Eileen Parkhouse, born 19th June 1920 has recently decided to share her story of how she lived through the Second World War after serving in the Woman’s Royal Naval Service for 3 years at the age of 22. Eileen is a residential member at The Millbrook, one of Meridian Health Care homes in Stalybridge and they are proud to welcome her journey throughout the war.
Eileen was born in Gildersome, in Yorkshire in 1920, where she lived with both her Mum and Dad, however unfortunately her Mother passed away when Eileen was just 8 years old. She went to school in Gildersome and on leaving school she attended Pitman’s Secretarial College graduating with high marks in 1938. Around this time, Eileen began courting a young local boy Alf Keeling from Bradford. To which she then went on to marry in February 1939, despite the uncertainty of what the war might bring.
It became clear very quickly that this war, just as the previous would not be “over by Christmas”. Alf then, like many others felt he needed to ‘play his part’ and immediately signed up to the RAF and was send to Canada for six months flight training to become a pilot.
Unfortunately, after just 17 months of being his wife, Eileen received the notification that Alf was reported missing. The following day Eileen learnt of his plane being shot down and in the December of 1941, Alf was confirmed as missing in action and presumed dead.
Eileen felt a sudden rush of determination to serve her country and so immediately enlisted for the WRNS, Woman’s Royal Naval Service in 1942. For her initial training she was sent to Hazel bank, Murryfield, in Scotland, where she was trained to operate a telex machine and code decoders. Once Eileen had completed her training she was posted to London where she began working at The Admiralty.
London was by this time under heavy and sustained attack from the German Luftwaffe. Many nights due to the bombing she was not able to go to the underground bunkers via her normal route but had to be escorted through underground passages, which led to the secret war rooms deep under London.
Eileen and her now good friend Barbara continued to work at The Admiralty until they received a posting in October 1944. They were given a short leave and told to report back to London however, shortly after arriving in London they, and many other members of the armed forces were shipped off to the small but very strategic island of Malta.
The ship that was to take Eileen, Barbara and many other WRNS overseas came under attack twice, and in the end was escorted by The Royal Navy to Valletta Grand Harbor.
Eileen’s good friend Barbara Hughes’s Father, Sidney, ran a wine import business. One of the main lines of this business was El Cid sherry and amongst Mr. Hughes’s many esteemed customers was none other than Mr. Winston Churchill. During a conversation, Mr. Churchill asked Sidney how his daughters were and Sidney explained that they had both joined the WRNS and that one of them, Barbara, had recently been posted overseas together with a good friend but he did not know where or even if
they had arrived safely, such was the need for secrecy during the war.
A few days following this conversation Sidney received a telegram from Winston Churchill saying: “I can confirm that the packages arrived safely”.
Eileen’s duties while in Malta consisted of sending, receiving and passing on coded messages both by tele-printer and code machines, to which Eileen still to this day has kept hold of.
Whilst in Malta, Eileen attracted the attention of a certain Arthur Fredrick Parkhouse, who was serving with the R.A.F at Kalafrana Air Force base, and in September 1944 they were married at Floriana English Church. Amongst those who attended was of course her lifelong friend Barbara Hughes as her bridesmaid.
Victory in Europe was declared on 8th May 1945 and with it came not only relief from all the miseries of war but the chance to go home.Eileen finally boarded a ship and left Malta in July 1945, to begin a new life with her husband back in England and to be reunited with her family in Yorkshire.
Eileen Parkhouse, the former Royal Naval Service Woman now resides privately in The Millbrook Care Centre in Stalybridge.
Leading up to remembrance day, The Millbrook organized for local historian, Kate Booth to visit the care home to share her experiences of WW2 with the residents, one of which being Eileen Parkhouse.
Kate talked of her memories of The Second World War, of those who fought but unfortunately lost their lives and of those who fought and thankfully returned home to their families. She also shared her personal attachments to the War along with stories of war veterans she had researched for many years. She talked about well-known families from the area that some of our residents could relate to and encouraged the residents to share stories of their own WW1 and WW2 encounters.
The residents of The Millbrook were delighted and grateful towards Kate for sharing her stories with them all.