The “Phoney War” is the name given to the 8 month period between the start of World War II on September 1, 1939 to early May 1940.

During this time the war had little impact on the civilian population in Britain, apart from the preparations we have been describing every week in the Wycombe War Timeline on these pages. That changed when on May 10 Nazi Germany invaded France with a Blitzkreig through Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium.

High Wycombe and the surrounding towns and villages were about to appreciate what it meant to be at war. May and June 1940, eighty years ago, would have been a very sombre time for the local population. Perhaps we should reflect on that as we face the current threat to our way of life.

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been assembled and sent over to France to reinforce the French and Belgian Armies against the expected invasion by Nazi Germany.

When it came they were powerless to stop the advance in face of the overwhelming strength of the German forces. The BEF was forced to retreat and ultimately evacuated from Dunkirk. Although we now tend to view Dunkirk almost as a great victory, it was so nearly a catastrophic defeat that could have resulted in Britain’s rapid defeat by the Nazi’s.

338,000 British, French and Belgium troops were evacuated. However many men had either been killed in action or forced to surrender during the retreat, and virtually all the military hardware had been abandoned.

The BEF contained three Battalions from the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (OBLI) Regiment.

These Battalions contained several hundred local men. Their casualty rate was severe. The 1st Oxford & Bucks Battalion were evacuated from Dunkirk, but suffered more than 300 casualties.

The 1st Bucks Battalion were ordered to delay the German advance and then fight their way to Dunkirk. Only about 200 men and 10 Officers made it.

The 4th Oxford & Bucks, a Territorial Army battalion, were encircled by the Germans and had to surrender. All the men who had surrendered, except some of those who had been seriously wounded and were eventually repatriated, spent the rest of the war as POWs. Nearly 5 years in captivity.

During the retreat of the BEF to, and the evacuation, from Dunkirk, the confusion was so great that for many of the men who died, the exact date of their death is not known.

Corporal Cecil F Smith was initially reported missing, then thought to be a prisoner-of-war, but later confirmed to have died sometime between May 10 and June 4, 1940.

He lived with his wife and family at 6, Middle Way, Castlefield, High Wycombe. He is remembered with honour in the Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, France.

Lance Corporal William J Portsmouth died sometime between May 10 and June 23, 1940, during the retreat to Dunkirk. He is buried in the churchyard of the village of Oxelaere about 20 miles from Dunkirk, where there are the graves of 4 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 2 of them are not identified by name.

Aged 30 he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. William T Portsmouth, of Hedgerley.

On May 10 ,1940, Pilot Officer Michael H Anderson aged 23 was killed in action over France. He had enlisted in the RAF on April 9, 1938, along with his friend Charles Troughton, who was the brother of Michael’s wife Priscilla. The Troughtons and their parents Charles senior and Constance Troughton, lived at the mansion called “Woolleys” in Hambleden.

Only a few months earlier the village had been celebrating the marriage of Michael and Priscilla at the parish church of St Mary-the-Virgin on December 16, 1939.

Priscilla was initially informed that her husband was missing after his Blenheim aircraft failed to return from air operations over Rotterdam. It was only late in June that she heard that he must be presumed to have died.

Michael Anderson was mentioned in despatches for his bravery and is buried at the Spijkenisse General Cemetery in the Netherlands.

At about the same time the Troughton family received more bad news. Their son Second Lieutenant Charles H W Troughton, known as Dick, was posted as missing during the retreat of the BEF to Dunkirk.

Before the war Dick had been a member of the Territorial Army and became a member of the 4th Oxford & Bucks TA Battalion.

The family eventually heard that in fact Dick Troughton had been taken prisoner. He spent the rest of the war in captivity in Stuflag.7b in Eichstatt, Germany. This was a POW camp for British, French and Polish officers in Bavaria, about 60 miles north of Munich.

They were soon joined by officers from the British Commonwealth - Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. There was one mass escape from the camp. On the night of 3/4 June 1943 sixty-five men escaped through a tunnel dug under the perimeter wire. Most of them headed south, towards Switzerland.

Eventually all 65 were recaptured, but had occupied over 50,000 police, soldiers, home guard and Hitler Youth for a week. After two weeks detention in nearby Willibaldsburg Castle, the escapees were sent to Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle.

On April 14 1945, as the U.S. Army approached, the officers were marched out of the camp.

Unfortunately, after only a short distance the column was attacked by American aircraft, who mistook it for a formation of German troops. Fourteen British officers were killed and 46 were wounded.

In 2003 a memorial plaque was erected by local German authorities at the site.

The camp was liberated by the U.S. Army on 16 April 1945. The POWs were repatriated to their home countries. Dick Troughton arrived back in the UK in May 1945. He was awarded the Military Cross in October 1945. Dick then went on to have a very successful career, being appointed to the Bar in 1945. He, joined newsagents W.H.Smith, becoming a Director in 1949, and Chairman from 1972 to 1977.

He also held Directorships with many other companies, including the publishers Collins, and Equity & Law Life Assurance. He was made a CBE in 1966 and knighted on November 29 1977. He retired to Little Leckmelm House near Ullapool in Scotland.

He died in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness on May 13, 1991. His wife Gillean died just 5 months later.

In the Nostalgia page over the next few weeks we will be endeavouring to list the names of all the local men who were killed in action over this period, as well as those who were taken prisoner.

In some cases we will be able to assemble short biographies of these men. If there are readers who would like to share with us the stories of their father, grandfather, uncle or whoever at this time, please email me,

To be continued.