George Parry, Hero Chaplain of D DAY
Seventy-five years ago this June on D day the Allied forces returned to Europe after an absence of four years. The task of the allied airborne troops in the first part of the invasion was to protect the flanks of the sea borne operation by seizing strategic points and communication centres and so stop German forces reaching the beachhead. The Sixth Division was to land on the left flank. This included the double obstacle of the river Orne and the Caen canal, and the higher ground that overlooked the beaches. It was imperative that the high ground which overlooked the beaches including the Merville battery was captured.
The task of the 7th Parachute Battalion was to reinforce the glider attack on the Orne bridges. On landing the battalion were scattered. Lt Cl Pine Coffin had only gathered 40% of his men at the bridge by 3,00. The war dairy for 6th June reported that the battalion dropped at 0100 – “ but went into action with coys at half normal strength due to some plane loads being dropped in wrong places and one load not dropping at all.”
The 7th battalion had attended a service on the 5th of June taken by the Rev GEM Parry before emplaning for France. Parry was from Leytonstone, Essex and had joined the 7th Light Infantry Parachute Battalion as its padre after serving as a chaplain for two years in West Africa and then completing his training course at the Central Landing School at Ringway . His report from that course said that he was “cheerful and enthusiastic and an asset to his stick.” Pine Coffin wrote :“ I will always remember how keen and enthusiastic he was about pretty well everything and how the other officers used to enjoy teasing him.
At Bulford camp before the action some of the officer were ragging George. They were saying that he was small and puny, and that he could not wrestle with the officers anyway. George said that he could. He said that he could beat Nigel Taylor, OC of A coy and a tremendous wrestling match started there and then. Each was determined not to be beaten … on and on they went until eventually I told them to stop because the furniture was getting damaged.” An article in The Times in 2005 asserted that he was known as “Pissy Percy the Parachuting Parson, because of his love for beer.”
As they were about to take off Parry took an impromptu communion service under the wing of a Stirling aircraft. This service apparently came about because Lt Bill Bowers of A company had a premonition that he was to die in action that day. Parry suggested that they prayed and took communion together. A witness to that service, Ted Lough , later told Pine Coffin that he would never forget that service “Just the three of them and a few others who were near and who saw what was happening , face blacked for action and held under the wing of the aircraft.” Bill was killed in action that evening and is buried in Benouville Church.
The 200 men of the 7th battalion had to fight off enemy counter attacks until Lord Lovat with 4 commando appeared at 12.00 p.m. A report on the incident which in the Daily Record described how “While the fighting was going on and the men were valiantly holding the bridges they had captured, padre Parry moved among them encouraging those who were still fighting and giving what help he could .“ He then went to help wounded from A company who were at RAP at Benouville. The RAP became cut off from A company and from the main battalion and soon after dawn more casualties were caused by a Panther tank and a self-propelled gun The RAP was overrun by German troops, who killed the wounded there, including Parry. According to Lt Todd, it was said that he “evidently fought like a tiger to defend them.” The newspaper report recounts Parry immediately went to the of the helpless Britons lying on the dressing station floor. He is believed to have tried physical intervention and put himself between the Nazis and the wounded troops .The report then related how “a wave of fury and indignation” swept across the whole division and the war correspondent filing the report wrote: “I was with the men of the battalion during many hours of D day watching their successful battle to hold the bridge and I know how deeply they felt the loss of the men who had dropped with them.”
Journalist Jenni Crane, when investigating the fate of George Parry, whose suitcase she had found in a junk shop, interviewed two surviving veterans of the 6th Airborne Division. They confirmed that he had been popular and well liked but felt that Mosley’s report in the Daily Record had been exaggerating when it suggested that “there was no man in the battalion who that day did not fight to avenge the death of Padre Parry”.
George Parry is buried at Benouville cemetery near to his friend Bill Bowers. He was one of 3 airborne chaplains who died on the 6th and 7th June. The Revd George Harris, from Solihull was attached to the Royal Canadian Infantry Corps Parachute Battalion. Because of a hasty exit from the aircraft his parachute became entangled with that of corporal Tom O’Connell and both men plummeted, entangled, to the ground , O’ Connell eventually regained consciousness, but Harris was killed and was buried by his fellow chaplain padre John Hall . The Revd Alec Kay, with the 8th Battalion, was mortally wounded bringing in wounded in a jeep which was attacked despite his Red Cross markings.
The airborne chaplains who landed with the 6th division at D day stayed in Europe with their men until they returned to Britain in September 1944. They performed vital roles in the spiritual, medical and material care of the men and officers of the airborne force.
They returned to Europe to take part in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Rhine crossing, eventually celebrating VE day in Wismar, Germany.
War Diary 7th Parachute Battalion ,TNA WO 171/1239.
Information from Paradata, online archive of the Airborne Assault museum Duxford . https://www.paradata.org.uk/
RAChD archives, Amport House. A letter from General R.G.Pine Coffin to Revd P.Abram , 12 Nov 1971
The Daily Record, June 29 1944.
An account by Lt Richard Todd, in the Pegasus online archive . http://www.pegasusarchive.org/
The Church Times, 23 Dec 2016, Page 41.