Dereham man salutes memorial to father killed in Le Paradis massacre
- Credit: John Head
Eighty years after his father died in a Second World War massacre, a Dereham man proudly saluted a new memorial in Norwich Cathedral Close.
Philip Curson wiped a tear from his eye as he thought about the father he never knew.
Sergeant William Curson was one of 97 soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment, Royal Scots Regiment and others murdered in the massacre at Le Paradis in Northern France on May 27, 1940.
At that time, Mr Curson was just 13 months old. Now in his eighties, he was one of the guests of honour as the memorial to those murdered at Le Paradis was given the Royal seal of approval at a dedication service attended by the Princess Royal.
Over the years, with the help of his wife, Jean, and son, Peter, Mr Curson has pieced together details of his father’s life. He has established that William enlisted in the Royal Norfolk Regiment at Britannia Barracks, Norwich, in November 1922 when he lied about his age.
"I think my father was something of a joker and he obviously added two years to his age as he went up Kett's Hill," said Mr Curson.
William saw service in Jamaica, Egypt, Cyprus, China and India, before joining the British Expeditionary Force in France from 1939 until his death.
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Mr Curson was born in Stibbard on April 11, 1939. Although he has no memory of his father, he does remember going into his mother's room where he found her and his older sister crying. They had just received confirmation that William had died.
There was little talk in the Curson household about what had happened. Mr Curson and sister, Phyllis, grew up without a father, and mum Barbara never re-married.
Mr Curson inherited letters, photographs and memorabilia which has given him the chance to piece together scraps of information about his father.
"I am very proud of what he was and what he achieved," he said.
Knowing that his father had been killed in the war, but not how, didn’t stop Mr Curson joining the army and the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the late 1950s.
He was posted to the German capital, Berlin, as a dispatch rider, moving between the various zones of occupation.
“I was reluctant to leave my mother, but we were a military family," added Mr Curson.
"It was a good posting but I'm glad I didn't know what had happened to my father at the time. I'm not sure how I would have felt if I had known what the Germans had done to him."
Mr Curson fulfilled a number of functions including laying telephone lines and operating an exchange, before volunteering for a dispatch rider post because of his love of motorcycles - which has stayed with him.
His duties saw him move between the east and west, taking documents to Spandau Prison and delivering passports, all of which gave him a real perspective on the tensions that were beginning to develop between the east and the west.
“I witnessed considerable poverty on the streets, and I vividly remember old ladies round the back streets sitting on doorsteps and wearing black, obviously grieving for those who died in the war,” he said.
A few years ago, Mr Curson returned to Berlin and admits he was in a daze when he was able to walk unchallenged through the Brandenburg Gate.
“I couldn’t help thinking that, in a small way, myself and my father had been united in playing a small part in history,” he added
Mr Curson spent most of his working life outside the army as a fitter welder at Crane Fruehauf for 35 years. building road tankers after initially starting as a moulder in Norfolk foundries.
His love of motorcycles has seen him restore many vintage models although, at the age of 82, he has given up riding.
He has, however, made custom wheels for a number of King’s Lynn’s Australian contingent of speedway riders including Kevin Doolan, Troy Batchelor and Ashley Jones.