“I NEVER talk about the killing side – that’s not what it’s about. Who would have thought I would have to go out killing boys like me.”

These are the words of 90-year-old Bill Gibbard, who was a road worker with little interest in current affairs at the outbreak of war in 1939.

Just 44 days later, 20-year-old Mr Gibbard was called up to the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry for eight weeks’ training at Oxford’s Cowley Barracks.

From there he was sent to Slade Camp before joining the 43rd Regiment, in January 1940, as part of the British Expeditionary Force in Europe.

Widowed great-grandfather Mr Gibbard said: “I’d never dreamt of doing anything like that and it wasn’t something I thought I could do, but I got through it.

“I was scared like everybody else – it was a new experience for me.”

Now living in Vanbrugh Close, Woodstock, Mr Gibbard’s said: “We were billeted in houses in Rouen for a few weeks until we pushed on into Belgium, engaged in guarding bridges.

“Again we were billeted in houses and I had the good fortune to be in a large house, which we shared with the owners. The wife cooked for us every day and the meals were fantastic – even if we did later discover that the steak was horse.”

Although guns could be heard in the distance, Private 5387525 Gibbard and his colleagues saw little action until May when news came through that the Germans had breached the Maginot Line – French defences built along the German border following the First World War.

Now British troops were fighting on two fronts. The enemy was coming down from Belgium and up through France and their only hope was to retreat to Dunkirk.

Mr Gibbard, who is now fighting prostate cancer and diabetes, said: “We had orders to go to Dunkirk and it was chaos. I was on the beach for three weeks. There were dead animals everywhere and the stench was terrible.

“There were some lovely big abandoned houses with cellars which we used to doss in at night. They had everything and one evening we made ourselves sick eating tins of Bartlett pears in syrup.

“We weren’t prepared for war – British troops had nothing. If we hadn’t been able to get to Dunkirk to retreat, we’d have lost completely.

“The boats in the water were three quarters of a mile out and I couldn’t swim – I still can’t. I found a piece of wood to keep me afloat.”

The wood led Mr Gibbard to the destroyer HMS Anthony and, despite being bombed halfway across the Channel, safe passage home.

“When we arrived back home we got on a train and were taken to Reading barracks. They gave us a new set of clothes and a meal.

“Then we went to Herefordshire Racecourse and camped for a few weeks.”

Mr Gibbard’s war did not end there. He joined the 2nd Bucks Battalion before transfering to the Parachute Regiment – which led to Arnhem, Stalag IV prisoner of war camp, and North Africa.

He said: “I didn’t have a clue about what I would go through in the next six years, but I survived.

“I don’t regret it at all. I’ve always thought that we’ve helped to make the world a much better place to live in.

“I can still feel it now, which is why I feel for the lads being brought back from Afghanistan and I often go up Headley Way to pay my respects.”

Within months of war being declared, 18-year-old Yvonne Axon was mobilised to an insignificant hut perched on the white cliffs of Dover.

But far from inconsequential, her secret role was one of the most vital of the Second World War.

As Aircraft Woman (ACW) Temperley, Mrs Axon, now 88, was one of the first RAF personnel to monitor the skies with a new British technology – radar. She and her colleagues helped the country’s tiny fighter pilot team combat the German Luftwaffe as they continuously bombarded the island during the Battle of Britain.

But with a passion for flying, which included gaining her ‘Wings’ at 16, her job was a far cry from what she had initially wanted to do.

Grandmother-of-seven Mrs Axon, of Bell Street, Henley, said: “I wanted to join the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering planes from the factories to the RAF bases. When the war began, I raced up to London to sign up.

“I had about 50 air miles at the time and they said: ‘Terribly sorry – nothing less than 3,000 miles’, which was pilot standard. So I went round the corner and joined the RAF instead.

“Point of fact: It was illegal in those days for women to fly in the RAF. Point of fact: I flew most planes, including a Spitfire – but only for fun.”

The teenager returned to the recruitment office each day, turning down all the jobs until she was offered a top secret role if she passed three days of interviews.

“It was very nerve-wracking, but I passed. I ran down to sign on and asked what I’d be doing, but they said they couldn’t possibly tell me.

“I was told to turn up the following night with some warm clothes. I landed up in a place called Bawdsey Manor in Suffolk and it turned out we were the very first course on radar training.”

By November, Mrs Axon was stationed in an operations room in Dover, working in a team of 12. Between shifts, they were taken by lorry to their accommodation half a mile away.

“One did realise how vital the job was, because we knew how little information the fighter boys had.

“I really felt we were being useful. It was wonderful knowing we could make the maximum effect with a small amount of fighters. It stopped the Germans, thank Heavens, or none of us would be here now.

“The Germans couldn’t understand why it was that every time they came over we always seemed to have our few planes in the right place at the right time, ready to pounce on them.

“After some months they realised it might all be down to the funny little RAF stations on the coast and for a week they came at us eight times a day.

“It wasn’t very nice, but there wasn’t a lot one could do, so we just carried on. Luckily, we didn’t lose anyone.

“I was injured as I travelled between our ops room and accommodation, but I didn’t get it seen to until after the war – the job we were doing was so vital that we were all patched up and just carried on. The advantage is that I do get a disabled parking space.”

In May 1940, Mrs Axon and her colleagues could do little as their radar screens picked up the German bombers on the other side of the Channel attacking thousands of men in Dunkirk and the boats that had gone to save them.

She said: “On my days off I went down to the harbour and helped the boys coming back from Dunkirk. I just helped those who couldn’t walk very well or needed help off the boats.

“The thought of what was going on on the far banks was appalling. People always say I should claim a disability pension, but I can’t possibly when I think of all the boys coming back. My injuries were nothing.”

Mrs Axon met her fiancé – her commanding officer, Flt Lt Peter Axon – before “top brass” evacuated the radar women in August 1940 after realising they were on the wrong side of barriers that would have been erected had the Germans invaded.

Promoted to corporal, she was posted to Salisbury Plain and became an instructor.

“That was absolutely ghastly,” she explained.

“My job had been so top secret and vital that I didn’t do basic training and suddenly I was being asked to take a parade. I’d never been taught to salute, let alone how to march.

“You could only leave for one of three reasons: if you died, had a baby or were commissioned. I was commissioned and became a code cipher officer.”