The World War II Ladies – Mildred and Marie

Janet Gordon has had the privilege to meet and interview the World War II Ladies Mildred and Marie and here she recounts their conversation.

Can you imagine descending 350 steps into the depths of Fort Southwick 100 ft under the Portsmouth cliffs to operate a nine-position switchboard with bombs exploding around you – all at the tender age of 17?


Well, that happened to 96-year-old Marie Scott; at 17, she joined the Wrens to help the World War II effort, following in the footsteps of her father, who was an Air Raid Warden. The normal joining age for the Wrens was 18, but because Marie was a fully trained GPO switchboard operator, the rules were waived; she was snapped up and, with just two weeks of training, was sent down to Fort Southwick.

With a 48-hour shift, those 350 steps that Marie ran down quickly became an almost unreachable summit as she trudged her way back up to the top.

“There were bunk beds down there for us to sleep on, and I suppose we were given food, but I don’t remember. I was one of the lucky ones, though. I was quartered in the most beautiful manor house just outside Portsmouth in Fareham with beautiful gardens and an orchard, where  I tasted my first ever nectarine.”

“I’d heard talk about Operation Overload”, said Marie, who is the most articulate 96-year-old I’ve ever spoken to, “and I realised there was something big happening.  Fort Southwick had been designated the operational headquarters in the build-up to D-Day.  I’d only been there a month or so when  I was asked if I’d like to operate a VHF radio, and I agreed, not really knowing too much about it.”

“It was quite a simple radio – you just lifted a lever to talk and put it down again when you’d finished despatching the coded message. The same went for the operator at the other end.

I was on duty on 6th June 1944, which we now know as D-Day, and I started my shift as usual. As I sent the first message, and before I could replace the lever, I heard sounds that absolutely horrified me:  bombs going off, gunfire,  men shouting and screaming –  all the chaos of war  – and I realised I was connected directly to the beach in Normandy and I was hearing the sounds of battle directly into my ear.”


“I was terrified.” Marie, now 96, has never forgotten those sounds of war and has joined the Taxi Charity for War Disabled outings. The London Taxi drivers take veterans from all wars – not just WWII – on yearly outings and have made many trips back to the Normandy beaches. It was one of these commemorative visits in 2019 when Marie was awarded the Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony at the Pegasus Museum.

Marie started laughing as she remembered that day. “Because  I was standing by Ian, my driver, and his London taxi played music. Jokingly he asked me if I had any requests. I absolutely loved Artie Shaw, and my favourite tune was – and still is – Begin the Beguine. It started playing, and before I could stop myself, my walking stick and I were jigging around to the music.”

“Another thing I will never forget is being part of the Wren march past when King George  VI (our late Queen Elizabeth II’s father) took the salute.”  

When demob came, Marie had to travel down to London from Scotland, and a friend offered to take her to the opera. “Never having been before, I agreed. The first opera she took me to, I wasn’t thrilled with, but I agreed to go again, and this time we saw Madame Butterfly, which sparked a lifelong passion for the opera. I have also been lucky enough to see Kenneth More and Dirk Bogarde right at the beginning of their careers in Power Without Glory. I loved the theatre as well.”

Marie married Maurice, a taxation accountant in 1953, and retired from secretarial work once her two daughters, Gillian and Carolyn, came along. Sadly she’s been widowed for many years now and now lives alone.

What a marvellous lady.

Another marvellous lady is 99-year-old Mildred Schutz, who lives in Worcester Park.


Mildred was working in a reserved occupation in a shipping company when she was asked if she would like to work for the Inter-Services Research Bureau.   And, after a series of interviews, she was asked whether she’d like to train as a Field Operative and undertake a parachute jump.

“I thought that that sounded like fun, and I was sent for initial training – which was about a year – with the Fany’s (Field Aid Nursing Yeomanry which was also known as the WTS).

Having passed the training, Mildred was given a suit from Harrods with a matching hat from Bond Street and told she would be sent overseas.  She was just 19.  But as she was about to travel, Lord Haw Haw, that infamous Nazi fascist, broadcast details about the operation she was about to undertake, and listed the names of the FANYs taking part.

With Mildred’s cover blown, she could not be used as a field operative but instead told she was to “infiltrate on foot”. And so the intrepid Mildred spent ten days on a troop ship going from Liverpool to Italy, terrified that Lord Haw Haw would make good his threat to have the Germans bomb their ship. Eventually, she ended up in Monopoli, where she was secretary to the Colonel in charge of “dirty tricks”, passing out poison pills and authorising military training. The operation over there was formed to organise local resistance and to enable escape prisoners to return to their own countries.

It was bitterly cold that winter of 1944, and Mildred stayed in the most spartan of accommodations sleeping on a straw bed in a room over a Greengrocer’s shop, with just a single cold water hand basin for washing.

She remembers one day “when I was asked to accompany an Officer behind the lines, ostensibly to suss out possible landing strips. But in reality, to find agents. But with no radio contact, we had to physically contact potential agents.

“I remember we drove through a railway marshalling yard and up into the mountains where German troops were throwing boulders down onto the road to try and stop us. I do remember boulders falling into the jeep and the machine gun fire. Luckily an American captain drove over a barricade to draw their fire away from us, and we literally sped around the back of the railyard, through a vineyard – can you imagine driving at top speed through a vineyard?  Somehow we returned unscathed.”

Returning home after the War, Mildred returned to work at the original shipping company that had employed her until she met and married her husband Reginald in 1952. The couple then had four boys William, Andrew,  Matthew, and Julian, before finally having their daughter Sarah. Sadly Reginald, who won the Burma Star, died from a brain tumour in 1983. Mildred’s records were sealed for 50 years and she was forbidden to make any mention of her war career.

Now 99, Mildred lives alone, cooking her own meals, although she admits to having some help with the housework.  

Talking to these two redoubtable ladies, I get the feeling that there is nothing much that daunts them.  The woes that Gen Z complain of today are nothing compared to what these two – and, of course, all the other war veterans went through.


When asked about D-Day, all my Dad would say about having to get off the landing craft and into the water was “that there was nowhere else to go but into the water, and so I did”.  And as for Mildred, she never did get to take that parachute jump and Marie – she’s still singing Begin the Beguine.