War hero who carried comrade from 'field of death' is remembered

Dennis O'Callaghan, bows his head after laying the wreath at his father's memorial service in Dereha

Dennis O'Callaghan bows his head after laying the wreath at his father's memorial service in Dereham. His father William O'Callaghan survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

A Norfolk war hero, who carried his injured comrade to safety in the aftermath of a massacre, was commemorated on Sunday at a moving service. 

Standard bearers at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre

Standard bearers at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Residents, town councillors, and members of the Royal British Legion (RBL) gathered at William O’Callaghan Place in Dereham to remember its namesake - Private William O’Callaghan of the 2nd Battalion Royal Norfolk, who fought in the Second World War.

The standards are lowered as the last post is played at the memorial service to Dereham's William O

The standards are lowered as the last post is played at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Pte O’Callaghan was one of only two known survivors from the massacre at Le Paradis, in the Pas-de-Calais region of France, on May 27 1940.

The other survivor was the man he rescued - Private Bert Pooley. 

Dennis O'Callaghan with his wreath at his father's memorial in Dereham, William O'Callaghan, who sur

Dennis O'Callaghan with his wreath at his father's memorial in Dereham, William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

The service has been organised every year since it began in 1989 by Pte O’Callaghan’s son, Dennis.

John Head, left, member of the Le Paradis Commemoration Group, and Dennis O' Callaghan, son of Willi

John Head, left, member of the Le Paradis Commemoration Group, and Dennis O' Callaghan, son of William, at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Mr O’Callaghan, who is president of the RBL’s Dereham branch, had intended to commemorate the anniversary’s 80th anniversary last year, but was forced to postpone the service to 2021 due to the coronavirus. 

The memorial to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Pict

The memorial to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

In a reading from his father’s account of the massacre, Mr O’Callaghan told of how members of the German 2nd SS Totenkopf (Death’s Head) regiment massacred almost 100 of his father’s comrades.

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“While they did this, they stood on my father. That’s how close he was to death. He thought: my turn is next.”

Standard bearers at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre

Standard bearers at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

By playing dead, Pte O’Callaghan was able to avoid being shot.

“He lay there for quite a while, late in the afternoon and it started to pour with rain. He’d fallen down in a bunch of thistles, and he went to sleep - they’d had no sleep for 17 days as they’d been fighting. 

The memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 19

The memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“Pooley, laid behind him, heard my father snoring, so he woke him up, and my father then extricated Pooley from the massacre.

People attending the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at

People attending the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

My father was only a little man, about nine stone. The person he was lifting was about 12 or 13 [stone], but he carried him from the field of death. 

Dennis O'Callaghan speaks at his father's memorial service in Dereham, William O'Callaghan, who surv

Dennis O'Callaghan speaks at his father's memorial service in Dereham, William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

“As far as I know, there are only two survivors of the massacre. The rest is history.” 

He added: “Although the sands of time run out, the sands of Dunkirk will forever remain in our memories.” 

Dereham Town council members, from left, deputy Mayor, Hugh King; Linda Monument; Mayor Stuart Green

Dereham Town council members, from left, deputy Mayor, Hugh King; Linda Monument; Mayor Stuart Green; and Phillip Duigan, at the memorial service to Dereham's William O'Callaghan, who survived the massacre at Le Paradis in 1940. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Dereham mayor Stuart Green praised the event’s turnout, and said: “It’s always good to remember the people who made sacrifices for us in the past.”