Veteran Stories:
Eileen Schwenk (née Hodge)

Navy

  • Eileen Schwenk's diary. She began the diary on 31 May 1944, chronicling her impressions of the impending invasion. On 6 June she wrote, "As I sit here now writing this the wireless is giving the news. I feel so proud I want to cry."

    Eileen Schwenk
  • Photo of Eileen Schwenk posted on the inside cover of her diary.

    Eileen Schwenk
  • Eileen Schwenk on leave at her parents house.

    Eileen Schwenk
  • Eileen Schwenk's Women's Royal Naval Service Certificate of Service.

    Eileen Schwenk
  • Eileen Schwenk, March 2012.

    Eileen Schwenk
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"When it got near the time for the invasion, at night you could hear traffic going along the streets, unloading the ships and taking them into the new forest, all Americans arriving. And they stayed there. It was hard on them because about three days they had to stay on the boats."

Transcript

Well I was 15 and a half when the war started and my school was evacuated, so my schooling finished at 15 and a half. And my mother and father, my brother had gone into the [Royal] Air Force. We moved, we were in Hendon [England], Hendon, and we were bombed there. Actually, there were houses close together like that, two houses you know, and one part was damaged. So we were moved to Mill Hill [England]. Later I went back and the house was still there. They’d repaired it. But we had been moved out. And Mill Hill had a big building, like a straight and four corners on it, and they took that over as a WREN-ery [barracks for WRENs, Women’s Royal Naval Service]. And that’s where I went to the wind. I was furious. I wanted to leave home and they were just at the top of the road, you know. But I was sent from there to Southampton [Hampshire, England] and then Great Yarmouth [Norfolk, England]. The bombing had been over by that time, when I got moved, nearly over. And then later on the buzz bombs [V-1 flying bomb] started. So I got a month’s compassionate leave because my mother had had an operation and needed help. The buzz bombs are dreadful. They go droning across. When they stopped, you ducked. You didn’t know where to go because you didn’t know where they were going to fall. And one night they fell, all the windows came in, the curtains are going back and forth, bird cage [swaying]. And I ended up like this [sprawled] over my mother. She was a much bigger woman than I was. Anyway, they had to keep repairing things you know, and that didn’t last too long, thank goodness. But they were worrying because while you could hear it droning you were safe, but as soon as it stopped it just fell out the sky. We were sent to Southampton where I loved it. They had a lovely dance hall in the town ballroom. And as I say, you’re always very popular because we took the mail on the ships and the men would rather have mail than eat sometimes. So it was great. We sorted the mail. It came in and we sorted the mail and then divided them between different ships that were in harbour at that time. And I went in a little red van so we were very noticeable, and we’d take them on board the ships and give them to someone to distribute, you know. When it got near the time for the invasion [D-Day, 6 June 1944, Allied invasion of France], at night you could hear traffic going along the streets, unloading the ships and taking them into the new forest, all Americans arriving. And they stayed there. It was hard on them because about three days they had to stay on the boats. They couldn’t go to France. You know they abandoned it for about three days. It’s a shame you know. Well my husband joined the [Royal] Navy – I knew my husband when I was 15 and a half; well 16, yeah. Just before my 16th birthday we met. We were sensible because we were both so young. We never knew when we were going to get blown up or something. So we came to the conclusion that we should have a good time while we could, and if it was to be it was going to be. And it was. You know, he came home and a week later we were married. Do you know my wedding gown; the American women gave their outfits to the WRENS. And you could phone in or write in, give your size and they would send you a gown. I had a most glorious gown you’ve ever seen. I could never have afforded it you know, but we got our headdress and everything. So I had a lovely wedding. And then your mother had it cleaned and sent it back to them.
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