Silent vigil honours Dereham’s First World War losses

Silent tribute at Dereham War Memorial. Picture: Ian Burt Silent tribute at Dereham War Memorial. Picture: Ian Burt

Monday, August 4, 2014
5:40 PM

Veterans kept an hour-long silent vigil at Dereham’s war memorial to pay tribute to the sacrifices of the First World War.

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Silent tribute at Dereham War Memorial. Picture: Ian BurtSilent tribute at Dereham War Memorial. Picture: Ian Burt

A half-muffled peal rang out from St Nicholas Church before the Rev Canon Sally Theakston conducted a short service to remember the “courageous but tragic events” which began 100 years earlier.

Wreaths were laid by town mayor Tim Birt and representatives of military associations, led by Dennis O’Callaghan, president of the Dereham branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL).

Standard bearers of the RBL, the Royal Naval Association and the Royal Air Forces Association then stood in silent tribute as the busy hubbub of the market town went on around them.

Mr O’Callaghan said: “People need to remember, but they need to get on with their lives. The act of remembrance is ongoing. It is a part of life.

“This is an iconic moment in the legion’s history, that we had the honour to remember those who gave their lives in the First World War.”

The wreath laid by Mr Birt on behalf of the people of Dereham commemorates “those who suffered, those who gave their lives and those who may have escaped the shells and bullets, but were still destroyed by the war”.

The mayor said: “It is a slightly different emphasis – many people are concentrating on the soldiers that died, but there is a wider picture that needs to be displayed. A lot of people suffered in this town despite the fact that they were not being shot at. Those who were left behind suffered the most.

“We must not fail to remember the consequences of those circumstances 100 years ago. We are seeing it today in the Ukraine and in Gaza. We have a list of conflicts where a significant number of civilians are being killed and injured, and we should also remember them on this centenary.”

After the service, the Rev Theakston said she felt the poignancy of the wartime losses in the days leading up to the centenary. She said: “Last week, I was away with the Norfolk cadet force and it struck me that I was speaking to so many impressive 17-year-olds who, 100 years ago, could have been on the verge of going away to fight on a foreign field, never to return.

“I think the great sadness is that this was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’, yet we have had names added to this memorial in Dereham in recent years. My hope is that none of those army cadets will ever be in a position where they will have to go to war.

“I hope that somehow in a world with such violence and bloodshed, that humanity can work together to reconcile our differences in better ways.”

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