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War hero remembered

PUBLISHED: 16:19 27 May 2009 | UPDATED: 15:15 07 July 2010

All his life a war hero never spoke about the horrific day he survived a brutal massacre of just under 100 officers and men just south of Dunkirk in 1940.

All his life a war hero never spoke about the horrific day he survived a brutal massacre of just under 100 officers and men just south of Dunkirk in 1940.

On Sunday, Pte William O'Callaghan's son Dennis led a memorial tribute to his father at a close named after him in his home town of Dereham.

The signaller in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment was just one of two men who survived the infamous massacre at Le Paradis.

Speaking at the memorial, Mr O'Callaghan said: “I think he would have been proud to think what he had done was still being talked about and remembered.

“Every war is horrible and life has to go on. But we must remember.”

Pte O'Callaghan was in a group of men undertaking a last ditch stand to enable the Dunkirk evacuation to go ahead. They were forced to surrender, disarmed and mown down by machine-gun fire.

Both Pte O'Callaghan and his comrade, Pte Burt Pooley, played dead and survived, despite being injured.

Pte O'Callaghan spent five years in a prisoner of war camp, but when released went on to testify with Pte Pooley against the German company commander who had ordered the massacre.

It was only through reading his father's pocket diary after his death in 1975 that Dennis learned the details of the incident.

“It is something I don't think should ever be let go,” he said. “The town of Dereham needs to remember what people have done during their lifetime.”

Next year he hopes to retrace his father's steps as part of the 2nd Battalion in a trip to Dunkirk and Le Paradis. Anyone interested can call 01485 600742.

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