The Soldier & The Officer

Their family homes at opposite ends of the village Will Candy and George Hallam Parr couldn’t have been more different.   

Will with mother Jane, father George and six siblings lived at tiny 1, Rose Cottage near Bourton Bridge, while George Hallam lived at the grand multi-roomed Chaffeymoor House with mother Lady Lillian, father Sir Hallam Parr and the family dog.

Their parents were very different too. Will’s father George worked as Fireman at Bourton Foundry and mother Jane took in washing.  By contrast George Hallam’s father Sir Hallam was a retired high-ranking commanding officer and mother Lady Parr did charity work, hosted the village school flower show and other good works, and in November 1914 became Commandant at Gillingham Auxiliary Hospital (Plank House). 

The two young men did share one thing. They both left school to immediately take up their respective fathers’ careers. Will joined his dad at Bourton Foundry while George Hallam as a young commissioned officer joined Sir Hallam’s regiment The Somersets.

They both also tragically lost their lives during WW1 and are now commemorated on the Village War Memorial.

THE SOLDIER

Will aged 20 left the Foundry to train with the 2nd Dorsets in Portsmouth. After completing initial training he was sent to India and stationed in Poona on the North West frontier where for 4 years he enjoyed a relatively secure and comfortable life.  

Still in India when WW1 broke out Will and the 2nd Dorsets were immediately ordered back to the UK. But with the Turks now joining forces with the Germans and British Command fearing a catastrophic loss of Oil Supplies, Will and comrades were shipped to Mesopotamia in October 1914.

Landing at Fao at the mouth of the River Tigris the 2nd Dorsets joined forces with The Duke of Cambridge’s Infantry, the 104th Wellesley Rifles and the 117th Mahrattas to form the 6th Indian Division. The Division quickly won their first battle against the fleeing Turks and captured a Fort on 6th November at the mouth of the River Tigris.     

Map of Mesopotamia 1914

A temporary downside was loss of all their food supplies resulting in them having to eat the remains of the retreating enemy’s dead and dying horses. This lack of essential supplies was later to become a key factor in Will’s short life.

With their tails up from an easy victory at Fao, Will and the 6th Indian Division advanced inland up the Tigris. In doing so they encountered a much larger Turkish force with the result that a quarter of the 2nd Dorsets were wounded in just two weeks.

But by April 1915 the Division had advanced to join the 7,000-man strong British Garrison at Shaiba southwest of Basra. The Garrison was heavily fortified and on the 12th April Will and comrades came under heavy fire.   Will’s regiment again suffered heavy casualties.

But the Garrison held firm and the 2nd Dorsets were sent out to hunt down and disperse members of the Turkish irregular soldiers. In the process, again the Dorsets suffered more heavy losses and by May, 170 of them were in hospital with wounds, fever or sunstroke. Despite this and heartened by the overall victory they pushed on towards Baghdad through the marshlands towards Basra.   

Involved in many more tough battles against the Turks over the next few months Will was eventually wounded on the 17th January 1916 during the Battle of Sheik Sa'ad at Kut al Almara.   

Meanwhile British Command in Turkey under General Townsend was becoming increasingly concerned. Despite being very close to seizing Bagdad at the Battle of Salman Pak back in November 1915 Townsend was now starting to believe that among the 1 million + Indian troops fighting for the British, the 3 Divisions of Muslim Pashtuns do not want to fight against the Muslim Turks.’  He complained of Muslim soldiers from the 20th Punjabi Regiment fleeing to join the Turkish troops.

Townsend also believed British morale was being further undermined by Turkish troops trickery, for example, deceiving British surveillance aircraft by pretending to change the direction of their advance until the aircraft had passed.

What really underlay Townsend’s growing despair was the realization that the essential requirements of such a long campaign – food, supplies, and replacement troops – just couldn’t be met. 

Finally worn down by the sheer length of the stalemate at the Battle of Kut which started in December 1916 and went on for 3 months, on April 29th Townsend wrote to the Turkish Commander-in-Chief Khalil Pasha a Letter of Surrender:

 ‘ Your Excellency,

... Hunger forces me to lay down our arms and I am ready to surrender to you my brave soldiers who have done their duty, as you affirmed when you recently told me “Your Gallant troops will be the most sincere and precious guests …’

Major General Townsend with Turkish Commander-in-Chief Khalil Pasha

Clearly Townsend had already been in discussion with his opposite number about the possibility of a British surrender. As a result of the surrender 10,000 British soldiers including Will were taken prisoner. And despite Khalil Pasha’s letter to Townsend stating that  ‘taking revenge on a surrendered enemy would be beneath us’ many British Prisoners of War were very cruelly treated and made to march many hundreds of miles across desert to prison camps in Anatolia Turkey. Along the way they were beaten, murdered and starved by their captors.

At some point on one of these soul-destroying marches Will succumbed to dysentery and exhaustion and it is thought sadly died on July 22nd 1916. Later reported to have died in Bagtsche Hospital, a prisoner-of-war camp inside the Turkish border, Will was eventually buried in Baghdad's North Gate Cemetery close to the Tigris.

