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Campaign for memorial to soldiers massacred by Nazis takes step forward

PUBLISHED: 16:51 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 16 October 2019

Dennis O'Callaghan with a statue of Private William O'Callaghan carrying Private Albert Pooley from the massacre site at Le Paradis. Picture: Ian Burt

Dennis O'Callaghan with a statue of Private William O'Callaghan carrying Private Albert Pooley from the massacre site at Le Paradis. Picture: Ian Burt

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It was a ruthless act of Nazi brutality which spawned the little-known story of a Dereham soldier's remarkable heroism.

William O'Callaghan (left) and Albert Pooley arriving at the War Crimes Court in Hamburg. Picture: SuppliedWilliam O'Callaghan (left) and Albert Pooley arriving at the War Crimes Court in Hamburg. Picture: Supplied

And now a long overdue memorial saluting the British soldiers killed in the Le Paradis massacre has taken a step closer to becoming a reality.

In what was later recognised as a war crime, 97 troops - many from the Royal Norfolk Regiment - had their cries of surrender cruelly snubbed by Hitler's SS Blackshirts on May 27, 1940.

Dennis O'Callaghan at an annual service to remember his father and Dereham war hero William O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian BurtDennis O'Callaghan at an annual service to remember his father and Dereham war hero William O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian Burt

But from the bloodshed in this small French hamlet, near Dunkirk, emerged an awe-inspiring tale of bravery.

Dereham soldier William O'Callaghan somehow managed to escape, carrying his injured friend Bert Pooley to safety and surviving the slaughter.

Graveyard of 97 men - many of whom from the Royal Norfolk Regiment - at Le Paradis, France. Picture: SuppliedGraveyard of 97 men - many of whom from the Royal Norfolk Regiment - at Le Paradis, France. Picture: Supplied

Over the years no less than five memorials have been unveiled across the Channel paying tribute to their fallen comrades, but still to this day there are none in Norfolk.

Last year a campaign was launched to finally rectify the absence, with the aim of raising £50,000 for a permanent memorial which could be in Norwich.

A French memorial showing the heroic actions of Dereham soldier, Private William OCallghan, carrying his injured comrade Private Bert Pooley. Picture: Submitted by Dennis OCallghan.A French memorial showing the heroic actions of Dereham soldier, Private William OCallghan, carrying his injured comrade Private Bert Pooley. Picture: Submitted by Dennis OCallghan.

And now Le Paradis Memorial Appeal - a registered charity - has taken another step towards its ultimate goal after almost £10,000 was raised at a fundraising dinner and auction hosted by North Norfolk Railway.

The registered charity has reached £37,000 and their progress is music to the ears of Dennis O'Callaghan, son of war hero William.

William O'Callaghan (back row third from right), from Dereham, with his troop at a POW camp in February 1942. Picture: Antony KellyWilliam O'Callaghan (back row third from right), from Dereham, with his troop at a POW camp in February 1942. Picture: Antony Kelly

"Everything is proceeding very nicely at the moment," said Mr O'Callaghan, who is president of the Royal British Legion's Dereham branch.

"Getting this memorial is so important, not only to my family but to countless others.

A remembrance service for Private William O'Callaghan, who escaped from the massacre of Le Paradis, France, during the Second World War. Picture: Sonya DuncanA remembrance service for Private William O'Callaghan, who escaped from the massacre of Le Paradis, France, during the Second World War. Picture: Sonya Duncan

"My father always said he would like a memorial in the county so that families would have a place of pilgrimage and somewhere to get some closure.

"We've got a Le Paradis massacre website and, when people find out about us, they come forward with no end of stories."

The barn where the murder of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment at Le Paradis, France, took place.
 

Picture: SuppliedThe barn where the murder of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment at Le Paradis, France, took place. Picture: Supplied

While emphasising frustration over decades of delays, Mr O'Callaghan says this new opportunity to establish a memorial must be seized.

He added: "This was nearly 80 years ago and opportunities have not been taken when they should have been.

William O'Callaghan (left), from Dereham, outside the War Crime Courts in Nuremberg, Germany, following the Second World War. Picture: Antony KellyWilliam O'Callaghan (left), from Dereham, outside the War Crime Courts in Nuremberg, Germany, following the Second World War. Picture: Antony Kelly

"I've been campaigning for more than 40 years and to get people interested and committed has taken all that time."

To donate to the memorial appeal, visit the campaign website.

The annual service to remember Dereham war hero William O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian BurtThe annual service to remember Dereham war hero William O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian Burt

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