Instituted by Napoleon Bonaparte to honour extraordinary contributions, the Légion d’Honneur is France’s highest distinction. Irishmen who fought in Napoleon’s armies were of the first recipients of the honour. In recent weeks, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur has been awarded to Irish Veterans of the liberation of France during the Second World War.
Sub-Lieutenant Michael d’Alton
On 26 January 2015, H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault, Ambassador of France to Ireland, presented the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur to Sub-Lieutenant Michael d’Alton (Retd), during a ceremony, with full military honours, on board the French Naval Command and Support Ship Somme, in recognition of his service during the liberation of France on D-Day in 1944.
Born in 1921, Michael (Mickey), who resides in Dalkey is a retired quantity surveyor and a member of the Royal Irish Yacht Club. Accepting the award and standing at attention, the 93 year old war veteran stated that he accepted the award on the “clear understanding that it was not for him alone but for the tens of thousands of Allied servicemen who served on D-Day”.
Additional photographs of the ceremony can be seen on the Trust’s Web Site Flicker channel.
Following his father’s footsteps who fought in the First World War, Michael joined the Royal Navy in 1942. On D-Day, he was second in command of a landing craft, LCT 796, seconded to the 5th Army Corps, bringing Sherman tanks and their crews, across to Omaha Beach.
Relating his experiences in Operation Overlord to the Sunday Independent, Michael said “There was a whole bunch of landing craft. The big thing was to try and get on the beach without crashing into other craft. That took seamanship”. Due to inclement weather, an earlier attempt on 5th June was aborted.
Addressing the attendees, H.E. Ambassador Thébault described Michael “as among the ranks of the many “outstanding Irish men and women who fought in the French Resistance and were awarded the Légion d’Honneur”. The Ambassador also praised Michael for playing his part in the defeat of a regime that had occupied France during the Second World War.
The Military Heritage of Ireland Trust CLG was represented at the ceremony by its Chairman, Brigadier-General Paul Pakenham (Retd). The attendance also included Major-General David O’Morchoe (Retd) – Royal British Legion and Captain Lar Joye – National Museum of Ireland, both of whom are Directors of the Trust.
The French Ambassador invited surviving Irish veterans of the liberation of France in 1944 and 1945 to contact the embassy, at 01 277 5000.
Under Two Flags – Commandant Pat Gillen (Retd) RIP
During a ceremony on 8 December in Cork, H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault, French Ambassador to Ireland presented Commandant Pat Gillen (Retd) (89) with the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, in recognition of his role in liberating France, in Normandy, during the Second World War. 2014 marked the 70th Anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, a military operation commonly known as D-Day. Sadly, Pat who was one of the last surviving Irish veterans of D-Day, died on 27 December 2014.
Interviewed by the media, Paddy dedicated the award to his fellow countrymen saying “In accepting this award, other brave Irish men, thousands of young men, who lost their lives in pursuit of peace remain in my memory. This award is as much theirs as mine.”
Residing in Galway, Paddy served in the 50 Infantry Battalion LDF in from 1940 through 1943, when he enlisted in the 6 Commando. With the rank of Corporal, on 6 June 1944, Paddy landed on Sword Beach, Normandy, as part of the D-Day Landings. Subsequently, his unit was involved in numerous river crossings including the Rhine which was accomplished on 23 March 1945. On 29 April 1945, Paddy’s unit was given pride and place in being the first unit to cross the Elbe. As Staff Sergeant, Paddy encountered Russian personnel in May 1945 in Berlin. Following the conclusion of hostilities on the European Front, Paddy served in Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Lebanon.
Working with Henry Ford & Son CLG in Cork, Paddy joined the 44 Field Artillery Battery in May 1950. In 1970, Paddy was promoted to the rank of Commandant and appointed as Battery Commander (FCA), 1 Field Artillery Battery, which subsequently became an organic Battery in the 8 Field Artillery Regiment (FCA) on reorganisation in 1979. On 7 March 1982, Paddy officiated at his Stand Down Parade in Murphy’s Barracks, Ballincollig, with 42 years service “under two flags” in the profession of arms. Paddy was unanimously elected as the second Honorary Member of The Artillery Club, at its Annual General Meeting on 4 December, 2014.
Operational Commander EU Chad – CAR
In May 2009, Lieutenant-General Pat Nash, Operational Commander of the European Union’s Peace Enforcement Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, having received the Légion d’Honneur from President Nicolas Sarkozy, was proclaimed “au nom de la Republique Francaise, nous vous faisons Officier de la Légion d’Honneur” at the Museum des Invalides in Paris.