Lest We Forget
OF ROYAL NORFOLK
May 27th commemorates a very sad day in the history of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. In May 1940 the evacuation from Dunkirk began and during the rearguard action a particular event occurred on 27th May. Some Royal Norfolk Regiment soldiers, including some wounded, were captured by the Germans, lined up against a farmhouse wall and machine-gunned to death, a total of 97 men.
Towards the end of May 1940 the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Norfolk Regiment were stubbornly holding Le Paradis and the neighbouring hamlets of Le-Cornet Malo and Riez-du-Vinage against overwhelmingly superior forces, trying to block the enemy's road to Dunkirk. On May 27th, their ammunition expended, and completely cut off from their Battalion and Brigade HQ, 97 officers and men of 2 Royal Norfolk surrendered to No 4 Company of the 1st Battalion of the 2nd SS Totenkopf (Death's Head) Regiment. They were disarmed, marched into a field, mowed down by machine-guns, finished off by revolver shots and bayonet thrusts and left for dead.
A number of Royal Norfolk Regiment Dunkirk veterans have kept faith with their memory.
The late Ernie 'Strips' Farrow, narrowly missed the massacre by being ordered a few hours earlier to demolish a bridge where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He escaped a few weeks later with Les Chamberlain and they spent 14 months 'on the run' before returning via Paris, Marseilles, Spain and Gibraltar to England. Ernie Farrow was the subject of the Late Cyril Jolly's book 'The Man Who Missed the Massacre'.
Bert Pooley and Bill O'Callaghan were the only survivors.
By a miracle, two of them, Bill O'Callaghan and Bert Pooley, escaped death, hid in the neighbouring farm of Madame Duquenne-Creton. At great risk to herself, the brave Frenchwoman cared for and fed the 2 injured men. But Bert's leg wounds were severe so they gave themselves up and became prisoners of war, Bert being repatriated in 1943. His story of the massacre was not believed but in 1946 he returned to Le Paradis and set in motion the wheels of justice which, on 28 Jan 1949, brought to the gallows the German officer who gave the command for this massacre, Fritz Knoechein.
It also led to the publication in 1956 of 'The Revenge of Private Pooley' by The Late Cyril Jolley.
It was not until 1970 that a wall tablet was inserted into the barn where the 97 prisoners were shot. Before Bill O'Callaghan died he visited Le Paradis with the late Bill Priest and wished for a more fitting memorial to his comrades. Bill Priest was instrumental in the erection of a fine memorial near the church in Lestrem in 1978. "It was a struggle", said Bill. Bert Pooley died in 1982 and his ashes were buried in Le Paradis War cemetery despite much bureaucracy - the scattering of ashes in France is forbidden! There is now a third memorial in Le Paradis, erected in 1991. "Bill O'Callaghan would have been astounded", said Bill Priest. And in 1994 the local people erected a stone memorial at the corner of the Community Centre in honour of the Royal Scots and the Royal Norfolks.
Beneath the figure of Britannia on a gravestone in Lestrem cemetery at Le Paradis is inscribed:
PRIVATE JW RAYBOULD
Last updated 4 October, 2018