Brackley Care Home war hero Zoom chats with local school children

Students from a Brackley school heard a fascinating first-hand account of the Second World War from a 101-year-old veteran.

Students at Winchester House School, in Brackley, were fascinated to hear a first-hand account of the Second World War from 101-year-old veteran Clifford Bilney.
Students at Winchester House School, in Brackley, were fascinated to hear a first-hand account of the Second World War from 101-year-old veteran Clifford Bilney.

Students at Winchester House School, in Brackley, learned about the war during a Zoom chat with veteran Clifford Bilney.

Mr Bilney, a resident at Brackley Care Home in Brackley, joined the youngsters via Zoom for a question and answer session, which spanned the changes he had seen and experienced in a century of life.

Some of the questions asked by the school students, included if he was scared and what did he do during the war.

Mr Bilney said: "I am very proud of the fact that I went into the war as a rifleman and came out as a captain. I was a commissioned officer and then a lieutenant and was the batallion transport officer in charge of about 400 vehicles.

"At the end of the war I was promoted to captain and appointed as an adjutant. I was very proud to come home with three pips."

Emma McGowan, community relations manager at Winchester House School, said: ‘Our year six children were delighted to welcome Clifford to their British Empire lesson in history.

"The children emailed Clifford their questions in advance and were delighted to hear about his schooling, war time memories, career and family life. Clifford’s enthusiasm was infectious and gave the children a fantastic picture of life over the past 100 years. We look forward to inviting other residents to join us virtually in class."

As well as answering an array of questions, he presented the school with a copy of his book, The War Years, 1939 to 1946 – The Story of CC Bilney, Rifleman to Captain.

The book begins with Mr Bilney, then an 18-year-old junior insurance clerk in London, joining the Territorial Army “more out of adventure than patriotism.”

Then comes the outbreak of war, his call-up and years of camaraderie and training camps in Britain ahead of his marching orders to join troops in Normandy.

Now an officer in the motorised infantry, he recalls 'life in Normandy was very unpleasant with the heat and dust. The smell of war was terrible.”

He writes: “Life in Normandy was very basic when it came to food. We had 'Bully Beef' and hard biscuits plus tea.

“Normandy was just one large scene of destruction. Some small villages were just heaps of rubble. The smell of death was appalling and everywhere you went there were wrecked vehicles. Often there were graves besides the wrecks.”

He recalls how the area known as the 'Falaise Pocket' was just a killing ground, a scene of mass destruction and slaughter.

He said: “As for casualties we all lost someone we knew."

Mr Bilney vividly recollects the progress of his war through Holland and into Germany.

And, finally, it’s back to England and the demob office in Aldershot – and a return to his London office where he picked up where he left off, 'licking stamps.'

After the war he progressed to become branch manager at an Insurance company in Taunton, Somerset.

Mr Bilney dedicates his book to his two late wives, Phyll, who he married during the war, and Betty with whom he travelled widely in later years.

Sadly Clifford lost his eyesight due to macular degeneration so the couple moved to the Brackley area to be nearer to Betty’s children.