Charles McIlhargey displaying his tattoos

Charles McIlhargey and his "Rock of Ages" tattoo

Charles McIlhargey as a member of the Parachute Regiment

Private Robert Box, killed alongside Charles McIlhargey

Lance-Sergeant Charles Liddell Rutherford McIlhargey


Unit : "C" Company, 8th Parachute Battalion

Service No. : 3244339


Charles McIlhargey was born on the 11th November 1915, and grew up in the Glasgow area. Having served in India as a regular soldier, he joined the 8th Parachute Battalion. Despite being regarded as something of a loner, he became quite a famous character within the battalion due to his mischievous antics, and also the numerous tattoos which covered his body. Archie Bookless, an officer who knew him, nicknamed his daughter McIlhargey, and said of him that he was forever moving up and down the ranks for his behaviour. One day, while taking a rest by the roadside, two officers appeared and asked, "who are you and what are you". Charlie is supposed to have replied "I'm the company runner and I'm buggered". He was demoted again.


As a Lance-Sergeant, McIlhargey parachuted into Normandy on the 6th June, and he distinguished himself in the months of fighting which followed, being mentioned three times in the 8th Battalion's war diary for his conduct on patrols. On one occasion, it was said that he simply wandered off by himself and later returned with three German prisoners.


On the 25th August, whilst the 8th Battalion were struggling to gain control of Beuzeville, McIlhargey was with a fighting patrol when he and Private Robert Box were hit and wounded. The patrol had to press on without them but promised to return for them later. The Germans found them first, however, and they were taken prisoner. It was for a time believed that their wounds had been treated, then with their hands tied they were driven away on the back of a lorry which had the misfortune to the strafed by a British aircraft, and both McIlhargey and Box were killed. It later transpired, however, after men of the 8th Battalion had talked to the locals, that they had instead been taken to a house before being led to a nearby field where both were murdered with a gunshot wound to the back of the head and then buried in shallow graves.


The following is a statement by Private H. West 14442296, of the Intelligence Section, 1/4th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, on the 31st August 1944:


On the 30th Aug 44 I proceeded as ordered to village VATTEVILLE Map Ref 9023 for the purpose of clearing village of enemy. The village was entered without any opposition, a few P.W. were taken. I was introduced to the Mayor, who informed me of the fact that a few days previous to our entry, two English Parachutists were brought to the village and shot. As he did not know further details of the incident, he made an appointment with me for Madame Bouden, who was present at the occurrence. I arrived there at 1730 hrs, she immediately took me to the grave of my murdered comrades. Near by, on a rubbish heap, I found a jumping suit which was covered in blood. Out of one of the pockets I extracted the paybook of No.3244339, Pte. McIlhargey. C.R. (Pay Book enclosed for your information) through another search of hedgerow, I was able to find an A.F.W. 3084 belonging to No.3600902, Pte Box R. (which is also included for your information).


Madame Bouden then stated: On Sunday 27th August at approx 2000 hrs the above named British Parachutists were brought to the village by a Cpl of the German Army and held in the house owned by Mr Bouden. A few hours later, they were taken down the road by the Cpl (who by a statement of Madame had already treated them brutally), 200 yds further down the road, the Cpl was met by a Capt who gave the order for the prisoners to be shot. The following morning Mr Bouden buried both of them in a nearby field, where the brutal crime was committed.


Ted Eaglen, McIlhargey's friend, was with him on the same patrol:


"I met Charles McIlhargey when he came from India to the 8th Battalion. He was quite a character and we got on very well together from the start. And eventually he met a young lady in the NAAFI - which is a restaurant for the troops - he told me that he'd met this lady and that he was very much in love with her, and D-Day was coming very close, and we knew that, so I said "Well why don't you marry her quick, before we go away?". He said, "Oh there isn't time", I said, "Of course there's time.", he said "but I don't know her well enough," "Well if you get killed she'll get a pension. Do you know her well enough for that? And do you love her as much as that", "Oh yes". I said, "Well go on then and get married". So this is what he did."


"And we came over here {to Normandy} and he was in the "C" Company all the way from Dozulé, Annebault, Pont L'Eveque, we came up here and right at the last he was wounded, just as he was on the outskirts of Beuzeville. We were on a patrol, on a fighting patrol I should say, and he got wounded, him and Private Box. We put them both at the side, just on a grass verge, and we said we'll be back in a minute. It was not too serious that they couldn't manage there. By the time we came back they'd been found by the Germans, and the Germans at that time was trying to get across the Seine. According to the local inhabitants the Germans took them into the woods and shot them in the back of the head. That is what we were told from the local people here at Petiville La Raoult and roundabout. The story has changed a little over the years, but I still maintain that is what happened to them and I was on that patrol with them. But I never saw them actually wounded, but I was close by when they were, and I saw them when I left them. To me it was sheer murder, nothing but. There was no need to have killed them, they could have escaped themselves, the Germans could have got over the Seine and left McIlhargey and Box there. But they didn't, they decided to execute them. And what gain did they make by executing two wounded soldiers which would have eventually gone back to England? How can you forget or forgive people for doing things like that?"


"McIlhargey was a really great character. Tattooed all over his body. He was a wonderful fellow, I wasn't with him all the time because he was a little close, he kept his own company quite a lot. But he was a smashing chap. We were very very good friends. He was a man who was a good soldier and he became a Sergeant in the 8th Battalion - Alastair Pearson must have thought a lot about him to have made him a Sergeant. McIlhargey was a character, and I would put my life with him because he would not let you down. In war, you get wounded, you get shot and killed in various ways, But to come to the end of your life, being executed, really there was no reason for that to happen. War is war, yes, but execution is not war, it's just sheer murder."


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