Emotional moment as relatives of those killed in massacre meet for first time
Another important chapter in Dereham’s history has been written after the descendants of those killed in a brutal massacre nearly 80 years ago, met for the very first time.
It comes following the official launch for a website to commemorate and archive the infamous Massacre at Le Paradis, in France, where 97 men lost their lives in May 1940.
The reception was held at Dereham Memorial Hall and brought together the descendants of those killed and those who served in the Royal Norfolk Regiment in the area at the time.
For some it was the first time they had met and many took the opportunity to swap special memories and stories.
It was also the first meeting of the families of the only two survivors of the massacre - Private William O’Callaghan and Private Albert Pooley.
Despite being wounded himself, Pte O’Callaghan, from Dereham, was able to carry his injured comrade Pte Pooley half a mile to the relative safety of a neighbouring farm.
Dennis O’Callaghan, son of Pte O’Callaghan, was introduced to Pte Pooley’s daughter Jeannette Hawkes and her husband, Greg.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “My father stayed in contact with him over the years. It was a lifelong friendship. Now, we will remain in contact too.”
There was also another special meeting of two families. Captain Charles Long, was injured in the last few moments prior to surrender at Le Paradis and ended up in a ditch along with another group. Because of this, they were taken by a different German detachment as prisoners of war.
Long was awarded the Military Cross for an act of bravery during Le Paradis dramatically depicted the harrowing aftermath of the atrocity in a drawing entitled Massacre Scene evening of May 27, 1940.
His daughter Vicky Gee and her husband Edward attended the launch where they were introduced to Tony Howlett.
Mr Howlett is the nephew of Captain Long’s batman - a soldier assigned to a commissioned officer as a personal servant - Private Walter George Howlett. And while he was not one of the soldiers killed in the massacre, Pte Howlett lost his life in Le Paradis shortly after on May 27 - on the same day of the massacre.
It is likely he was killed as part of the rearguard action against the advancing German forces.
The massacre at Le Paradis
Private William O’Callaghan, of Dereham, was among a group of soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment who found themselves isolated from their regiment in the French hamlet of Le Paradis, near Dunkirk, in May 1940.
The soldiers occupied and defended a farmhouse against an offensive by SS troops but their ammunition soon ran out and their only option was to surrender.
Rather than take them as prisoners of war, German soldiers machine-gunned and bayoneted the 99 Royal Norfolks. Despite their efforts, Pte O’Callaghan survived and pulled his injured comrade, Private Bert Pooley, from the bodies.
The pair hid at a neighbouring farm for three days and nights before being caught by the Germans.
Pte O’Callaghan spent the next five years as a prisoner of war, mainly in Poland.
In 1948 he and Pte Pooley testified at the war crimes trial of Fritz Knoechlein, who was subsequently hanged.
For more information visit www.leparadismassacre.com.