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From Notts officer to Knight of the Légion d’honneur by PC Rob Phillips

October 9, 2017
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Retired Nottinghamshire Police officer Denis Silverwood, 92, has been awarded the French Republic’s greatest honour, being appointed a Knight of the Order of the Légion d’honneur.

The honour which was instituted by the Emperor Napoleon, has been awarded to surviving veterans of the Second World War on the order of the President of the Republic. The citation which accompanied the insignia from the French Embassy makes clear the debt owed to Mr Silverwood’s generation, stating: "…we must not forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life." 

A conversation with Mr Silverwood is an education and a brush with the shadows of history itself. Despite the passage of time, the former Chief Superintendent remains sharp, clear yet very modest while speaking about his service to his country as both sailor and police constable. With a sense of humour as strong as his handshake he recalled the day in 1942 he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and attended the Butlin’s holiday camp at Skegness which had been converted into His Majesty’s Naval Establishment Royal Arthur. With a lick of white paint, a Royal Naval ensign, a shouting Petty Officer and some rowing boats on the swimming pool to train the sailors, Butlin’s took on a new lease of life, being named Billy Butlin’s navy by the young Silverwood and the other young sailors!

On completion of his training, 17 year old Ordinary Seaman Silverwood was sent to Scotland to begin training as a signalman, in which he had shown particular skill. Shortly afterwards his posting was confirmed to HM Minesweeper MMS 218 and he joined the fleet in one of the most dangerous of duties in the war at sea. MMS 218 was a small warship, lightly armed and made of wood making her very vulnerable to enemy fire. Crewed by 22 men, many of whom where hard Scotsmen and professional seamen drawn from the fishing fleets the small minesweeper was employed in sweeping the English Channel of German sea mines. Earning your place amongst these hard men wasn’t easy but Denis Silverwood earned his place, none more so than in June 1944 during Operation Overlord, the invasion of occupied Europe.

During the dark early hours of June 6 1944, the greatest invasion fleet ever to set sail, slowly and silently crossed the English Channel with ships filled to the brim with troops in order to begin what would for ever more be known as D Day. Essential to the success of the operation and leading the vanguard which would see the French people free from domination was the small minesweeper MMS 218 and her sister ships of the Dover minesweeper flotilla. The small group of ships, with their close knit crews numbered 8, and were responsible for clearing the sea lanes of high explosive mines. By the end of the operation, 2 of their wooden hulled number would be destroyed and sent to the bottom of the channel with heavy losses. Although the danger was immense and the risk and loss of life high Mr Silverwood reflects "we didn’t have it as bad as the soldiers though". Despite his modesty however, Able Seaman Denis Silverwood was awarded one of the oldest British recognitions of bravery for the Normandy Landings, being Mentioned In Despatches.

Upon the outbreak of peace, Denis took advantage of a scheme which saw many ex-service men join the police force, and in 1946 he joined the Nottingham City Police in which his own father, an ex Royal Marine was serving. As a young Police Constable, PC Silverwood was stationed in the Northern Division covering Hyson Green, Bulwell, Basford and Carrington, all on foot. Promoted to sergeant in 1953 Denis displayed obvious leadership skills and on attending a course at the Police College in 1960 the Commandant noted: "He has qualities which fit him for higher rank."

Promoted to Chief Superintendent in 1970 Mr Silverwood took up a post with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary where his strong organisational skills helped shape and advise many northern constabularies. For his work within the Inspectorate Chief Superintendent Denis Silverwood received a letter in June 1974 stating: " I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that Her Majesty The Queen has been pleased to award you the Queen’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service."

Mr Silverwood retired in 1981, however again volunteered to help his force and community in 1997 by assisting as a volunteer to man Radcliffe Upon Trent Police station. In the service of his country Chief Superintendent Denis Edwin Silverwood QPM was awarded the following recognition for his service to his country by King and Queen alike – Mine Sweeper Good Conduct Badge, the Europe Star, the France and Germany Star, the War Medal, the Defence Medal with Mention In Despatches, Queens Silver Jubilee Medal, the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, Queens Police Medal (QPM) and latterly upon the order of the President of France, the Légion d’honneur.

I speak on behalf of Nottinghamshire Police when I say we’re incredibly proud of Mr Silverwood and his achievements.

Notes to Editors

Denis is available for interviews. Contact Holly in the media team on 101 Ext. 3110648.

101 is the number to call when you need to contact Nottinghamshire Police and it’s less urgent than a 999 call. Calls cost 15p, no matter how long the call lasts.