Secret agent Mabel Stranks, a former post mistress in Highworth, is one of the most unlikely spies, The postmistress used her position in the town’s high street to play a significant role in the training of more than 2,000 men at the secret location at Coleshill House.

Mrs Stranks was well known in the post office, now 23 High Street, sorting out stamps and telegrams for more than 25 years.

But what few realised was that the grey-haired woman was part of a resistance movement.

Her involvement came about after Coleshill House, was chosen as the headquarters for the secret underground movement.

The project was named Auxiliary Unit and the house was renamed the Auxiliary Gateway.

The idea was that of General Andrew Thorne who conceived the idea of civilian troops who, in the event of Britain being occupied, would remain behind the enemy lines and attack supply lines and support units.

Captain Fleming, the brother of Ian Fleming the author, was put in charge of training the resistance.

Some thousands of civilians, more than a hundred army officers and some six hundred other ranks were to train at Coleshill.

Trainees visiting Coleshill reported to the post office where Mrs Stranks checked them out and telephoned Coleshill for a car.

Highworth Historical Society member Jo Clark said: “It is highly unlikely that she had any knowledge of what went on at Coleshill.

“Many trainees who came through Highworth have no recollection of her as they dealt with the counter clerk.”

By late 1941 nearly 600 resistance patrols had been formed, comprising over 3,500 Auxiliaries.

Most counties had their own Intelligence Officer, who was often stationed in his home county because of his contacts.

Among these regular officers was the actor, the late Sir Anthony Quayle, who was Intelligence Officer for Northumberland.

During the war, Coleshill was owned by potter Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, aka Bina, and her sister Mary who continued to live in the house.

In 1946 the house was sold to Ernest Cook, one of the partners of Thomas Cook the travel agents but was destroyed by fire in 1952.

Now the estate is owned by the National Trust and every year a village open day includes a guided tour of the Auxiliary Unit story.

Meanwhile a plaque commemorating Mrs Stranks has been placed above the old post office.

For more information on guided tours or the home call (01793) 762209.

n Information the Auxilliary Unit came from the History of Highworth, published by the town’s Historical Society.