‘Shameful’ shooting of Jean de Narde in Dereham churchyard to be re-enacted this summer

Michael Pomroy is organising a re-enactment of the shooting of French prisoner of war, Jean de Narde

Michael Pomroy is organising a re-enactment of the shooting of French prisoner of war, Jean de Narde. Picture: Ian Burt

But the sound of that single gunshot is to echo around the normally peaceful setting once again as the extraordinary episode, which brought great shame on the town, will be re-enacted in full more than two centuries later.

Feature marking the anniversary and extraordinary story of the only shot fired in Norfolk during the

Feature marking the anniversary and extraordinary story of the only shot fired in Norfolk during the Napolionic War, killing French POW Jean de Narde in Dereham.Mike Pomroy of the Napolionic Wars Group.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYCOPY:FOR:EDP2© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009 (01603 772434) - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

The story of Jean de Narde is one of the most shocking in Dereham's history.

The 28-year-old French Revolutionary had been captured in the Netherlands during the early days of the bitter Napoleonic Wars in Europe and was sent to Great Yarmouth with around 130 other French and Dutch prisoners.

From there they were to be marched by the East North Militia to Norman Cross near Peterborough where a huge prisoner-of-war camp had been opened.

After a stay in barracks in Norwich they were rested in Dereham where the 16th century bell tower, which still stands next to St Nicholas Church, had been identified as a secure holding point for the night.

Feature marking the anniversary and extraordinary story of the only shot fired in Norfolk during the

Feature marking the anniversary and extraordinary story of the only shot fired in Norfolk during the Napolionic War, killing French POW Jean de Narde in Dereham. Jean de Narde's gravestone.PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYCOPY:FOR:EDP2© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009 (01603 772434) - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC


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It is not clear how the 28-year-old de Narde managed to escape but he made a break for freedom. However his absence was soon noted and a search ensued. The desperate man, the son of a notary from St Malo, climbed an oak tree in which to hide.

It is said his dangling legs gave him away and after being discovered by the English soldiers was ordered to surrender.

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But French-speaking de Narde may not have understood their command as he stayed in his tree and the fatal shot was fired.

He was buried in the churchyard but it took nearly 60 years for a memorial stone to be erected by the town vicar Rev Benjamin Armstrong in 1858.

In his diary he wrote: 'My parishoners, then and now, were ashamed of the deed as being a piece of unnecessary cruelty.'

The events leading up to and including the shooting will be brought to life by re-enactment group, the East Norfolk Militia, on Saturday, July 23 at 6pm.

There will be a brief service inside the church before moving outside to portray the event as accurately as possible.

Michael Pomroy, chairman of the group and events organiser, said he hoped there would be a good crowd.

'To our knowledge this has never been done in this way before,' he said. 'It is an emotive subject in these parts.

'We have included it in displays before but we have always added some levity. On this occasion it will be totally serious. We will fire a black powder which creates a very loud bang so it is as realistic as possible.'

The group has asked Dereham's Twinning Association to make contact with their twinned French town of Caudebec les Elbeuf to invite them to attend the re-enactment.

Do you have a connection to the events of October 6, 1799? Email kathryn.cross@archant.co.uk.

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