Veteran Tank Commander Receives the Légion d’Honneur on his 100th Birthday
A former Sergeant in the Irish Guards, Francis Denvir was presented with France’s highest honour, the Légion d’Honneur by H.E. Jean-Pierre Thébault the French Ambassador to Ireland, on 22 October 2015. Living in Union Hall, County Cork for the past 26 years, the ceremony took place on his 100th birthday in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery.
Francis Denvir, whose grandfather emigrated from Lurgan, County Armagh to Glasgow in the 1800s, joined the Irish Guards in 1939. He opted for the Irish Guards over a Scottish regiment because the Guards had a Catholic chaplain.
D-Day Second World War
Francis Denvir spent the initial war years training tank drivers before participating in the second wave of Normandy landings at Sword Beach in June 1944. As a member of the Guards Armoured Division, Sergeant Denvir led a tank troop from Sword Beach through Northern France, into Belgium, and to the Battle of Arnhem in The Netherlands, depicted in the film “A Bridge Too Far”.
He suffered near fatal head wounds from shrapnel after his tank was blown up in Arnhem. While in a coma, he was airlifted to the Royal Hospital in Bath where he woke several days later, confused by the voices of injured Polish fighters in the same ward.
Guards Armoured Division
The Guards Armoured Division was an armoured division of the British Army during the Second World War. It was activated on 17 June 1941 from elements of the Guards units, the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards, Scots Guards, Welsh Guards and Irish Guards The division remained in England United Kingdom, training, until 26 June 1944, when it landed in Normandy during Operation Overlord as part of VIII Corps. On 12 June 1945, less than two months after Victory in Europe Day, the division was reorganised as an infantry division – the Guards Division.
During 1942, he married Mary, originally from Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath. Despite the limited rehab available at the time, Sergeant Denvir learned how to walk and talk again, and went on to have eight children. In 1989, they moved to Union Hall in Cork after visiting the area for holidays for many years.
Ambassador Thébault paid tribute to the men and women who fought out of principle to liberate France: “What makes this day special is not only because it is a unique opportunity to recognise his merit after quite a long time, but to remember through him all his comrades, friends, Irish, British, French who more than 60 or 70 years ago made a decision to fight together for certain values.”
Receiving the Légion d’Honneur, Francis Denvir stated: “It is only fitting that we remember all the Irish Guards and all those who fought during World War Two and the many who did not return home. But I feel happy that my services in the army are being recognised. I’m quite happy.”
Francis Dennvir’s daughter, Adela Nugent, said her father personally applied in June for his D-Day role to be marked. “He was delighted, absolutely thrilled when he heard. He was the type of man, like a lot of veterans of the war, who would say: ‘Look, it happened, you got on with it, don’t talk about it.’ But it’s a huge recognition at his age. He was never a man looking for accolades.”
Légion d’Honneur – Recent Irish Recipients
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. As reported on the Trust’s Website, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur has been awarded to Irish Veterans of the liberation of France during the Second World War.
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.
During a ceremony on 8 December 2014 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.
The French embassy in Dublin has advised that it still seeking other surviving D-Day and Second World War veterans to come forward.