Malcolm Atkin Military Research
Section VII of SIS
The British Resistance organisation
David Boyle. Head of the SIS resistance network known as Section VII (its cover with the accountancy branch of SIS), or simply as 'DB's organisation'.
In early Spring 1940, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, aka MI6) began planning a nationwide British Resistance, to operated after any Nazi occupation. This was deeply secret, not least because SIS were not supposed to operate within the UK (this being the province of MI5). The very concept of a Resistance was also anathema to the War Office as it smacked of defeatism. Even within SIS its existence was concealed, managed under the cover of the SIS accountancy section (Section VII) by long-time SIS officer David Boyle (above). Occasionally it is simply known as 'DB's organisation'. Boyle was a lifelong SIS officer, although no hint of this is given in his 312 page autobiography. Those that were recruited to this shadowy organisation were given only the minimum information needed to carry out their individual tasks, never knowing who exactly gave their orders beyond vague references to 'British Intelligence', and were ordered never to speak of their work. Most never did. This, rather than the GHQ Auxiliary Units, was the real British Resistance organisation.
The existing intelligence SIS network in Ireland was used as one model for the organisation, comprising a number of cells, some of which were linked by wireless. At the time this was a novel structure. The primary function of the British operation, following SIS tradition, was to collect intelligence - which could then be transmitted to any government in exile. There were also a number of sabotage cells (whose arms caches can be dated to as late as 1944) and also 'lone wolves' who would carry out individual missions .
To protect the organisation, its members were ordered not to become involved in opposing the actual invasion. They would only be activated once the country was actually occupied. For this reason, men and women who were in reserved occupation or were too old to be called up were selected (their age having the unfortunate consequence that most died before feeling able in more recent times to reveal their secret). Those already in the Home Guard were instructed to keep a low profile. Teenagers were also used as couriers (sometimes using roles as ARP Messengers as cover) and, in at least one case, were trained as wireless operators. The agents would then serve as a cadre to expand the resistance if and when necessary. To that end it is highly likely that SIS saw the training of saboteurs at the Osterley Home Guard training school as a useful reservoir of potential recruits. The focus at Osterley on making home-made incendiaries, explosives and timing devices was certainly in line with the methodology of Section D and was in sharp contrast to the training of the Auxiliary Units - which relied on a continuance of military supplies. There are only tantalizing glimpses of the existence of the Section VII Resistance but this was a nationwide organisation with cells documented in Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, Isle of Wight, Somerset, Cornwall and Devon. It is possible that the network expanded in July 1940 by absorbing some of the inland HDS cells that were not taken over by the Auxiliary Units. Some training was carried out at the Altcar training range on Merseyside. Oral testimony includes other cells in Worcester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Manchester. There is anecdotal evidence for arms caches in Snowdonia and Birmingham and archaeological evidence for a mid-war arms cache from Mellor, near Stockport. The puzzling report of a cache of 30 SMLE rifles and Enfield revolvers found in the roof space of a former Manor House in Grassthorpe, Nottinghamshire in 1993 is potentially another example of a section VII cache (mistakenly identified at the time as related to the Auxiliary Units but now being researched by CART). The organisation survived until at least 1944.
The existence of the deep cover Section VII Resistance was protected by what, at first sight seems a confusing muddle of other organisations that had guerrilla or intelligence-gathering function. The ruthless hope was that while the Gestapo were tracking down Home Guard members of the Auxiliary Units, the civilians of the Section D Home Defence Scheme or the more unofficial Home Guard guerrilla units, they would not realise that there was a hidden layer of British resistance. Indeed, the organisation of the Special Duties Branch of the Auxiliary Units seems almost designed to be sacrificial and quickly broken by an enemy. This layered methodology was explicitly promoted by SIS in countries about to be occupied, always stressing that any guerrilla activity, assumed to have a very short span of survival, should have no contact with the longer term resistance organisation. An additional complication is that some operatives, previously assumed to be part of the SDB network, might actually have been part of Section VII. A small number of wireless operators are reported to have used a wireless set contained in a 'briefcase'. This does not fit the large box-like SDB TRD or WS17 sets but might actually be Parasets. The latter used morse code on a HF network and therefore were unlikely to have reported back to an SDB IN station.
Britain was not invaded by the Nazis but part of the agreement to allow SIS to operate in Britain was that Section VII would assist MI5 in internal security. Any spying on the British public made the operation particularly sensitive and there was also the possibility, that having created a wartime intelligence network in the country, it might prove useful in the on-coming Cold War! This added to the traditional policy of SIS never to comment on its operations, whether present or past.
On the Isle of Wight, a suspected Section VII cell contained two doctors - one of whom was the wireless operator. As cover, one served as a Fire Guard and the other was in the Home Guard. Their existence is known only because in April 1943 the house of the wireless operator (Dr Straton) was destroyed in an air raid. MI5 were sent out to recover the wirelsss set as belonging to 'one of DBs people'.
The existence of the Section VII Resistance was only revealed (in a single paragraph) in the official history of SIS by Keith Jeffery in 2010 (The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-49).
The first detailed account was in Fighting Nazi Occupation: British Resistance 1939-45 in 2015 which is still (2022) the only account that explains its origin and relationship to MI5.