The second Battalion 202 piece in Alt Hist Issue 7 takes the form of a collection of diary entries and other sources that fill in some of the background for Jonathan Doering’s alternate history of the Nazi invasion of Great Britain.
Battalion 202: Set Britain Ablaze
by Jonathan Doering
Introduction: The following is a series of extracts from the Local History Archive in Pontefract Library, gathered together by local A-Level History teacher, Amy Storey, as part of her personal research project to offer a wider historical context for the Resistance activities which took place in the area. Editor’s notes and footnotes appear at various stages in this document. The extracts presented here deal with events on the first day of the Nazi Occupation of Britain.
Extract from the personal war-time diary of Major-General Colin Gubbins, MC and bar, CMG, BRC, BLC, Head of Special Operations Executive ‘A’ Branch (the department concerned with directing and mounting resistance activities within the British Isles), released to public scrutiny in 1995 under the Fifty Year Rule.
Editor’s Note: Gubbins had been ordered, against his own wishes, to accompany the retreating Government party north of the Border rather than, as he had requested, be left to direct unfolding Resistance activities within the Greater London area. Prime Minister Churchill required Gubbins to attend the top secret ‘Achnacarry Summit’ in the Scottish Highlands, where Cabinet and other governmental and military responsibilities were hastily assigned prior to the Government’s retreat. The following extract details some of the events at Achnacarry before Gubbins was permitted to lead a Commando team south of the Border to begin the first major action of the Occupation, codenamed ‘Bonfire’.
A bitter day. I have a strange sense of returning home1, but it is with neither delight nor relief. Owing to Achnacarry’s position in the far North of Scotland and its status as the training centre for Army Special Forces, with admirable originality the government has designated it as the centre for the British Resistance Organisation.2 The War Cabinet is convening here before dividing between those who will remain to direct operations on the ground and those who will transfer to ‘Britannia House’—the makeshift British HQ the Canadians have agreed to organise in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Certain regiments and naval formations will shortly be hived off from the final action in Britain to rendezvous in Canada. Hopefully they will be able to recoup their strength & prepare for a counter attack from Canadian soil, as well as hopefully attracting Canadian (and American?!) military, naval & aerial support. The Cabinet thinks that Achnacarry will continue to serve as some sort of training depot, as well as the nerve centre for the British resistance effort: analysing intelligence, developing tactics and strategy, and sending and directing equipment and fighters to points of particular need. Whether it will be able to remain in contact with the rest of Britain remains to be seen. German Intelligence may very well become aware of its role, and direct the Luftwaffe to extirpate it. I write this overlooking Loch Arkaig, where commando trainees have been put through their paces over the last few months, waiting for the politicians to finish dividing the spoils, slicing the cake up. If ever there was a British analogy to Nero with his bloody fiddle it’s the Bulldog3 and the rest of them, sitting around a table up in the castle gassing about spheres of responsibility.
The Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties have agreed that for the duration of the conflict, they will merge into the United Liberation Party. Portfolios are being doled out like playing cards as I write. “That one for your lot, this one for us—but of course we’re all one party for now!” Just get on & slice the bloody cake!
Extract from Volume II of Sir Winston Churchill’s Autobiography (Published by Penguin Books, 1954).
Editor’s Note: Churchill describes here some of the key decisions taken by government at the Achnacarry Summit, and his personal feelings of guilt at being obliged by colleagues to leave the British Isles. Painful though this decision must have been to take (Churchill had often declared that he would prefer to be mown down by the Nazis on the steps of the Palace of Westminster) it would have been unthinkable for the Nazis to either capture or kill him. Besides the need to avoid a damaging German propaganda coup, his original strategic thinking and indefatigable energy were needed for the exodus to ‘Britannia House’ in order to provide the momentum needed for the British Forces remnant escaping there to feel that there was any reason to fight on.
In many respects the War Cabinet’s Summit at Achnacarry resembles in my mind the Yalta Conference in importance. At a moment of national pain and grief a handful of ministers and civil servants, soldiers, pilots and sailors, gathered speedily to accomplish the reorganisation of our sovereign system of governance that had guided Britain through centuries of strife and bloodshed. Many of our colleagues and friends from government and Parliament had requested—or had been requested—to remain at their posts. The British people would need steady hands and stout hearts to gird and guide them through the dark days now looming over our nation. I have reflected a thousand times at the cruel ironies of conflict. Had the Nazi offensive been launched twelve months earlier, I myself would have been one of those remaining in London. Perhaps then I would have been able to avail myself of a Thompson machine gun and a Smith and Webley revolver, and made a final stand before the Mother of all Parliaments? The question must of course remain rhetorical. Sharp though the bane tasted, we all were required to bend our shoulders to whichever yoke circumstance laid upon us.
