Some 60 years after the last shot of World War Two had been fired, heavily armed and battle-hardened SS soldiers were spotted by eagle-eyed locals prowling the local countryside as if Philip K. Dick’s 'The Man in the High Castle' had become a nightmarish reality.

The jackboots were in fact finally pounding British soil for a good reason. They belonged to actors who were starring in the film Resistance which was being shot in the locality.

Based on the novel of the same name by Abergavenny author Owen Sheers, 'Resistance' asks what would have happened if the D-Day landings had failed and the Nazis had invaded and occupied Britain?

To those of us who were born after the war, when allied victory had been assured for a good number of years and merged into unquestionable fact, the question may sound far-fetched. Yet in the doubt and uncertainty of the conflict, the question of what Britain’s Plan B would be if the German army ever got a foothold on Albion’s fair Isle, was a perpetual concern for the British government and military top brass.

So much so, that silent and unrecognized groups of men were formed across Britain like a particularly lethal and highly effective branch of Dad’s Army.

( Hands up who knows what type of gun this is? Public Domain)

These men made up the Auxiliary Units. They were formed in 1940 when Britain looked in dire danger of losing the war. They were equipped with extremely dangerous and advanced infantry weaponry.

Regular army grenades came with seven-second fuses. The Auxiliary Unit’s grenades would explode after four seconds. This put the thrower in increased danger but there was a lot less chance the enemy would be able to throw a grenade back.

Every man in the Auxiliaries also carried a very generous quantity of rum. This unusual piece of kit was not for recreational use. In the event of a German invasion, the men were given a life expectancy of 12 days. They had strict orders to never surrender and to evade capture whatever the cost. In the worst-case scenario, they were ordered to shoot one another or blow themselves up. Here’s where the rum would have been a handy friend.

In the worst-case scenario, they were Britain’s last line of defence. Without them, the UK would face immediate capitulation to Hitler and his Nazi hordes.

Thankfully they were never called upon to act, but throughout the war, the secret guerrilla army was on standby to leave their families and jobs at a minute’s notice. They would then flee to their secret operational hideaways and prepare to defend this island against the enemy.

The vantage points and hidden places of Monmouthshire provided an ideal place for the Auxiliary Units.

( We shall fight them on the village greens! Public Domain )

Abergavenny man George Vater was 17 years old when the local Auxiliaries came calling upon his services. He was recruited by an eccentric intelligence officer called John Todd, who was better known by his slightly absurd alias - ‘Tommy Atkins.’

Atkins had an unusual method of selecting the right candidates for the job. He would summon them to a pub and ply them with beer. When someone left to use the convenience he would make a mental note to strike them off his list.

Why? Because in his own words, “These weak-bladdered sorts are not to be trusted.”

George passed the ‘great urinal test’ and after being interrogated fully about his life was asked if he wanted to serve King and Country.

George explained, “Atkins pulled a little ivory-plated Bible from his pocket and said, ‘Put your hand on this and swear after me.’

I swore the oath of allegiance and was informed of other duties I would be asked to do. I then had to sign the Official Secrets Act and was told from there on in nothing bearing my name was to be written down. There was to be no writing whatsoever.”

The Auxiliaries were sent to a secluded stately home in Wiltshire called Coleshill House. There they were trained in sabotage, martial arts, and killing.

The secrecy of what they were doing must have been a hard cross to carry. Especially when they were taunted as healthy young men who were not “doing their bit.”

George often ran into trouble with his family for unexplained and constant late nights. His girlfriend also couldn’t understand why he refused to attend Saturday night dances with her.

Like other agents recruited from the local area by Atkins, George was busy training, which was not without its initial hiccups. Lessons were learned fast and hard, as George recalled, “Atkins told me that any messages I received from him would contain the word ‘precisely’. One day I was given a message by a chap called Gower Rees who revealed it had come from Atkins. I took the message to Llantilio in the dead of night and nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand unexpectedly upon my shoulders. It was Atkins. He asked what I was doing. I replied I was delivering the message he had sent me. He reminded me of the word that should be in the message and asked me if it was. I said ‘No!’ He curtly replied, ‘Precisely! Now leave.’”

Wearily George turned to trudge the long miles home as Atkins jumped into his car and sped off into the waiting night.

The local clergy were considered ideal candidates for the Auxiliary Units. And the likes of Tommy Atkins valued the men of the cloth’s ability to roam the countryside without courting suspicion.

( The last one over buys the beer! Public Domain )

The Rev Cecil Gower-Rees of Llanarth, the Rev Vincent Evans of Llanddewi Rhydderch, and the Rev Richard Sluman of Llantilio Croesenny all possessed .3 calibre rifles, fully equipped with telescopic lenses and silencers. Presumably, these well-respected and god-fearing pillars of the community were all ready to commit the ‘ultimate sin’ if the King and country dictated it. Like a rural low-key version of James Bond, the Rev Richard Shulman also had a two-band radio safely stashed away beneath his altar. And the icing on this particular cake was the 40-foot ariel concealed behind the steeple’s lightning conductor.

The Rev Gower-Rees once proved his natural aptitude as an intelligence gatherer during a visit to a nearby camp of American troops. Upon meeting the Commanding Officer, the Rev extended a warm welcome to all his men to attend the forthcoming Sunday service.

To which the friendly but brash American replied, “Well it had better be a big goddamn church Vicar, because do you know how many men I’ve for under my command here?”