Baghdad Cemetery

Nine months after his death Will’s family received the official report of his death from the Ottoman Red Crescent on 18th April 1917. Will received three medals, the Victory Medal, the British Medal, and the '15 Star. His father, George, acknowledged receipt of the 1914/15 Star on June 30th 1920.

Will’s memory is still kept alive by his Gillingham descendants.

 

 

THE COMMISSIONED OFFICER

George Roworth Parr, educated at Wellington School Berkshire and trained at Sandhurst, joined the Somerset Light Infantry as 1st Lieutenant in charge of ‘C’ Company in July 1914.  

As part of 11th Infantry Brigade, George’s ‘C’ Company was sent in August 1914 to France to try to help halt the German advance towards Paris. They docked in Le Havre on 23rd August and next day arrived by train in Le Cateau. Fully expecting to take the fight to halt the advancing Germans they found the French had already decided to retreat. The British did fight but eventually had no option but to follow suit.

At Le Cateau George’s ‘C’ Company lost men but he survived, proving himself a brave leader. Later, because of his language skills, he was picked to act as interpreter in sometimes difficult negotiations with French counterparts. He also seemed remarkably composed in combat:

 August 25th 1914.  Le Cateau

‘At 7.45 a.m. three shells burst over us in quick succession and hit three men and alarmed the rest horribly.  We got our heads down behind our head cover, scraped up with our entrenching tools just enough to stop a bullet. But this cover is no good against shrapnel which bursts overhead.  Luckily after those three shells the Germans fired at our supports otherwise we’d have been wiped out in a quarter of an hour.  They had our range plumb on.’

The next day as German machine guns opened up:

‘The machine guns enfiladed us on both flanks and more messages came to ask about retiring. I told them we were going to stay where we were.  They shouted at me our supports had gone. At about 12.30p.m. I shouted we would retire and started to crawl back the 50 yards to the old quarry. After some distance a man said ‘They’re all getting hit let’s run for it.’ So we ran the last fifteen yards and dropped down over the bank. Out of the 49 men I took into action I had only 12 left. 37 were killed or wounded, so there was no disgrace in retiring.’

Over the next 2 weeks while the British forces beat a tactical retreat George wrote frequently to his mother Lady Parr who as Commandant at the 12-bed Red Cross Hospital in Gillingham was taking in a few recently arrived Canadian soldiers recovering from influenza while training on Salisbury Plain.

Lady Lillian Parr   Chaffeymoor House gardens

Meanwhile as the British Forces in Northern France continued their withdrawal George was clearly getting restless about the lack of action:

‘I must not say where we are… We have been really walked off our legs, and only see our kit once in 3 days at most.... By the way please will you have 200 cigarettes sent me?  French cigarettes here are beastly…’

Then on 5th September, the British retreat having successfully drawn the German troops into a more vulnerable position the Somersets were finally ordered to turn and take the offensive.  By October George’s ‘C’ Company were back on the Front Line from where he wrote to his mother:

'I hope your Red Cross work is going well… We have to spend every other night in an advanced trench, which is rather a nuisance… I'm really hoping for those cigarettes!...  

There are already quite a lot of German prisoners here. One feels quite sorry  for them. They are a very strong, clean-looking lot… I wonder if you have any wounded at home yet? Do tell me about your Red Cross work when you write.’   

By 21st October George’s ‘C’ Company had advanced to within a mile of Ploegsteert Forest where the Germans had dug in and where George and his men were to fight over for more than 2 months. To the British troops Ploegsteert soon became known as ‘Plug Street’.   Sadly it was here that George was eventually to lose his life. 

18th December

At Company 11th Brigade’s makeshift HQ it was decided to attack a German stronghold of buildings known as the ‘Birdcage’ described as being ‘a hard nut’ because of difficulty of observation, thick high trees interfering with the angle of descent for British shells, and an allowance of just 6 rounds per British gun! 

19th December

At precisely 3.15pm George’s ‘C’ Company were sent out to fight but could get no further than halfway across No Man’s Land before they were met with formidable firepower. 

Brian Gillard author of the excellent book ‘Good Old Somersets’ describes exactly what happened next:

‘The terrible condition of the ground, pitted shell holes covered with water   and deep in heavy-clinging mud made going extremely difficult.   Of ‘C’ Company, Lt G.R. Parr leading the charge was well in front of his platoon when he was wounded in the leg by a machine-gun bullet.  He fell but immediately endeavoured to rise and carry on the attack.  He was however struck by another bullet to the head and killed almost instantaneously.’  

At 5p.m that day having achieved virtually nothing ‘C’ Company were ordered to withdraw to their former trenches in Ploegsteert Wood.

Tributes to George quickly followed his death:

‘To me life in the regiment will never be the same without him. He was my subaltern and constant companions for four months… his advice and help proving invaluable.  (George's Company Officer)

 ‘He was a fine fellow – everybody loved him.’ (Private near him when he died.)

Commemorations

Lady Parr's husband Sir Hallam, son George and his older brother Arthur who all served in the British Army all died within 4 years of each other. How Lady Parr coped with this huge loss we will never know. But all three men are now commemorated in St Mary's Church, Taunton. 

Commissioned by Lady Parr her sister the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale created the design for a stained glass contained within the Somersets’ Regimental window.

The Taunton Window dedicated to George, Sir Hallam and Arthur