Having formally agreed to dissolve our constituent political parties for the duration of hostilities and establish a Party of National Liberation, we then confirmed membership of the War Cabinet as well as which ministers would remain in Britain, and which would reluctantly have to leave. It was agreed that I would continue to serve in the capacity of Prime Minister and also become Minister for the Liberation of the British Isles. Clement Attlee, one of the most capable leaders of the Labour Party movement, would become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Resistance, Information and Intelligence, and effectively the daily face of the Government-in-exile within Britain’s borders. He would also take responsibility for propaganda and all resistance actions aimed at ridding Britain of the detested Nazi blight. Harold MacMillan would remain alongside Attlee as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Minister of Supply, providing a Conservative voice within this Resistance Cabinet, and vital financial and logistical planning. He would be supported by Anthony Eden as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, maintaining links with Britannia House and the other Allied Governments-in-Exile. I realise that some have accused me of politically wrong-footing poor Anthony, by abandoning him in the Northern wastes of the Highlands for the duration of the conflict. However, I would remind those critics that Attlee’s record of service in the same time and place failed to handicap his own and his party’s electoral fortunes after the War. To this triumvirate was added the doughty Ernest Bevin as Minister of Labour, to employ his titanic gifts for organisation and direction of the labour force to frustrate and obstruct the Enemy’s plans wherever and however possible. It was felt that a balance between the two main political persuasions would be advisable for day to day management, although in the case of any tied votes, Attlee would have the deciding vote.
Alongside myself there were several other ministers and civil servants removing to Halifax. Of Cabinet rank, General Sir Alan Brooke had accepted the post of Secretary of State for War and Chief of Staff of British Forces-in-Exile and Lord Halifax as Foreign Secretary, whilst the inestimable Liberal Sir Henry Beveridge had agreed to serve as Minister for Health, Education and Welfare, and would maintain a ceaseless watching brief over the conduct of British affairs by the Nazis and their collaborators—both actual and supposed4.
Leave takings under such pressures are never measured affairs. We were a handful of the government of the country at Achnacarry; and we were shortly to voluntarily split into two smaller handfuls. I had hardly had time to come to rest in this berth, but still one or two mementoes had found their way out of my document case and onto the desk before me: a small watercolour of Chartwell; of course, the composition was idiosyncratic and the colouring slapdash, as it was my own effort. Nevertheless, as I picked it up and laid it back in the case, it was sufficiently like my Essex home to lead me to ponder if I would ever enter through her doors again. Also, two framed photographs: one of my beloved family—for whom do we fight, ultimately? The other was of my esteemed counterpart, Das Reichsführer, Adolf Hitler.
It had been brought to me courtesy of the Secret Intelligence Service. For the duration of the war SIS was tasked amongst so many other duties with bringing me every single fact concerning the lifestyle, habits, whereabouts, and actions of Hitler. If I was to defeat this madman I required every scrap of knowledge it was possible to discover about him. That photograph accompanied me across the Atlantic, and confronted me every instant that I raised my eyes from the papers upon my desk in Britannia House. The eyes were hollow, yet magnetic; the lowering gaze always said the same thing to me: I am determined to perform every action within my power to destroy you and all that you stand for. What are you determined to do?
It was a question that haunted me through the War and haunts me still.
Extract from A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing: The Biography of Clement Attlee by N. S. E. Legge (Penguin Books, 1993).
If there was a single moment when Britain shifted from a regular war-time footing to that of an occupied, insurgent nation, then it was the Achnacarry Summit. Churchill and Attlee, politically-speaking classic opponents, and yet in so many ways men of a similar, if not identical mind, had to perform so many tasks that day that had hitherto been considered unthinkable. These included the dissolution of the Conservative and Labour parties, formally making the remnants of their parties left behind in London unofficial bodies; the creation of the United Liberation Party, an obvious political manoeuvre which, although highly effective in channelling the considerable abilities from both major parties towards a common cause, still opened the way in the course of the War to much Machiavellian manoeuvrings by such Party figures as Dalton and Morrison, Eden and Halifax; and the acknowledgement that in day-to-day terms the men who had until the very day before borne full responsibility for the correct government of the United Kingdom, in some respects no longer bore that responsibility.
To all intents and purposes the nitty-gritty of daily government would necessarily be discharged by a caretaker administration, overseen by the Nazi occupiers. The Government-in-Exile would now be managing the resistance effort, as well as offering a coherent analysis of the actions of the Collaborationist government, and offering its own policies in competition to them. Not for the first time, there were malicious whispers against Attlee, suggesting that as an apparently diffident man, he lacked Churchill’s spark and charisma, thus disqualifying him for the job of leading the Resistance Cabinet. Certainly MacMillan was not the only minister who later wondered aloud if “Winston was trying to hobble Clem before the 1945 electioneering had had a chance to officially start”.
Churchill himself, although claiming the utmost respect for his Labour counterpart, is said to have introduced Attlee to Major-General Colin Gubbins, the Head of SOE’s ‘A’ Branch and mastermind of the military insurgency against the Nazis, with the words, “May I present Mr Attlee to you, Major-General. A most remarkable man. Every word of praise you have heard about him is absolutely true. All three of them.” History does not record Attlee’s response, if indeed he bothered to reply to Churchill’s needling. Time reveals all, and if Churchill proved himself to be a divisive but also determined and inspirational figure at Britannia House, so Attlee, the ‘sheep in sheep’s clothing’ in time revealed himself to be a man of quiet authority well capable of keeping the staff working with him focused and driven towards the common goal.
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