THE West Cork veteran of the D-Day landings in Normandy who died at his home in Union Hall recently, was hugely proud when he was honoured by the French government for his part in the defeat of the Nazis in Europe.
Francis Denvir, who was born in Glasgow’s East End after his grandfather emigrated there from Lurgan in Co Armagh in the 1800s, died at his home at Keelbeg in Union Hall on December 3rd.
A former sergeant in a tank troop with the Irish Guards, he was among the second wave of British forces to land at Sword beach in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord in June 1944.
At his funeral last Friday, celebrant Fr Gerry Thornton began the funeral mass at St Bridget’s Church by describing Frank’s life as one ‘well lived’ before he recalled how he and his wife, Mary, had come to love the wild rugged beauty of West Cork after they moved to Union Hall in 1989.
But it was an earlier chapter in Frank’s life that was recalled by his daughter, Rosemary when, leading the prayers of the faithful, she asked mourners to ‘remember and honour those men who gave their lives for freedom and democracy’ when World War II broke out.
Mr Denvir joined the Irish Guards in 1939 and spent the early years of the war training tank drivers before participating in the Normandy landings and fighting his way across Europe.
He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal by the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault on his 100th birthday on October 22nd 2015 in recognition of his role in the Liberation of France. Speaking on that occasion, Mr Denvir’s daughter, Adela Nugent siad her father was hugely proud of the honour.
‘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.”
‘He was never a man looking for accolades,’ said Ms Nugent, adding that her father had deliberately decided to join the Irish Guards when war broke out.
‘The Irish Guards was the only regiment that had a Catholic priest assigned to it and he would be very proud of the fact that he was in the Irish Guards.’
After landing at Sword Beach, Mr Denvir led a tank troop through northern France as the Allies liberated France and then Belgium before taking part in the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands.
He was wounded during the battle there with German Panzers, suffering serious shrapnel wound to the head when his tank was hit and he was evacuated back to Britain for treatment.
Despite the limited rehab available at the time, Mr Denvir learned how to walk and talk again and went on to have eight children with his wife, Mary from Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath.
The couple married in Glasgow in 1942 and they later fondly recalled how they had to break wartime ration orders to get enough dried fruit to bake a wedding cake in secret.
The couple moved to Union Hall after holidaying in the area for many years and last year, Mr Denvir was asked, as the oldest person in the parish, to officially re-open Leap Post Office. A year earlier when receiving the Legion d’Honneur, he spoke briefly to reporters about what receiving the award from the French Government meant to him after so many years.
‘It is only fitting that we remember all the Irish Guards and all those who fought during WWII and the many who did not return home,’ said Mr Denvir at the ceremony at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery. ‘But I feel happy that my services in the army are being recognised.
‘I’m quite happy,’ he added, as he was joined by his wife and family for the ceremony, organised by the French Embassy.