AN army veteran from West Lothian will today be decorated with France’s highest national award – the Légion d’Honneur – in recognition of his bravery in battle during the liberation of the country in 1944.
Hugh Maguire, from Armadale, who served as a lance-corporal in the Royal Ulster Rifles, will be honoured at a ceremony on board the French navy destroyer Aquitaine in Leith.
A total of nine veterans are being honoured at the ceremony, which will be attended by French consul-general Emmanuel Cocher and Lord Provost Donald Wilson.
Mr Maguire, who became visually impaired in later life and is a member of the Scottish War Blinded, said he had no idea he was being considered for the medal.
“The honour came out of the blue,” he said. “I thought when I was demobbed in 1945 that would be the end of it, but, 70 years on, here we are.
“I am very much looking forward to the event and receiving this high honour. I am sure it will bring back a lot of memories of the D-Day campaign, which was the proudest moment of my military career.”
His act of courage took place as Mr Maguire, who had landed on Sword Beach on June 6, 1944, advanced with his regiment to the strategically important city of Caen.
His regiment encountered heavy resistance and Lance-Corporal Maguire was injured by a shell burst that propelled him 12 feet in the air as the troops approached the designated sector of Hill 60.
Despite suffering several shrapnel wounds to his back, neck and shoulders, he refused to stand down and report to the aid station. Instead, he focused his attention on silencing a deadly German machine gun position.
Reliving the moment which saw him overpower a group of German soldiers and capture an SS officer, Mr Maguire said: “A corporal tried to send me to first aid but I told him that I’d never refused an order in my life and asked permission to take down the machine gun position that had peppered us that morning.
“He looked at me and said that I wasn’t to blame him if I got shot. I said that was OK, as I wouldn’t be there to worry about it.
“I crawled my way up to the side of the machine gun post and shouted at them to surrender. I shot two of them as they turned their guns towards me – everything happened very quickly. The other two surrendered, one of them an SS officer, who I marched back to headquarters.”
By a twist of fate, years later, Mr Maguire, who had become a coal mining supervisor in West Lothian and Lanarkshire, re-encountered the SS officer while down a mine. Mr Maguire refused to work with him.
Lance-Corporal Maguire returned to the UK to undergo extensive medical treatment on his wounds and rejoined the regiment in 1945 as it advanced through Germany and became an occupying force in Berlin following the German surrender in May 1945.