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Frank William Stone and Sutton Patrol

Frank William Stone of Yewcroft, Church Hill, Shepherdswell was the third son of Mr & Mrs H. Stone. On Monday 10th April 1939, he married, at Eythorne Church, Amy Gwendoline Bradley the daughter of Mrs Bradley (Florence 1872 -1954) and the late Mr G. Bradley (George 1875 – 8th October 1918) who lived at Langdown House in Upper Eythorne (now No 1 Sandwich Road and on the roundabout). The Bradley family were from Staffordshire originally, moving to Eythorne in 1914, and were well known in the village. One of Amy’s brothers, Frederick owned a newsagents and tobacconist located in a building next door to Langdown House (see picture of 1936, the edge of Langdown House to the right) and another, George, a cycle shop on Chapel Hill. Amy’s brother’s, Ernest, had been killed, age 27, in a motorcycle accident in August 1935 whilst serving in the Mobile Section of the Kent County Constabulary (Frank Stone was at the funeral). Edward and Norman were her two other surviving brothers. At some point, probably very shortly after the wedding, Frank moved in with his new wife in Langdown House.
On the 14th of July 1941, Private Frank William Stone became a member of Sutton Patrol of the Kent Group 4 (“Grape Group”) Auxiliary Unit. The Auxiliary Units, or GHQ (General Headquarters) Auxiliary Units, were specially-trained, highly-secret, quasi military units created during the Second World War with the aim of using irregular warfare in response to a possible invasion of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. Those chosen for this role (and they were personally selected) were often farmers or landowners, many in reserved occupations, with a good knowledge of the local area and physically capable of living rough and living off the land, fighting and harassing enemy forces and creating as much havoc as possible. The Auxiliary name was deliberately chosen to hide the true nature and purpose of these units.
Everything about them was highly secret. Nobody was to know of the men’s role, not even their wives and family. If the invasion came they would simply disappear to to take up their assigned roles. Each member was required to sign the Official Secrets Act before joining. Most members of the Auxiliary Units carried the secret of their involvement to their graves. Service in the Auxiliary Units was expected to be highly dangerous, with a projected life expectancy of just twelve days for its members, with orders to either shoot one another or use explosives to kill themselves if capture by an enemy force seemed likely
These men, who would be answerable to GHQ Home Forces, were organised as if they were part of the local Home Guard. However, they were not in the Home Guard and their level of training and the quantity and quality of their equipment in many ways exceeded that of the regular army. The men chosen to be in the Auxiliary Units were provided with Home Guard uniforms as cover but without any distinguishing letters or battalion numbers of the local battalion as they were not actually a Home Guard unit. They were to be attached to battalions which had no official recognition. This meant they were not covered by the Geneva Convention and would be shot as spies if caught.
The coastal area from Sheppey to Camber was covered by five Home Guard battalions and each in turn had an Auxiliary Unit. The 5th Wingham covered the Eastry Rural District, including Sandwich, parts of the Deal area and the many small hamlets, villages and mining communities between. Identifying those who were involved in the Auxiliary Units and then to which units they were assigned is difficult as there are no comprehensive lists available due to the secrecy. Such lists that have been made since are compiled from different sources and/or by word of mouth. The 5th Wingham has 22 Auxiliary Unit members identified, there being more than one patrol and each had their own operational base. The patrols (codenames in brackets) were Ash (marrow), Sutton (stoat, later shallot), Bridge (swede), Wickhambreaux (mustard) and Bekesbourne (mint) and were part of Kent Group 4 (“Grape Group”). Each patrol had a leader and six or seven members. Such were the levels of secrecy, that the members of one patrol did not know who was in the other patrols.
Auxiliary Unit hideouts or Operational Bases (OBs) were the place to which the “resistance men” would go to in the event of an invasion and were the places they would eat, sleep and lie low and prepare for missions. They were usually at least one mile from the shore as it was supposed that mustard gas would be used on the beaches. It was assumed that, in the event of an invasion, any standing building would be unsuitable as an operational base therefore some form of hide or concealed base was therefore essential if the patrol was to function at all. For obvious reasons, munitions and explosives were usually cached in a location other than the OB.
Sutton Patrol’s OB was in a plantation of larch trees near Telegraph Farm between Sutton and Betteshanger. It was built by the Royal Engineers and located near a wood called Jaydens Plantation. (This wood no longer exists and apparently the OB was destroyed in 1984). Thanks to an interview given by one Sutton Patrol member, Walter Stephen Joffre “Joff” Stiles (a farmer of Upper Farm, Church Hill, Sutton ) to the Imperial War Museum in 1994, we have a good description of this OB (see picture). “It was an underground chamber inside a chalk pit filled with brambles. Most of the spoil was taken to another chalk pit and scattered. Some spoil was mixed with dead leaves and foliage and farmyard rubbish, such as old rusty metal and tins cans, to give the appearance of an old dump. It was squarish with a tunnel at each end. The entrance lid had wire netting woven with foliage and dead leaves to create a pile of leaves. Originally it was made with green and untreated birch uprights, but these started to rot, so we replaced them ourselves with iron uprights bolted together and sheets of corrugated iron. This was quite a job as we had to chip out the chalk again. It collapsed after the war when the plantation was grubbed up. We used it once a fortnight to ensure it was OK. We kept away from it at all other times to prevent being noticed. Some of the children from Northbourne knew the OB was under construction, so the Royal Engineers put the frighteners on them”.
