Based on a novel by Owen Sheers the new war film RESISTANCE stars Martin Sheen, the actor who gave such convincing performances as Tony Blair and football manager Brian Clough. The place is Great Britain in 1944, Russia has fallen, the D Day landings have failed and the German Wehrmacht has invaded the country. Nazi forces and Panzer divisions sweep through the country striking panic and fear in the demoralised population. The film tells the story of the British Resistance Organisation [BRO] which had been formed in 1940 on the orders of Winston Churchill.
The author based his book on stories he had heard in his native Wales, that told of farmers going on training missions in the dead of night, hidden underground bunkers and weapons caches. Though the invasion story is of course fictional, the existance of the BRO is based in fact. In 1940, following the evacuation of British Troops from Dunkirk, Churchill decided that regular defences needed suupplementing with ‘guerilla type troops’. The Governments response was to form the BRO who’s mission would be to disrupt vital supply lines and deny mobility to the invading force. They would be ‘responsible for hitting the enemy in the comparatively soft spots behind zones of concentrated attack’. At the time, the decision for a government funded and trained insurgency was extremely controversial, as acts of sabotage could possibly lead to reprisals on the civilian population.
A dozen regional Intelligence Officers were recruited and in turn they recruited a predominantly rural network of civilian saboteurs. Over 100 cells were formed consisting mainly of farmers, poachers and gamekeepers and divided into Operational and Combat patrols. The men were chosen for their knowledge of the local terrain and after signing the Official Secrets Act received training in sabotage, unarmed combat and demolition, on weekend courses at Coleshill House near Swindon.
Sallie Mogford who acted as an advisor to the film, is a member of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team, a group of volunteers who have been piecing together the story of Britain’s secret wartime army. The team has unearthed many of the under ground bunkers that would have been used to launch attacks if the Germans had invaded. These bunkers consisted of a corrugated main chamber with bunks, provisions and a cooking stove, where a patrol could survive for up to a month. Disused mines and caves were also used, some were much more elaborate with chimneys disguised in tree trunks and spring loaded entrances and exits disguised as wood piles.
An early scene from the film shows a group of civilian fighters being pulled from just such a bunker, by Nazi soldiers, before being executed. Thankfully Britain was never invaded and this secret army never called upon to use the skills it had been taught. However their existance casts a whole new light on Churchill’s famous speech of 1940 “we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender”, at the time, unknown to the public, he had already put in place the means to do just that.