Important moment in Dereham’s history archived on new website commemorating the 97 lives lost at the Massacre at Le Paradis
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press ©2004
A story of a Dereham war hero who survived an infamous massacre nearly eight decades ago has been recorded for the first time on a website dedicated to the men who lost their lives.
Private William O'Callaghan, of Dereham, was one of only two survivors of an infamous massacre in May 1940, when German soldiers machine-gunned and bayoneted 99 captured Royal Norfolks, who had surrendered to SS officers in the French hamlet of Le Paradis, near Dunkirk.
Despite being wounded himself, Pte O'Callaghan was able to carry his injured comrade Private Bert Pooley half a mile to the relative safety of a neighbouring farm.
Pte O'Callaghan spent five years as a prisoner of war, mainly in Poland, but in 1948 he and Pte Pooley testified at the war crimes trial of Fritz Knoechlein, who was subsequently hanged.
And now his bravery has been archived on a new website, dedicated to the memory of the 97 soldiers who were massacred in Northern France.
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Pts O'Callaghan's son, Dennis, has spent the past eight years researching and recording the information.
'It's very significant with the amount of information which we have at our disposal,' he said.
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'There's things published on the website now which have never been seen before.'
Dennis has always been active in making sure his father's story lives on in the community and in 2013 visited Scarning Primary School to talk to a group of 60 seven and eight-year-olds. He has also led dignitaries honouring his memory .
The Le Paradis Massacre _ Hell in Paradise website has been put together by experts on the subject and residents of the Le Paradis, and covers all aspects of the massacre, from the men who sacrificed their lives, the background, and the village of Le Paradis. It also explores the years after the massacre.
Many of the documents and photographs featured have never been available to the public, including Pte O'Callaghan's personal diaries and artwork by Captain Charles W. H. Long, which was discovered in Scotland by the Long Family.
Peter Steward, who designed the website, said: 'What we are trying to do is build up a whole picture of this moment in time.'
He added that they were also keen to hear from families of the 97 soldiers who died.
Captain Charles W. H. Long and his artwork*
Charles Long was born in Attleborough on March 18, 1906.
He was the son of Major Herbert Charles Long, also of the Royal Norfolk Regiment.
Long was a keen athlete and represented Norfolk at cricket and hockey. He was also an accomplished artist and friend of Michael Seago and his brother Edward when they studied at the Ipswich School of Art.
He was injured in the last few moments prior to surrender at Le Paradis and ended up in a ditch along with another group which included Captain Hastings. 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.
He attended the trial of Fritz Knoechlein and provided evidence.
After the war he continued his career in the Army, retiring in 1960.
*Taken with permission from the website Massacre at Le Paradie - Hell in Paradise