Outlook Issue 26 Winter 2018
News and Views from St. Mary's Woodbridge
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Remembering Donald
Donald A Handscombe 14 June 1918 – 22 February 2018 For some years resident in the Seckford Almshouses, Donald Handscombe was one of the last survivors of the Auxiliary Unit, founded on Churchill’s orders in 1942, for surveillance, sabotage – even assassination – in the event of a German invasion. Almost 6,000 Auxiliars were chosen from ‘reserved occupations’, precluding their call-up for normal service. Donald, elder son from a farming estate, was just 20 when recruited, via his local rugby club, and interviewed by five individuals who were completely unknown to him. Running a large horticultural operation by day, he was soon on silent night-manoeuvres. Security demanded groups of just 4-6 (under a Patrol Leader), knowing only their own operation in order to prevent disclosure, under torture, of other groups. Later, to provide notional protection under the Geneva Conventions, and an administrative unit, each Auxiliar was enlisted in the local Home Guard – following complications between the police/ MI5! – and issued with a coded Home Office pass. Though with deep East Anglian roots, Donald was born at Cheshunt, Herts, his mother’s home. After attending a small local school, he went to Highfield College; later, he transferred to Westcliff High School – presumably for its formidable rugby! Well-educated, self-confident, self-controlled, he was soon at Coleshill House in Patrol Leader training by Army specialists – in hand-to-hand combat, sniper rifles and demolition techniques – for instructing his men. On active service, the estimated life- span for each man was less than 12 days. They were retained, armed and active until c.1944, many of their depots remaining undiscovered until recent disclosure. Hand- picked by Charles Newman (another rugby chum) for the St Nazaire Raid in 1942, Donald was regretfully refused leave. Expertise in stockbreeding brought Donald to Wall’s/Unilever, where he became a significant, if rather discontented figure, consoled by his continuing horticultural interests. In 1950, he married Audrey Harvey. Later separation caused by her increasing disability was ended at the Almshouses, where she predeceased him. Just short of his century, with all his faculties, though very deaf through war service, Donald died at Barking Hall. He leaves a son, who with two children continues the land-owning tradition, and a daughter, early-retired from a legal career in local government. Penny Bird