Playing dumb, the canny churchman shook his head. Not missing an opportunity to show off, the American officer proudly listed not only the unit but the size, the State from whence it came, and what exactly they were going to do when they met the Nazis.

Needless to say, the Rev Gower-Rees got a big slap on the back from Chief Atkins for a job well done. Even if it was only a practice run.

Described as one of the great ‘What if’ stories of the war. The question of what George and the thousands like him could have possibly done against the might of the German Blitzkrieg is one that was thankfully never asked by the fickle whim of fate.

George explained, “We were shown a list of people in the neighbourhood likely to be well-disposed toward the Germans. If we ever got firm evidence that they were collaborating I was going to be the sharpshooter.”

Fortunately for George and others like him, such terrible scenarios never troubled British shores.

The men of the Auxiliary Units were certainly ready and willing, but just how able was never put to the test.

It’s safe to say they would have fought to their last breath. They were hand-picked for a reason and like Dylan Thomas once said, they would “not go gently into that good night.”

Yet it wasn’t just the Auxiliary Units that would have been relied on to resist the Nazis if they ever managed to invade our island.

If you were aged between 17 and 65 years old during the war and ‘capable of free movement’, you’d have been eligible to join the ‘Look, duck and vanish’ boys. Also known as ‘Dad’s Army’, also known as the Home Guard.

( I’m not sure about these swimming caps boys! Public Domain )

By July 1940, there were over half a million Local Defence Volunteers. And a small portion of that number came from Abergavenny.

Local man Viv Sadler’s father was one of the first to sign up for the Home Guard. In those days the kit was pretty non-existent and everyone was expected to pitch in. Sadler’s dad donated a long overcoat and shotgun to the cause. A fellow recruit was given the overcoat to wear. Unfortunately, he was a much shorter fellow than the overcoat’s original wearer and it hung around his ankles making him look like a monk with Mafioso aspirations.

As tick followed tock the Home Guard were issued with a better quality of kit, namely Canadian Ross rifles.

The Chronicle reported that in September 1940 two of the Local Defence Volunteers had represented Abergavenny at Osterley Park training school, where they were teaching men to be “first-class irregulars.”

The paper also reported that the local recruits were being trained in, “The modern methods of warfare including anti-tank warfare, bomb-throwing, stalking, rifle fire and other points in attack and defense.”

George Cobourne remembers training with broom handles in the early days but said, “We took it seriously as if we were to meet the enemy.”

David Edwards recalls seeing a highly peculiar grenade during his time with the Home Guard. And one he would never see elsewhere. Even during his later service with an infantry regiment.

Mr Edwards explained, “It was like a large toffee apple. A glass sphere covered with a thick layer of strong glue. This was covered with a thin metal casing which was split into two halves. This was attached to a handle. In order to use a grenade a clip was removed from the handle and the metal cover was taken off. Holding down a lever that activated the fuse detonator the toffee apple grenade was smashed onto the target where it stuck, then exploded several seconds later. We smashed the grenades onto a large tree and were told to walk, not run, back into the trench nearby before it exploded. There was just enough time to get back to the trench before the actual explosion.”

Dad’s Army was renowned for its diverse range of homemade weapons. The Abergavenny branch appeared to excel at innovating things that went boom - courtesy of the Jones brothers.

In 1979 when excavations began on what is now the Tesco’s site, 86 small petrol bombs were discovered on what had once been the old garage run by Walter and Doug Jones.

Walter was an inventor. Once he even created a blueprint for an anti-bomber parachute bomb and even sent the designs to Churchill. Winston was probably a bit too busy to reply.

Doug Jones on the other hand used his expertise to supply armored cars to the Home Guard. His cars complete with turrets in which were mounted Lewis machine guns were the talk of the town. They may not have frightened the Germans but they certainly frightened the poor souls who had to drive them. Doug would take a car weighing one ton and by the time he had finished his modifications, it would weigh perhaps three to four tonnes, but without any changes whatsoever made to the brakes, steering, or suspension.

The Chronicle of February 19, 1943, gave due credit to the 11th Battalion Monmouthshire Home Guard for its performance in manoeuvres where three companies had attacked Nantyglo, Blaenavon, and Pontypool.

The notorious ‘Battle of Abergavenny’ took place in April of that year. Where ‘A’ and ‘C’ companies had to defend the town against the invading hordes of airborne enemy troops.

(My gun’s bigger than yours old boy! Public Domain)

There was a three-pronged attack from the Skirrid in the East, the Old Hereford Road in the North, and the Chain in the North West.

The Chronicle noted in October 1943 that the Home Guard had come a long way from the early days when a single man armed only with a wooden truncheon was expected to defend a power station.

By October 1943 they had come from sharing shotguns and overcoats to boasting an impressive arsenal that contained Vickers machine guns, Browning machine guns, Lewis guns, sten guns, all kinds of automatic weapons, mortars, anti-tank weapons, a dozen kinds of bombs, and the Mills 36 grenade.

On December 8, 1944, the Chronicle announced the final parade and stand-down of the 11th Monmouthshire battalion of the Home Guard. The tide of war had turned. The sounds of jackboots on home turf and SS soldiers goose-stepping through the streets of Abergavenny had become as remote as Hitler shaving off his curious facial hair. Dad’s Army was put at ease.