The bravery of Whissonsett’s Derick* or Derek Seagrim VC and his brother Hugh GC has provided two of the most stirring and moving episodes of World War Two.(*see note on name at bottom of the page).
And Hugh’s sacrifice has created a unique and lasting bond between this Norfolk village and a community more than 10,000 kilometres miles away in the hills of Burma.
Hugh and Derick were two of the five sons of Whissonsett rector the Rev Charles Seagrim, all of whom had careers in the armed services.
Derick/Derek, born in 1903, became an Air Liaison Officer in East Africa at the outbreak of war and later took command of the 7th Battalion the Green Howards during the Greek and Western Desert campaigns.
On the night of March 20 1943, Lt Col Seagrim was first man into an enemy machine-gun position and personally accounted for 20 of the troops.
Disregarding his own safety, his bravery inspired his men to overcome the strong enemy opposition and hold their objective. Lt Col Seagrim urged his troops forward despite being wounded. Two weeks after this action, he suffered fatal wounds in another attack.
A posthumous award of the Victoria Cross was announced on May 15 1943.
Uniquely, his brother Hugh was awarded the George Cross — making the pair the only two brothers to win Britain’s two highest awards for gallantry.
Major Hugh’s sacrifice took part in another theatre of war, the jungles of Burma, and made him a hero to the Karen tribespeople he led against the Japanese army.
Hugh began his guerilla mission against the Japanese in 1941, and in 1942-3 moved deep into the jungle of the Burma-Siam border, building up a deep rapport with the Karen people.
His irregular forces launched raid after raid on the Japanese troops. Hugh, dressed in Karen costume became a legend to the tribespeople, his height (six foot four inches) earning him the nickname of Hpu Taw Kaw (Grandfather Longlegs).
Stung by the attacks, the Japanese turned their attention on the Karen villagers. Eventually, in March 1944, the enemy conveyed a message to Hugh that unless he surrendered they would kill one Karen for every day he was at large.
On March 15 Major Seagrim gave himself up, knowing he was sacrificing his life to save his beloved Karens. He was taken to Rangoon and was eventually shot on September 22 1944.
Forty one years later, representatives of the Karens joined 150 villagers at the dedication of the Whissonsett village sign.
The sign has as its centrepiece Hugh and Derick, the two brave Whissonsett brothers whose sacrifice for freedom will echo down the generations.
And the Karens, who have never forgotten Hugh’s courage, dedicated their own simple and moving plaque at that 1985 unveiling.
“To Grandfather Longlegs,” it read. “We remembered, so we came to thank you”.
*The Whissonsett War Memorial lists Lt Col Seagrim`s first name as Derick, The Sfax War Cemetery in Tunisia has a Headstone marked Lt. Col. D. A. SEAGRIM, VC. Most Victoria Cross `lists` have Lt Col Seagrim`s first name as Derek.
The Seagrim Brothers are mentioned on the Roll Of Honour Web Site, the site is dedicated to those who have fallen and their Memorials.
Picture of Hugh Seagrim GC
Picture of Derick Seagrim VC