock data held at B.R.A, 1939 Register

Evening Echo 5/6/1984 “Hunt for Army’s legacy of death”

With Britain in Mortal Danger and Churchill’s Underground Army

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