A Foxford native, an Israeli hero

County View

County View
John Healy

Although revered in Israel to this day, Sergeant Mike Flanagan is almost unknown in his native land. And yet the Foxford native’s story of courage, commitment and loyalty is a tale to equal any in the archives of military history.
But now, thanks to the research and dedication of retired Army Officer, Donal Buckley, the life story of Mike Flanagan has been meticulously documented and published by way of a new book, ‘Sergeant Flanagan, Foxford and Israel’.
This book is not only the story of a remarkable life; Donal Buckley provides the reader with the historical context of the evolution of the state of Israel, and the geo-political background to the events in which Mike Flanagan played such a central role.
Michael Flanagan was born in Foxford in May, 1926, and at age sixteen enlisted in the British Army’s Dragoon Guards. Within two years, he was in action in the D-day landings, but nothing could prepare him for what was to come with the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. His experience there, and what he saw of the ultimate horrors of Nazism, had a profound effect on him and gave him a deep sympathy for the Jewish people.
Come the end of the war, Flanagan’s regiment was posted to what was then British Mandated Palestine, ruled by Britain since 1922, and soon to be partitioned to carve out the new state of Israel. That new Jewish state was established following the British withdrawal in 1948. Sgt Flanagan was assigned to remain with the small British garrison tasked to evacuate the armour and heavy weaponry on to British Royal Navy transport ships at Haifa, prior to the final stage of departure from Palestine.
It was at this point there came the incident which would change forever the course of Flanagan’s life. He and his friend, Sgt Harry MacDonald, were among the minority of Mandate soldiers who favoured the Jewish, rather than the Arab, cause, and were prepared to help the new state in a practical way. Woefully short of armaments and military hardware, the Israelis approached the two officers with a proposal. If the pair would help to ‘transfer’ four huge Cromwell tanks, assigned to protect Haifa airport, and divert them to the Israelis, they would each be rewarded with £3,000, new identities, and a new life in Israel.
In the end, only two of the massive tanks were commandeered. The two sergeants succeeded in driving them from Haifa on a 100 km trek to Tel Aviv, where they were delivered into the hands of the Israelis. On arrival, the two NCOs were officially enlisted into B company of the 82nd Battalion of the Israeli Defence Forces, the newly designated tank company. The tanks would soon be put to good use in the bitter battle between Jews and Arabs which followed independence, when Flanagan and MacDonald – now Israeli citizens – fought with distinction. Mike Flanagan converted to Judaism and married a comrade soldier, Ruth Levy , the couple having two children.
Following the death of his wife, he emigrated to Canada, using an Israeli passport in the name of Mike Peted. In Toronto, he met and married the widow of his Battalion comrade, Mo Swartz. He died in 2014, and his body was repatriated to Israel where he was buried alongside his first wife, with full military honours.
Sgt Mike Flanagan, the man from Foxford, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Valour from the Wiesenthal Centre. The IDF Armoured Corps honours him at its museum in Latrun, where his two Cromwell tanks are on permanent and prominent display. The ‘Flanagan Tank’ is now the cap badge of the IDF Armoured Corps, worn by every officer, NCO and soldier.
Mike Flanagan, honoured in Israel, but forgotten in Ireland.