National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

John Denvir – Soldier, POW, Partisan Leader

John Denvir – Soldier, POW, Partisan Leader

by Adam Moriarty, Assistant Curator Heraldry

John had been married for under 6 years to his wife Edna when he departed for Egypt with the 1st Echelon 20 Battalion in January 1940. Then a store man in Christchurch neither he nor his wife yet knew the brave, freedom-fighter he would become in the course of just 5 years.

John’s story is one full of charm and charcter which we will always remember through his distinct medal group which forms part of a special display in the museum’s new Medal Repository. John Denvir seemed to impress whomever he encountered. He quickly made his way through various ranks for his distinguished actions and natural leadership qualities.

Already promoted to Corporal, Denvir was captured by the Germans in April 1942. He spent 9 months in a POW camp in Yugoslavia and 3 weeks in solitary confinement after his first escape attempt. Although initially thought to have been the means of his demise by the War Office, his second escape was actually successful. In January 1942, he joined a Yugoslavian Partisan band and fought amongst the Slavs for freedom. Soon he headed a 60 strong mounted infantry unit which roamed vast territory.

Wounded four times and a fearless ‘war fighter’, he became affectionately known amongst the Partisans as ‘Corporal Frank’ and found professional recognition amongst the 1st Battalion, Krimski Odred and later the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Slovenian National Freedom Shock where he earned the ranks of Battalion Commander and Lieutenant. Denvir even worked with Force 133 which was a covert organisation arranging British help to the Partisan Forces of Yugoslavia. On returning to the New Zealand Forces he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant and later 2nd Lieutenant. He was awarded the DCM and the Soviet Medal for Valour. This award was unique amongst the New Zealanders of 2NZEF.