Jennifer Lockley grew up in the 1950s when, one afternoon, a salesman knocked on her door.
He was pushing for pots and pans, was assertive and aggressive. Jennifer’s mother Irene tried to shut the door but he stepped in to prevent her.
Jennifer did not forget the next thing that happened. In one rapid manoeuvre, her housewife mother sent the salesman sprawling, somehow throwing him — and his pots and pans — across the front garden.
He shook himself and flew away.
Jennifer was too small then to ask her mother about it, but many years later — not long before Irene died — she summoned her daughter and, over an aperitif, told Jennifer the incredible reason that she knew how to floor a man with the flick of her wrist.
Irene was recruited to a high-ranking underground guerrilla group during World War II, known as Section VII.
Jennifer Lockley grew up in the 1950s when a salesman knocked on the doors of her family home. The salesman was pushing and aggressive and selling pots, pans, and other household items. Jennifer’s mother Irene (pictured) tried to shut the door but he stepped in to prevent her. Jennifer will never forget what transpired next. In one rapid manoeuvre, her housewife mother sent the salesman sprawling, somehow throwing him — and his pots and pans — across the front garden
She and her fellow recruits — many of them teenagers like her — all signed the Official Secrets Act, and most never breathed a word about their clandestine wartime activities, which have remained largely hidden from view until now.
Some, like Irene confided their secrets right before they were killed.
Andrew Chatterton is the author of Section VII. This book, Britain’s Secret Defences, reveals this fascinating chapter in the war.
We know about the resistance networks who spied on and sabotaged the German occupation in countries such as France, Holland and Poland, and the brave men and women of SOE — the Special Operations Executive — sent from Britain to work with them.
These resistance networks were primarily formed after the Germans won.
However, the British determined they’d be better equipped with their resistance network in place should Germany invade.
Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, learned that SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service — aka MI6 — had planned to set up resistance networks in Europe, but the German invasion had been so swift that they had not had a chance to implement them.
These could, surely, be modified for Britain in case of invasion by Germany, as Eden thought.
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, enthusiastically agreed.
Irene was recruited to a secret underground guerrilla group during World War II, known as Section VII. Pictured: Members of the Girls’ Training Corps, Liverpool, marching past saluting crows
Ian Fleming’s brother Peter, who worked for a secret unit within the War Office, MI(R) — Military Intelligence (Research) — was then tasked with setting up secret Auxiliary Units that would delay the German advance by blowing up airfields, for instance, and fighting to the last.
Some of the recruits were poachers, farmers, gamekeepers, or hunters who had previously been trained to use explosives. The recruits included fresh-faced teens.
They were all trained in gunfire, demolishment and silent killing. They were to operate in cells from underground bunkers known as Operational Bases (OBs), equipped with enough ammunition and supplies to last two weeks — such would be their life expectancy.
These units were basically military suicide squads.
Military Intelligence also established a Special Duties Branch in July 1940. It included approximately 3,250 civilians and men.
The groups consisted of an ‘Key Man,’ observers, runners, and wireless operators.
It was their job to transmit information regarding the invaders to British troops, wherever they had been withdrawn.
Section VII is perhaps the most interesting of these underground group.
Section VII, which was tasked to slow down the German invasion, was concentrated along the coast. The Auxiliary Units (and Special Duties Branch) were designed to be operational post-invasion all over German-occupied Britain and survive for months, if not years, undercover.
Section VII recruits received training in unarmed combat, demolition and silent killing methods such as garrotting. Photo: This is a photo of a knuckle brush that Section VII used.
In the summer of 1940 when invasion appeared imminent, three SIS officers began recruiting for, and training, this new unit — initially composed of only six agents in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, Somerset, Cornwall and Devon.
The trial of ‘Plan 333’, in which agents sent messages to each other was a success was deemed a success and the network expanded to include 24 agents and more groups.
Andrew Chatterton writes that SIS envisions ‘a scenario when the British have been defeated militarily, and the Royal Family is whisked off out of country (probably Canada), and Churchill lies dead in the burning ruins Whitehall.
Although Section VII would be at the bottom during an actual invasion of Britain, once the Germans had established their occupying administration they would get to work, sending messages from Britain and executing acts resistance.
As the French Resistance did, these operatives could hide from public view, continuing to live their everyday lives with great risk.
Section VII recruited were taught how to demolish, use unarmed combat, and other silent killing methods such as garrotting.
They learned to create Molotov cocktails that would destroy tank turrets and how to attack factories, petrol stations, and other facilities to prevent the Germans from using them.
It is thought that some women were even recruited as ‘honeytraps’ — enticing German soldiers to their deaths.
There is no record of the personnel, so it is impossible to know how many Section VII agents were there.
Chatterton thinks they worked in four- or five-person cells, with many teenagers like Irene Lockley who joined when she was 18.
