In Memory of William Geoffrey Eagle DFC
On the 30th of May 1945, Pilot W.G. Eagle DFC crashed a couple of miles north of Beaulieu Airfield, and to the east of Brockenhurst.
He was a flying ace during the Second World War, managing to down 7 enemy aircraft during his service.
This is a short account of what I’ve managed to find out about William Eagle’s service and the crash incident. If you know anymore and can contribute to this memorial page for him, please do get in touch.
Flight Lieutenant W.G. Eagle DFC
William was the son of Arthur and Catherine Eagle of Hall Green, Birmingham.
In 1942 he was flying with No.274 Squadron RAF. This was a fighter squadron based in North Africa making sweeps over the Western Desert, supporting the army as it advanced and retreated across the Libyan Desert.
On the 2nd of March 1942, he was injured during aerial combat near Acroma Aerodrome in north-eastern Libya, whilst flying a Hurricane, serial number Z5469.
The Operations Record Book for No.274 Squadron RAF describes the event:
“When the Squadron was west of Tobruk, bomb bursts were seen in the direction of Gazala and immediately our aircraft patrolled in that direction and after being told to orbit, 4 plus ME.109s were seen above and the enemy aircraft immediately dived down on our top cover and as a result both Sgt. Wildy and Sgt. MacDonnell were shot down. However, they bailed out and are now in Tobruk Hospital, slightly wounded. Sgt. Eagle was also compelled to crash some 25 kilos west of Gambut with a badly damaged machine. He himself received a wound in the shoulder but was able to return to his unit after receiving medical attention.”
By 1944, William Eagle was pilot with 198 Squadron. It was during this period that he would be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The London Gazette announced his award:
“Flying Officer William Geoffrey EAGLE (143448), Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, No. 198 Squadron. This officer has taken part in a large number of sorties and has destroyed 7 enemy aircraft, 4 of which he shot down whilst operating in the Western Desert. In January, 1944, Flying Officer Eagle took part in a sortie during which he became separated from his formation owing to poor visibility. Whilst flying alone he attacked a force of 12 enemy fighters. His first burst of fire struck the leading enemy aircraft which exploded. He then attacked a second enemy aircraft hitting it with a burst of fire, causing it to collide with another of the enemy formation; all three enemy aircraft crashed into the sea. The remainder of the formation broke away and flew off. Thus, single-handed, Flying Officer Eagle routed the whole enemy force. His achievement was out- standing.”
Not many RAF pilots managed to destroy seven enemy aircraft during the Second World War, so this tally puts William Eagle in a very accomplished group. A pilot who shot down five or more enemy aircraft was considered to have achieved “ace” status and was highly respected by their peers.
As we’ve already seen though, his bravery came at a huge risk, and there was another incident where he was injured.
On February 13th, 1944, he was shot and wounded in Typhoon 1b JR291. The Operations Record Book for No.198 Squadron RAF describes the event:
“6 Typhoons led by F/Lt Dall took off to sweep Dutch aerodromes. Near Calais enemy aircraft were reported and the leader caught a glimpse of three enemy aircraft up sun. These however immediately turned and dived away on crossing the coast. F/O Eagle at this point was caught in a sudden concentration of flak (or possible fire from enemy aircraft at long range) and received two hits in the cockpit and two shell fragments in his left arm.”
By May 1945 he was no longer involved in active service. He was now a test pilot for De Havilland, based out of Hatfield Aerodrome. Only the very best pilots were asked to be test pilots.
It’s ironic that this passive role would be the one that took his life, despite all the dangers he had faced during his wartime career.
On the 30th of May 1945, William’s fiancée, Peggy Davis of Branksome Park, Bournemouth, was working for the Women’s Land Army at a sawmill at Standing Hat, Denny Wood, in the New Forest. I assume this influenced William’s decision to fly over the area whilst testing a Typhoon aircraft.
A news report would describe what happened next.
“A young RAF pilot F Lt Geoffrey Eagle DFC of Birmingham who belonged to a squadron which during the war chased German M.E.s round the Eiffel Tower Paris met his death when his Typhoon fighter crashed in the New Forest yesterday.”
“F Lt Eagle who was stationed at Hatfield and was acting as a test pilot for De Haviland Aircraft Company had been flying over some sawmills near Brockenhurst where his fiancée Miss Peggy Davis of Bournemouth was working with W.L.A.”
“While she and the other girls were watching thrilled by his skill at the controls they were suddenly horrified to see parts of the plane fall off, and the machine went into a spiral dive and crashed into a plantation. The body was extricated from the wrecked machine by N.F.S and military.”
“Flight Lt Eagle won his DFC last year when he attacked single-handedly 12 Messerschmitt’s while on offensive patrol off Holland. He shot two of them.”
I don’t believe William took any risks that day or crashed due to an error he made. He was too experienced a pilot to do that.
Another report mentions a possible cause for the crash. It mentions how an undercarriage door fell off and hit the Typhoon’s tail due a trial flight to test a new propeller.
William was aged 25 when he died.
He is buried in Beaulieu Cemetery in Grave 39, far from his home, and far from where his family lived.
But he’s never been forgotten.
After he was buried at Beaulieu Cemetery in 1945, local lady Kathleen Brand (née Phillips) tended to his grave. When Kathleen passed away, her daughter Margaret Kitcher, continued to look after William’s grave, as she still does to this day.
Whilst neither woman are related to William Eagle, they felt a sense of duty and loyalty to him.
References & credits
- Thanks to Andy Brand
- The National Archives