Tank commander hero who was awarded Légion d’Honneur

Frank Denvir obituary: Born October 22nd, 1915; died December 3rd, 2017

Frank Denvir:  suffered serious shrapnel wounds when his tank was hit by German Panzers at the Battle of Arnhem in Holland in 1944.

Frank Denvir: suffered serious shrapnel wounds when his tank was hit by German Panzers at the Battle of Arnhem in Holland in 1944.

 

When serving as a tank commander during the D-Day landings, Frank Denvir, who has died at the age of 102, returned to the place where he had buried the bodies of fallen soldiers during the day. Working out the co-ordinates where each one lay, he then collected their dog tags in the hope they would be found and reinterred when the war was over. For that act of mercy alone, recounted to his granddaughter Carla, he can truly be described as a hero.

A sergeant in the Irish Guards, he led a tank troop across Europe following the Normandy landing, and it fought its way across northern France and into Belgium. Looking back in later years, he recalled the German onslaught was so fierce that out of an estimated 250 tanks landed on Sword Beach by the Allies, all but 54 were destroyed.

At his funeral, the mourners were asked by celebrant Fr Jerry Thornton “to remember and honour those men who gave their lives for freedom and democracy”. Denvir was the longest surviving member of the “Micks” (the Irish Guards) and one of Ireland’s longest-surviving second World War veterans.

Though born in Glasgow, his Catholicism and his Irish roots (his grandfather emigrated from Lurgan in Co Armagh) convinced him to join the Second Battalion Irish Guards Armoured Division when war broke out in 1939 and he spent the early war years training tank drivers. His unit was in the second wave of British forces to land on Sword Beach as part of Operation Overlord.

Having led his tank troop safely through battle, he suffered serious shrapnel wounds to the head when his tank was hit by German Panzers at the Battle of Arnhem in Holland in 1944. So severe were his injuries that he was taken back to Britain for treatment and, despite the limited rehabilitation available at the time, he learned to walk and talk again. He went on to have eight children with his wife, Mary, who came originally from Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath.

Liberation of France

Two years ago, on his 100th birthday, the French ambassador to Ireland, Jean-Pierre Thébault, presented him with the Légion d’Honneur, the highest honour the government can award a non-citizen, in recognition of the role he had played in liberating France from the Nazis.

On that occasion, Denvir’s daughter, Adela Nugent, said he was “delighted, absolutely thrilled when he heard. He was the type of man, like a lot of veterans, who would say: ‘Look, it happened, you got on with it, don’t talk about it.’” She added that he was never a man looking for accolades. “The Irish Guards was the only regiment that had a Catholic priest assigned to it and he is a devout Catholic. He would be very proud of the fact that he was in the Irish Guards.”

Having married in Glasgow in 1942, the couple later recalled breaking wartime ration regulations to get enough dried fruit to bake a wedding cake in secret.

After the war, Frank worked as a school caretaker in Kelvinside Garden in Glasgow. Having spent many holidays in west Cork, he and Mary decided to live there all year round and moved to the picturesque fishing village of Union Hall in 1989, settling at Shearwater, Keelbeg.

As the oldest person in the parish, Denvir was asked last year to officially reopen what had been a busy post office in Leap, a vital facility for the local community before it was suddenly and inexplicably closed down by officialdom.

He is survived by his wife Mary and adult children Rosemary, Francis, Brian, Eileen, Cecelia, Clare, Terence and Adela, and by his many grandchildren and great grandchildren.