Today (21st August 2013) marks the 99th anniversary of the death of John Parr, killed during World War One. What is ‘special’ about John Parr is that he is widely held to be the first British soldier and the first soldier of the Commonwealth killed in World War I.
Whilst his death is a tragedy in itself, it is thought that like many other young men of the time, he was attracted to the army as a potentially better way of life, and that when Parr joined the army he almost certainly overstated his age in order to meet the minimum age requirement. Therefore he was only aged 15-16 years old.
“Let us remember with gratitude those who, in the cause of peace and the service of their fellow men, died for their country in time of war.”
His role in the regiment, and army, that contributed to his death was being a type of scout. Parr was a reconnaissance cyclist who rode ahead to scout the enemy and bring back this intelligence. With the start of World War One, Parr’s Battalion, the 4th Middlesex, were shipped to France. With the German army marching into Belgium, Parr’s unit took up positions near a village called Bettignies, beside the canal running through the town of Mons. Today, 99 years ago, Parr and another cyclist were sent to the village of Obourg, just north east of Mons, and slightly over the border in Belgium, with a mission to locate the enemy. It is believed that they encountered a cavalry patrol from the German First Army, and that Parr remained to hold off the enemy whilst his companion returned to report. He was killed in the ensuing rifle fire.
The first death of many millions to come, and Parr is now buried (coincidentally) opposite the grace of George Edwin Ellison, the last British soldier killed during the Great War.
To end, a collect for peace in our world:
Make your ways known upon earth, Lord God,
your saving power among all peoples.
Renew your Church in holiness
and help us to serve you with joy.
Guide the leaders of all nations,
that justice may prevail throughout the world.
Let not the needy be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
Make us instruments of your peace
and let your glory be over all the earth. Amen