Centenarian with Lurgan ancestery awarded Legion d’Honneur

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A veteran tank commander with Lurgan roots has been awarded France’s highest honour on his 100th birthday has said his thoughts are with old comrades.

Francis Denvir, originally from Glasgow’s East End but living in West Cork in Ireland, fought back tears during the double celebrations as he was bestowed with the medal of the Legion d’Honneur for his role in D-Day.

He said his thoughts are with old comrades.

Mr Denvir, whose grandfather emigrated from Lurgan to Glasgow in the 1800s, joined the Irish Guards in 1939.

His father’s advice was to join an Irish regiment as it would have a Catholic priest assigned in the event of death.

Mr Denvir was a sergeant in an Irish Guards armoured division which fought in the Market Garden campaign at the end of World War Two following the second wave of D-Day landings.

He landed on Sword beach in Normandy before fighting through northern France, Belgium and to the epic Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands, depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far.

Receiving the medal from the French ambassador to Ireland Jean-Pierre Thebault, the old soldier had mixed emotions.

“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.”

Dozens of family and friends joined Mr Denvir for the celebrations in Rosscarbery, west Cork, a few miles from where he has made his home in Union Hall since 1989 with wife Mary.

The couple celebrated 74 years of marriage this year.

They fondly recall how they had to break ration orders to get enough dried fruit during the war to bake a wedding cake in secret.

One of Mr Denvir’s sons, Brian, who also served with the British Army, said the celebrations were only made possible thanks to the endeavours of the Irish Guards, the Ministry of Defence, the French Government and the embassy in Dublin since the application was made in June.

“It took a bit of dog chasing,” he said.

“But to be fair the Irish Guards took ownership of it and pushed it through but everybody played their part.”

Mr Denvir had a narrow escape from death.

He suffered near fatal head wounds from shrapnel after his tank was blown up in Arnhem and had to learn to walk and talk again and went on to have eight children.

Mr Thebault 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 also all his comrades, friends, Irish, British, French who more than 60 or 70 years ago made a decision to fight together for certain values,” he said.

Mr Denvir is the latest D-Day veteran to be bestowed with the Legion d’Honneur while searches are ongoing for other survivors.

The late Pat Gillen, from Cork, was honoured for his role with the Commando unit in the D-Day landings, also on Sword beach, as was Michael d’Alton, 94, a sub-lieutenant who steered a landing craft tank to Omaha beach.

The French embassy in Dublin said it is still seeking relatives of other surviving D-Day and Second World War veterans to come forward.

Many Irish soldiers in the south faced bitter disappointment at the indifference in their homeland to the sacrifices made by thousands of their countrymen in World War II, a history the Irish Government is seeking to redress.