War secrets revealed in book

Bill Watson with a copy of his book 'Gone to Ground'
Bill Watson with a copy of his book 'Gone to Ground'

BEFORE his death seven years ago, Duns man Bill Watson had kept a huge secret from his family but now a book is about to be published revealing more about his time in what became known as Churchill’s Secret Army.

What had been something for Bill’s family to remember him by ended up attracting a much bigger audience after his son Lindsay put the book, called ‘Gone To Ground’ on Amazon last year, thinking it may be of interest to someone.

Bill Watson at around 18 shortly after he joined the Scots Guards

Bill Watson at around 18 shortly after he joined the Scots Guards

It ended up catching the eye of a member of the Coleshill Auxilary Research Team, who were interested in Bill’s story of life as an auxiliary soldier in the early part of the Second World War.

In 1940, after the evacuation from Dunkirk, Britain prepared for and expected invasion by the Germans - an invasion, which for best reasons only known to Hitler, never materialised.

As part of the preparation, Personnel of the Home Guard were formed into sections throughout the entire country and trained to a high standard of efficiency in the use of explosives, booby traps, time-fuses, mines, and unarmed combat.

Bill was one of a number of anonymous recruits who were called upon to protect the local area from invasion and although he only served in the role for two years, he had plenty of stories to tell.

After spending the early part of WW2 on home turf, Bill was then sent to fight for his country abroad and like many men ended up in a Prisoner of War camp.

He was imprisoned at Stalag Camp before managing to escape and walk to Switzerland just two days before it was liberated.

‘Gone To Ground’ is a mixture of Bill’s own experiences and fiction but he didn’t put pen to paper until his 60s and unfortunately despite his best efforts, wasn’t able to secure a publishing deal for the book.

To mark the occasion of Bill’s 80th birthday in 2004 his sons decided to have 80 copies of the book published privately to hand to interested friends and family.

Unfortunately Bill passed away later that year and took his wartime secret to the grave.

It wasn’t until his sons studied the book and found out more about their father’s wartime movements that it became clear that he didn’t just write the book from his imagination, he’d actually lived and breathed the auxilary soldier experience.

I spoke to Lindsay, who now lives in Norfolk, earlier this week and he said it was no surprise to him and his siblings that their dad had kept his time in Churchill’s Secret Army close to his chest.

“After the war ended and dad came back home he served for 37 years with the police force in Edinburgh and was a stickler for rules so if he was sworn to secrecy he would have taken the oath very seriously.

“In a way it’s good that he never told us himself about him being an auxiliary as it’s been absolutely fascinating for us to put the pieces together ourselves.

“From what we’ve uncovered so far we know he joined up with the Scots Guards in 1942 aged 18 so we’re thinking he was an auxiliary when he was 17.

“He left some war memorabilia in a box and one of the items we found was a badge known to be worn by auxiliary soldiers. The number on it corresponds with the number on his enlistment form for the Guards.

“We’ve got dad’s de-mob papers, his service number and date of birth which we’ve sent away to the army to try and get confirmation, once this comes back that will be the ultimate proof.”

Lindsay said although he wasn’t entirely shocked by the interest in his dad’s book, which is being billed by Coleshill as an ‘autobiographical novel’, he said with all the local references in it, he expected the first inquiry to come from the Borders rather than further afield.

“My dad makes mention of many local places in the book,” he continued.

“I’m assured that the quarry he goes into great detail about is still actually there and can be found using his descriptions.

“It was last summer when I decided to put the manuscript on Amazon.

“I had a feeling that someone would be interested and expected a call from up your neck of the woods but once Coalshill got in touch and explained that they had a Scottish researcher I quickly understood why they’d be interested.

“The book is really the best family heirloom we could have had; it’s fascinating to find out what life was like for dad, having such a big responsibility at such a young age.”

And it’s not just Lindsay and the rest of Bill’s famuily who have been captivated by his tale, Tom Sykes of Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team found it most interesting and was confident others would to.

“‘Gone To Ground’ is the first known book written by an auxilier as so many of them like Bill, kept their time in the Home Guard secret from everyone even their family.

“When one of our researchers stumbled across the manuscript on Amazon we were ecstatic and quickly tracked down the owner of the copyright, Lindsay.

“It was then that we managed to find out more about the man behind the words and like Lindsay have been digging deeper ever since

“We’ll be publishing a fairly limited run of the book to begin with but we’d love to launch it locally as Bill goes into great detail about Berwickshire and places that many people will recognise if they read it.

“We’d also like to track down any auxiliers who may still be alive. Most of them will be in their late 80s/early 90s now but it would be great to hear from them and try and get them along to the launch.”

Any auxiliers or any of their relatives who would like to get in touch with Coleshill should email hq@coleshillhouse.com.