At the final meeting of the Alnwick and District Local History Society season, the guest speaker was Bill Ricalton, who gave an excellent, illustrated talk on ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’.
At the outbreak of the Second World War the coastline of Britain was preparing for a possible invasion from Germany. The concrete cubes along the beaches are evidence of the early defensive preparations as there was the justifiable fear that an invasion could take place along the exposed six miles of Druridge Bay.
What the general public were not aware of was that from within the local population, friends, neighbours and relatives – men and women – were being secretly recruited as a defence force.
This auxiliary band, without official names and numbers, were trained in Fife and returned to the community. They were known within the service as ‘stay behinds’, who would remain if and when the local population were safely evacuated.
The clandestine force would occupy underground bunkers and have hand weapons to attack the invaders and disrupt their movement. The bunkers that housed up to eight defenders are still situated in wooded areas and fields around Northumberland.
For a short period in the 1940s the intelligence officer who commanded the units was actor Anthony Quayle, a military hero in real life, as well as on the silver screen.
There was enough food in the bunkers for three weeks, but the ‘stay behinds’ were told that their life expectancy would be two weeks following an invasion.
Mr Ricalton has been unearthing Churchill’s secret army for the past 25 years and displayed photographs that showed many well-known local residents, long since passed away, who had covert ‘double’ lives.
Now, at this meeting over 70 years after the war, there was a recognition and acknowledgement of the bravery of those last-ditch defenders, who were thankfully never called into service.
The next meeting will be on Tuesday, September 26, when our speaker will be Mike Fraser, who will talk on ‘The Forgotten Northumbrian Appeaser – Viscount Runciman of Doxford’s Mission to Czechoslovakia in 1938’.