Sergeant Eaglen was 19 years old when he parachuted into Normandy on the morning of D-Day. He turned 20 a few weeks later on July 7th.
“The days were always the same, my birthday came, and went, wondering whether I would see the next minute, never mind the next day”.
While in Normandy, Eaglen went on night patrols and also took messages out to various units.
“I never thought about getting killed, or wounded, if it happened that was it, and I am sure that we all thought the same.”
One day, on a routine reconnaissance patrol in the Bois de Bavent area, Eaglen saw a German soldier sprint through the trees and into a nearby house. Along with two other parachutists, he ran into the house where the German stood holding an elderly French woman at gunpoint in front of him.
The German dropped his gun and surrendered.
The lady pulled the Rosary beads from around her neck – breaking them as she did so – and insisted Eaglen take them. He didn’t know what they were.
“I had never heard of them, you see, I was born in a small village, and had not even heard of Roman Catholics!”
He wore those beads throughout his time in Normandy and the Ardennes. He wore them when he parachuted over the Rhine into Germany. It was a daylight drop on the 24th March in 1945 at 10am. His troop were to parachute directly on top of the German guns that were shelling the Allies who were attempting to build a bridge over the Rhine. Eaglen was on a plane which carried 20 paratroopers, and after the jump, only six landed on the ground alive.
“I will leave it to you and to everyone else to judge whether those Rosary Beads and the elderly lady saved my life… I will never forget the lady who gave those beads to me, the sad part of it is, I did not realise what it must have meant to her to break those beads, and to give them to me.”
During the Second World War, Sergeant Eaglen was wounded three times and hospitalised in Louvain, Belguim.