Dismay at theft of wreath from memorial to Dereham war hero Bill O’Callaghan

Dennis O'Callaghan lays a wreath at a memorial service in Dereham to remember his father and local war hero William (Bill) O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian Burt Dennis O'Callaghan lays a wreath at a memorial service in Dereham to remember his father and local war hero William (Bill) O'Callaghan. Picture: Ian Burt

Monday, June 23, 2014
6:30 AM

The son of a Dereham war hero has spoken of his disgust after a wreath was stolen from his father’s memorial – the second such incident in the area within a few weeks.

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Dennis O’Callaghan, who is president of the Dereham branch of the Royal British Legion, organises an annual service to remember his father, who was one of only two survivors of the infamous Le Paradis massacre in May 1940.

After German soldiers machine-gunned and bayoneted 99 captured Royal Norfolk soldiers, a wounded Pte Bill O’Callaghan was able to carry his injured comrade Bert Pooley half a mile to the relative safety of a neighbouring farm.

On May 18, his father placed a special Dunkirk veterans’ wreath on the memorial plaque at William O’Callaghan Place, a housing development off Swaffham Road named in honour of the soldier.

But within a week of the service, the wreath was gone.

Mr O’Callaghan said: “It is just so disrespectful. Perhaps it is just modern society.

“The people who live at William O’Callaghan Place are fantastic, and they always support us. It is just this mindless element.

“I have no idea why someone would steal a wreath, but everybody has an angle. We have got numerous websites now which sell anything. Once they have taken the card out they can be sold on as new. Or perhaps someone has got a macabre thing about collecting wreaths from memorials.”

Mr O’Callaghan contacted the EDP about the theft after reading of a similar incident in North Elmham, where floral tributes were taken from a new memorial installed to mark the 70th anniversary of a Mosquito aircraft crash which claimed two airmen’s lives in April 1944.

More than 100 people attended a special service at St Mary’s Church, and a number of wreaths were laid on the newly-dedicated memorial stone. As previously reported, those wreaths also disappeared earlier this month.

Historian Janet Woodhouse, who had helped bring the project to fruition, said: “Why, I wonder, would anyone steal wreaths? How sneaky and underhand, with total disregard for those two airmen and their families.”

The North Elmham theft was reported to the police, but Mrs Woodhouse said she didn’t hold out too much hope of the culprits being caught.

A spokesman for Norfolk police said it was not possible to confirm if the thefts were part of a trend, as it would be difficult to cross-reference all the logged minor crimes to establish any pattern.

Do you know of any other wreaths that have been stolen from war memorials? Contact chris.hill@archant.co.uk.

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