Sincere thanks to – Alan Stewart the County Information Officer for Aberdeenshire and a Researcher for CART and Norman Davidson, formerly of the Forestry Commission (retired) who gave permission to use this article.
Former Forestry Commission employees John Strachan and Roy Neish (right) discuss the war time underground Operational Base in the Bin Forest. Operational Bases or OBs were secret underground bases built mainly in 1940 and 1941 during World War 2 from which Auxiliary Units could operate behind the enemy lines of occupation. Auxiliary Units was the name given to a force of civilian volunteers who were trained to carry out sabotage, guerrilla warfare and spying behind the enemy lines. They were intended to operate in patrol units of six to eight men led by a sergeant and coordinated by a local commander. The ideal recruits were people from the countryside professions who had a good knowledge of the local area, able to live off the land, be fit and have an ability to be trained in the necessary skills for guerrilla warfare. As such foresters, farmers and gamekeepers often filled large parts of their ranks.
The need for secrecy was paramount and volunteers were uniformed for cover as “Home Guard” but in time they were formed into three “GHQ Special Reserve Battalions” with the number 201 for Scotland and north England. The secrecy extended to the location of the OBs and although most were destroyed after the war some appear to have slipped through the net and were forgotten about. They were built by Royal Engineers or local contractors and classed as emergency food stores for anyone who happened to come across them.
In the case of the Bin Forest Operational Base, the building was carried out by Len Bullock who had building skills and was then based at Blairmore House, a Training, Intelligence and Communications Establishment. John Strachan describes the underground Operational Base as being in the middle of a thick forest, two rooms in size with a very cleverly concealed tunnel entrance, the door of which was disguised to look like the old stone wall into which it had been built. The entrance passage was head height leading, as far as John remembers, to a small room on the left which was used mainly by any visiting officers. The second room, which is likely to be the one with the collapsed roof, was a bunk and living room fitted out with partitions and beds and also had a stove with a metal chimney that emerged through the roof close to a spruce tree and from there extended well up into the tree amongst the branches. Looking at the existing ruins it is possible that there could have been an escape route out of this room but further investigation required. The first room is not currently visible or accessible although vent pipes do give some clue to its presence below ground.
John Strachan, a forestry worker in the Bin Forest since 1937, was recruited as a patrol volunteer in 1941 and missed the actual building of the Base. He was one of a number of local men, some of the others being Willie MacPherson (a farmer from Ruthven), Jimmy Duff (farmer from Glass area), Sandy Duncan (farmer from Mains of Edinglassie), Ronnie Gray (Rhynie), Mr Kemp (Rhynie area), Donald Sey (farm worker from Cumrie area), Johnny Forsyth (farmer’s son but may have been at college training as a teacher- may have been a local officer), Maitland Rodgers – patrol Sergeant (farmer from Mains of Haddoch area).
John and the other volunteers usually met twice per week in the evenings and also carried out many weekend long training exercises. Some of the training on firearms was at Blairmore House under live firing conditions but for explosive and detonator experience, John remembers a couple of journeys to specialist locations down in England as far as the Croydon area. Rifles were stored at the base but the main weapon carried by the volunteers was a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver. Weekend exercises sometimes included patrols out into the countryside where they had to learn to live off the land and procure the food in secret from wherever they could. Rabbits were fair game but some potatoes and turnips from a field as well as the odd chicken from a farm shed did find its way into the cook pot. On D Day 6th June 1944, all the Auxiliary Units were disbanded but John immediately received his draft orders to report to the coal mines at Methil, Fife where he worked until 1947 helping with the nation’s long slow recovery period after the war.