“We had another one alongside the main Dover Road (A256) and there was a two-man Observation Post in an old strip of woodland on the Northbourne Estate. There was a big pine tree. The branches were taken off and drilled out. Steel pins were driven into the tree and the branches put back on. They looked dead.”
“In the event of an invasion we were to go on foot to the OB. We would let the enemy go by and then destroy supply dumps in the rear. We were very confident we could do the job. We would not have lasted long, maybe 10 days if lucky. Hopefully, we could have slipped away and escaped to our own lines”.
Another interviewed member of Sutton Patrol, Cecil Thomas “Tom” Miller (a farmer, market gardener & fruit grower of Deane Court, Eastry then Selson Farm, Drainless Road, Eastry) describes the Patrol’s purpose. “We were a sabotage group. We were to destroy supply, ammunition and fuel dumps. There was no fuel here. All of the village garages were empty. The nearest supplies were at Sandwich which would have been destroyed by the Regular Army in the event of an Invasion anyway.”
“We spent many training weekends at The Garth (Bilting near Wye, The Kent groups HQ and originally set up by Peter Fleming the brother of Ian, the well known author), using Thompson and Sten guns, grenades and explosives. There was a steam traction engine at The Garth, same weight and size as a tank. We would blow bits off it. There were lectures and demonstrations and we were given the “1937 Calendar” (a secret instruction book for the Auxiliaries, disguised as a calendar); a little handbook that gave us the low down on how to make up unit charges, fuses, detonators and primers and that told us what explosives would do.”
“We were not a fighting mob. We did not have any heavy weapons, only revolvers and explosives. We were told not to get involved in a direct fight with the enemy as we would lose. It was sabotage first, killing second. We were taught how to kill a man with a knife.”
One task that some Auxiliary Units had, or was given to other secret groups, was the assassination of potential Nazi collaborators at the time of invasion. Its not known if Sutton Patrol, or its fellow Patrols of 5th Wingham had such a remit to deal with the known collaborators in East Kent. The destruction of well appointed homes, post invasion, that might have been used by the invading army for quarters for officers was also planned.
Frank William Stone’s occupation was given as motor engineer, and as such may have been a skill which perhaps the Sutton patrol found especially useful given the patrol’s purpose. It’s not known where Frank was employed, or what his day job, was but its probable it would have been a “Reserved Occupation” meaning that he couldn’t be called up to the regular armed forces. There are instances where Auxiliary Unit members were accidentally called up but then where swiftly returned home, much to the consternation of the commanding officers of the units they were called up to who were given no explanation as to why the person had to be returned.
Frank remained part of the Sutton Patrol until the Auxiliaries were stood down in January 1944 and his service was ended in 3rd December 1944, which was when the Home Guard (the cover for the units) was officially stood down. Before this time, many Auxiliary members went on to join regular army units where their skills at sabotage and unconventional warfare were put to good use to assist with the D-Day landings and beyond, including service in the SAS. What became of Frank and his family after the war I do not know. He was born 5th October 1910 and died in 27th May 1960 at the early age of 49 and his death was registered (in June 1960) in Dover District. His wife Amy (born 20th August 1913) outlived him and died in 1987 and her death is also registered in Dover District.
Also part of Sutton Patrol, and who lived in Eythorne Parish, was William Percival “Percy” Spanton (30th November 1900 – 2nd Dec 1998). He joined the patrol in 24th Feb 1941, as a private, and also served until 3rd December 1944 (the date of the stand down of the Home Guard). In 1939 his address was Frestone, Eythorne Road, Shepherdswell and then some time after, Barfrestone Court Farm, Barfrestone. The records give his occupation given as “tractor driver” but this is a simplification/understatement as his father, William Henry Spanton, was a very well known East Kent farmer who would have been 72 in 1940 (he died 4th November 1945) and Percy, as the only son, would have been, in effect, running Barfrestone Court Farm during the war. In 1939, Percy was stated to be a voluntary ARP ambulance driver. Being a farmer was a “reserved occupation”, meaning he wouldn’t be called up to the regular army and hence was free to be an effective Auxiliary member.
Percy died on the 2nd December 1998 and is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard Barfrestone. His Gravestone is pictured.
All the members of the Auxiliary Units, and other secret groups even less well known, were remarkable people. They received no official recognition for what they did. Quoting Tom Miller: “At Stand Down we received a letter from HQ. I got a little lapel badge later on. I was not disappointed at the lack of recognition. We allowed more troops to be sent to Normandy for D-Day. It was absolutely right at the time. Our great objective was to help win the war. We were proud to do our bit.” The lapel Badge given to the auxiliaries is shown. The 203 on the badge is for “203 (GHQ Reserve) Battalion”, the Kent Auxiliary Unit’s military designation at the time. The battalions were numbered 201 (Scotland) and 202 (North and Midlands) and 203 (Southern England).
References on the Auxiliaries;
“Britain’s Secret Defences”, Andrew Chatterton, Casemate, 2022
The Invasion That Never Was”, Douglas Welby, Crabwell Publications, 2012

Vince Croud

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