Gallery: Recognition for war hero’s part in secret force
12:19 15 April 2014
© Archant Norfolk 2014
The contribution a Dereham man made to a secret service during the Second World War has been recognised in a new publication.
Widow Teddy O’Donnell has been presented with a copy of Kalavryta - A Modern Greek Tragedy by Chris Riley.
The book recounts the massacre of a Greek village, Kalavryta, in December 1943 when it was invaded by the German army and a total of 497 boys and men aged from 12 years old were shot.
Mrs O’Donnell’s late husband Conal O’Donnell MBE, who served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Force 133 during 1943 and 1944, was operating in Kalavryta at the time and witnessed the horrors.
He was on the run from the Germans for more than three weeks and later organised relief operations for the Kalavryta survivors, many of whom were personal friends.
After the war, he paid for a requiem mass to be held at Dereham’s Roman Catholic Church on each anniversary of the massacre - a tradition which still stands today.
In former BBC producer Mr Riley’s book, it details messages sent by the airfield engineer, telling of the destruction of the Greek village and surrounding area and calling for relief.
Mrs O’Donnell, whose husband of 50 years died when he was 81 in 1996, said she was “very proud” of him.
She said: “The SOE was a secret organisation, no one seemed to know about it. He would’ve been very pleased with the book. He felt what happened in Kalavryta should be known.”
Mrs O’Donnell, 89, who lives in Quebec Road, Dereham, and met her husband in 1947 after the war, said they visited the Greek village in 1978 and were given the freedom of Kalavryta and two other nearby settlements.
The book’s publication comes as a campaign to celebrate Dereham’s war heroes was thrown in the limelight after a display featuring Faye LeBon’s grandfather, George Head, was removed from Dereham’s Memorial Hall.
A montage featuring photos and information about Captain O’Donnell was featured in the Heroes project, which formed part of the art venue’s £2.6m renovation in 2011, but was also removed. It was noticed there were a series of typographical errors in the display.
Captain O’Donnell’s eldest son Conal O’Donnell, 63, who lives in Dereham, said: “We are delighted as a family that someone has written a book highlighting the crucial role my father played.
“It’s a pity that at the same time we have the lingering sadness of the town council’s inability to produce properly spelled mementoes of Dereham’s heroes.”
Dereham Town Council has confirmed it is planning to address the spelling mistakes in the displays and recreate an exhibition in partnership with Bishop Bonner’s Museum.
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