Captain/Reverend Bernard Egan, October 1942

Poor quality photograph of Father Egan, in 1944

Taken outside Buckingham Palace, 1944

Captain/Reverend Bernard Mary Egan


Unit : Headquarters, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 159715

Awards : Military Cross


Bernard Egan was a Roman Catholic priest who joined the British Army as a Chaplain to the Forces after the outbreak of war in September 1939. He applied to join the Parachute Regiment shortly after its formation and became the first chaplain in the history of the Army to earn his wings. Egan was first posted to 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters, but joined the 2nd Parachute Battalion during the Tunisian Campaign in 1943. He was with them at the Battle of Tamera when a German aircraft bombed Battalion Headquarters; no one was killed, but the blast created a thirty foot crater in the ground and propelled large chunks of earth into the air, and Father Egan was severely bruised as these landed.


It was for his conduct with the 2nd Battalion, in North Africa and Sicily, that Father Egan was awarded the Military Cross. His citation reads:


For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Since joining this Battalion in February 1943 Captain Egan has fulfilled his duties as Battalion Chaplain with courage and determination. During the heavy fighting in the Northern Sector in Tunisia in March 1943 he was often in the forefront of the battle, comforting the wounded and encouraging all ranks under heavy fire.


On the night July 13-14th 1943 this officer took part in a parachute operation South of Catania in Sicily and was dropped among enemy positions many miles from the remainder of the Battalion. He collected a small party of parachute troops. After laying up in the near vicinity of the German positions he managed to extricate his party. By cool leadership and initiative he conducted it over difficult country and through the enemy lines eventually reaching the British positions with his complete party.


At Arnhem Bridge, in September 1944, Father Egan spent much of his time at the Regimental Aid Post and continually visited the wounded who had been packed into the cellars of the houses around the small British perimeter. Medical supplies of all kinds were in short supply, but Father Egan brought what relief he could to those who had no option but to sit out the battle in discomfort.


On Tuesday 19th September, Egan had several light-hearted encounters. He saw Lieutenant-Colonel Frost leaving a toilet, unshaven, tired and dirty. Frost's face lit up when he saw Egan and said, "Father, the window is shattered, there's a hole in the wall, and the roof's gone. But it has a chain and it works".


Father Egan later tried to make his way across a street to visit the wounded in a house on the opposite side, but the area was being heavily shelled at the time and he did not have the confidence to make the crossing and so sought shelter until the storm had passed. It was at this moment that he caught sight of the indomitable Major Tatham-Warter, calmly strolling up the middle of the street with his trademark umbrella in hand. He saw Egan and made his way across to him, whereupon he opened the umbrella and held it over the priest's head, beckoning him to cross the road. Egan was naturally reluctant to take up the offer and pointed to the exploding mortars, Tatham-Warter replied, "Don't worry, I've got an umbrella."


Later that day, Father Egan was at Battalion Headquarters, which was on fire having been relentlessly shelled during the day. As he made his way amongst the wounded in the cellar, Sergeant Jack Spratt, who was regarded as the battalion joker, called out to him, "Well, Padre, they're throwing everything at us but the kitchen stove." Spratt had barely finished speaking before the building received a direct hit, causing part of the ceiling to fall in and showering those in the cellar with plaster and assorted debris. As the dust cleared they saw that the kitchen stove had fallen through the ceiling. Spratt said, "I knew the bastards were close, but I didn't believe they could hear us talking."


On Tuesday evening, Father Egan was on the stairway at Battalion Headquarters when several shells crashed through the building, the shock of which made him fall down two flights of stairs to the ground floor where he lost consciousness. He awoke to find a mortally wounded man lying near to him; Egan began to crawl over to him but as he did so the building was shook by further explosions and he fell unconscious again. When he next awoke he found that the wounded man had since died, also the room was on fire and Egan's clothing was alight, which he put out with his hands and by rolling around on the floor. He found that he could not move his legs and so crawled to a nearby window which he tried to pull himself through. Lieutenant Buchanan appeared and helped him through, dropping him into the arms of Sergeant Jack Spratt, whom the Padre had met earlier. Taken to the cellar with the rest of the wounded, Egan was laid down on his stomach as it transpired that his hands and back were dotted with numerous shrapnel splinters, also his right leg was broken.


Father Egan was evacuated from the Bridge during the truce on Wednesday 20th September. Now a prisoner, he was first taken to the St Elizabeth Hospital, and later to the large prisoner of war hospital at Obermassfeldt, where he lay recovering next to John Frost.


Freed from captivity in 1945, Father Egan's injuries prevented his return to military service and so he became a teacher and was, for 20 years, Headmaster of Wimbledon College Preparatory School. In the late 1970's, his war wounds began to cause problems with his health and he began to lose control of his legs. His condition became steadily worse until, during the last years of his life, he could no longer walk. The Reverend Bernard Egan died in July 1988, at the age of 83.



See also: Sergeant Mahoney.


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