These people were required to fill the gaps in their eligibility to join the regular force because they aren’t eligible due to age or occupation. They would then be called up to fight an invasion.
‘Teenagers had the naivety of youth — you could ask them to do something dangerous that someone older might have second thoughts about,’ says Chatterton.
“They were both fit and active as well as patriotic. A lot of them were already in cadet forces and had learned to shoot — they were recruited as snipers,’
There was a key man who chose the recruits for each area. Some cells contained friends and families.
As the French Resistance they were at high risk of being arrested, tortured, and murdered. Chatterton says that agreeing to be a part of Section VII was an act of bravery.
Irene Lockley, a North Yorkshire villager, was recruited to a unit where other members of her extended family were also involved.
Although her father was a member of the Home Guard, he was quiet told that he should be inactive during invasions so that he would survive and carry out resistance work.
Ian Fleming’s brother Peter, who worked for a secret unit within the War Office, MI(R) — Military Intelligence (Research) — was tasked with setting up secret Auxiliary Units that would delay the German advance by blowing up airfields, for instance, and fighting to the last. Pictured: A shot inside an intact Auxiliary Unit Bunker in Devon
Her uncle, a butcher by trade, was an expert in the execution of murder.
They met under an archway that lead to an underground chamber, which contained a wireless. Irene was taught Morse code here.
Section VII recruits received training locally, unlike the Auxiliary Units who had to be trained in a secret location at Coleshill, Oxfordshire.
‘They were taught gritty, dirty fighting,’ says Chatterton: ‘How to use a cheesewire to garrotte someone and a dagger to slit throats, and how to disarm or disable an enemy with unarmed combat’ — a skill that Irene evidently retained.
According to MI6 history, only those who could “by the nature” of their occupation’remain in enemy-controlled territory without suspicion were eligible for recruitment.
Doctors, dentists, chemists, bakers and small shopkeepers were ideal — they could move around easily and receive visits from many people without attracting suspicion. Youths could also be a part of this group.
Peter Attwater was just 14 and serving as an Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Messenger in the Derbyshire town of Matlock when, in the summer of 1940, he was approached by a local journalist and ARP organiser who had been impressed by Peter’s memory and his artistic skills — useful for sketching targets such as military installations.
Peter, who was an Air Cadet, had also been trained in wireless operation and weapons handling.
The man was then taken to “Zero Station” where he signed an Official Secrets Act. He also met two women recruits: a Mrs Key, and Miss Swans who would be serving as the wireless operator for the group.
The wireless was kept secret behind uniform racks by Mr Topliss the tailor. He led them.
Always kept near the wireless was a revolver, and a small grenade. The pin is stapled to the table so that you can quickly withdraw with one hand. There was only one escape route: through the window.
Peter served as the observer and courier for the group.
He was able to recognize the various German equipment, uniforms, and vehicles and he also learned the location of the arms dumps in the surrounding area and the caches of explosives that could be found there.
Fuel dumps were found behind Matlock town hall, including a shop stocked with two-gallon petrol containers for Molotov cocktails. There was also a stash of mortar bombs in the scrap iron dump.
In early 1941, Peter was invited to a meeting in Birmingham with six other young men — probably fellow couriers — from Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham. When the invasion started, they were to become his contacts.
Each participant received a codename. The meeting was run and managed by Peter, an ex-noncommissioned officers (NCO) who Peter called ‘the scariest man I’ve ever met’.
Many other recruits recall being taught by NCOs dressed in uniform military without any insignia.
When they met, they discussed the weather. They each had a key phrase they planned to use. This collectively spells out BRITISH. Peter was required to include the term ‘Ice’ in the conversation.
Priscilla Ross, 18 years of age, was living in Hornchurch in East London when she was recruited to a Section VII cell whose underground foundation was concealed under a grave in the church cemetery.
A Home Guard schoolboy trains young boys in World War II. This was March 1941.
To reveal the tombstone, it was lifted off. Unarmed combat was also taught to her, as well as how to make Molotov cocktails.
Others were chosen from the school cadet corps, and trained to be sharp-shooter assassins.
John Warwicker (author of Churchill’s Underground Army), claims that four boys were taken from one cadet corp and given’sophisticated instruction in marksmanship disguise, deception, and concealment’.
The weapons they received included a.22 rifle equipped with telescopic sights, explosives and an underground base.
It was never necessary to have the demolition and garrotting skills of Section VII, Auxiliary Units, or any other guerrilla unit.
Hitler canceled Operation Sealion, and Britain was never invaded.
All that remains of the clandestine guerrilla units are a few bunkers dotted around the countryside, and perhaps a cheesewire or combat knife found in an attic by mystified relations of a Section VII agent — legacies of a secret war that never was.