Memorial project seeks 100 heroes

A mission has been launched to find 100 tales of wartime heroism by the people of Dereham which can be celebrated at the town's rejuvenated Memorial Hall.

The civic building on Norwich Street, dedicated in 1949 to the memory of those who died in the two world wars, is undergoing a �2.6m renovation which is due to be completed next summer.

Dereham Town Council hopes to commission a sculpted panel which will hang in the revamped hall as a permanent memorial to all the town's war losses in all conflicts throughout history.

The sculpture will feature an image of one of the town's most celebrated tales of bravery – Dereham soldier Bill O'Callaghan carrying his wounded comrade to safety after surviving the infamous Le Paradis massacre of 1940.

Town councillors and the Royal British Legion felt the image symbolised the courage, heroism and self-sacrifice of all of Dereham's war heroes, who have put themselves in danger in defence of their country.


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But they also recognised this was just one example among many, and set a challenge of collecting the stories of 100 heroes before the Memorial Hall is reopened, so they can be preserved for future generations.

Dereham mayor Robert Hambidge said the stories could surround townspeople who died or survived in any war, including the most recent and ongoing battles in the Middle East.

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'We are looking for 100 acts of heroism, but we are not just talking about the two world wars,' he said. 'People are still being killed and, although it is not on the same scale, it is still a war and it has the same effect on those left behind.

'The sculpture is to depict an act that we all know about but it is not just to remember just this one event – it is to represent everybody who undertook an act of bravery, in any conflict.'

The final roll of honour could be stored on CD or compiled into a book to be kept in the foyer of the Memorial Hall along with other wartime artefacts, and the finished sculpture, expected to take the form of a 55cm x 55cm panel.

Sculptors have been asked to submit a CV along with outline sketches and costs of their proposal.

The design must depict the events of May 27, 1940, when almost 100 soldiers from the Royal Norfolk Regiment surrendered to a German SS battalion after stubbornly holding the French village of Le Paradis against the merciless Nazi advance towards Dunkirk.

The men were disarmed, marched into a field and mown down by a murderous blast of machine-gun fire, with survivors finished off with revolver shots and bayonet thrusts.

Miraculously, two survived. Privates Bill O'Callaghan and Bert Pooley were both wounded, but 5ft 7in Bill still managed to carry his towering 6ft 3in comrade half a mile to the relative safety of a neighbouring farm.

Bill's son, Dennis O'Callaghan, said he was 'immensely proud' that his father would become the symbol of Dereham's fighting men and women, and the catalyst for others to come forward with tales of wartime heroism.

'Everybody has got a story to tell,' he said. 'If we do not capture these stories then they will be gone forever. The memorial will be there for posterity for the town and it is needed to highlight the sacrifice that was given by so many.'

Anyone with a story about war heroism can contact Dereham Town Council on 01362 693821 or t.needham@derehamtowncouncil.org or the EDP on 01362 854705 or chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

Artists interested in submitting ideas for the memorial sculpture should contact Dereham Town Council for full details of the design brief.

An exhibition about the Le Paradis massacre is being held in Dereham until the end of October at the Bishop Bonner Museum. Dennis O'Callaghan is organising a trip to Le Paradis from May 27-30 next year to coincide with the anniversary of the massacre. Anyone interested can contact him on 01485 600742.

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