Home Page

1862165 Sapper
HENRY PARRY
Royal Engineers
(formerly 10277 Corporal, Notts & Derby Regiment)

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
© 2001. All Rights Reserved.

1. INTRODUCTION

Henry Parry was born in the year 1891 [1]. He was a long-serving soldier who saw action with the infantry during the Great War of 1914 to 1918 and then later went on to serve in the Royal Engineers during the inter-war years. It is unfortunate that his service papers are no longer available at the Public Record Office in Surrey to provide testimony to his long and faithful service. Instead, this narrative of his military career had to be created from available division histories and regimental journals. The majority of the information presented covering the Great War period was taken from The Eighth Division in War, 1914-1918 by Lieutenant Colonel J.H. Boraston, C.B., O.B.E. and Captain Cyril E.O. Bax, and from The 23rd Division, 1914-1919 by Lieutenant Colonel H.R. Sandilands, C.M.G., D.S.O. The details of Parry’s service with the Royal Engineers have been taken primarily from issues of The Sapper magazine between 1928 and 1936.

Where the narrative discusses his service in France and Flanders during the war, it is really an account of the movements of his division, brigade and battalion. Without his service papers it is not possible to know if he was with the battalion at all the places and on all the dates mentioned. Surely he must have been on leave during portions of the four years of war and may even have been wounded on one or more occasions and sent home for treatment and recuperation. The reader is asked to take these possibilities into account as the narrative unfolds.

2. SERVICE IN THE GREAT WAR (1914-1918)

Prelude to War (1914)

Henry Parry’s actual enlistment date in the Army is unknown. It appears that his first enlistment was as a Private (Regimental Number 10277) in The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) [2]. He eventually was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the regiment for service in France and Flanders [3]. It is most likely that he enlisted at the Regimental Depot in Derby and then was sent to join the 1st Battalion in India, a supposition that will be discussed in detail below.

The year of his enlistment is open for debate. There are a number of possibilities with regard to his enlistment date. First of all, with a birth date in 1891, the earliest he could have enlisted for service in the ranks would have been at age 18 in 1909. A 1930 photograph of Parry shows him wearing the Long Service and Good Conduct medal presently in the author’s collection. This medal is the George V version with the bareheaded effigy of the monarch in a field marshal’s uniform on the obverse. Since this medal was issued between 1920 and 1930 for 18 years of service, and since he could not have enlisted prior to 1909, the earliest that Parry could have received this medal is in 1927. The latest he could have received it would have been 1930, in which case he enlisted in 1912.

The 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment was serving in Bombay, India at the outbreak of the war [4]. The battalion had been in India during the years 1909 to 1912 [5], the possible years of Parry’s enlistment; hence, it is logical to assume that he enlisted at the Regimental Depot and was posted to the battalion in India after his period of initial training. His service papers would indicate, therefore, that he had approximately two to five years of service in India before the Great War.

On the 3rd of September 1914 the battalion sailed from India en route to England, arriving at Plymouth on the 2nd of October. Shortly after landing, the battalion was assigned to the 24th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division at Hursley Park, near Winchester [6]. If Private Parry had not been assigned to the 1st Battalion in India prior to the war, then it is most likely that he was assigned to the battalion from the Depot at this time, in preparation for the unit’s deployment to France.

France and Flanders (1914 – 1918)

The 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment embarked for France on the 4th of November 1914 and landed at Le Havre on the 5th of November. There is no doubt that Private Parry was with the battalion at this time, as his Medal Index Card clearly indicates that he was. The 8th Division went into the line in the Rue du Bois – Tilleloy Sector, but was not engaged in any significant actions until the following spring.

Private Parry’s first action was at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle from the 10th to the 14th of March 1915 when his battalion was engaged near Sign Post Lane Farm [7]. The battalion took part in an attack on the German positions at Neuve Chapelle and captured a large number of enemy soldiers and guns. The battalion suffered 25 percent casualties during this battle and Private Jacob Rivers won the Victoria Cross in the battle for bombing a party of enemy who had massed on the flanks of his company [8].

During 1915 his unit was engaged in three other major actions including the Battle of Fromelles on the 15th of May (where the battalion lost 347 officers and men), the action at Bois Grenier on the 25th of September, and the action at Ovillers on the 6th of October.

On the 18th of October 1915 the War Office decided to transfer the 24th Brigade from the 8th Division, a Regular Army division, to the 23rd Division, a New Army division. In turn, the 70th Brigade of the 23rd Division was assigned to the 8th Division. The purpose of this exchange of brigades was to give the inexperienced soldiers of the New Army division the opportunity to work with and learn from the men of the Regular Army units. In addition to the exchange of brigades, the 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment left the 24th Brigade in exchange for the 10th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment from the 69th Infantry Brigade [9].

Following this reorganization, things remained rather quiet for the 23rd Division during the autumn and early winter months of 1915 and remained so until the 1st of January 1916 when units of the division began trench raids against the enemy. On the 21st of February 1916 the division was taken out of the front line and sent to a rest area near Bruay. It remained there until the 5th of March when it was sent into the line in the Carency sector. At this time, Parry’s battalion was located at Lorette on the Souchez Front. On the 13th of March the division began a move to the Noulette sector and went into line there on the 22nd of March [10].

Private Parry and his unit came out of the front line again on the 14th of April 1916 when the 23rd Division was again moved into a rest area near Bruay. The division went back into line in the Noulette sector on the 10th of May, and on the 20th of May Parry’s battalion was engaged in a defensive action against a German attack at Berthonval and subsequently moved from Verdrel to Fosse 10 near Bully Grenay on the 23rd of May [11].

The 23rd Division was relieved of front line duties on the 14th of June 1916 and proceeded to rest areas near Bomy and Vaux in preparation for the start of the great British offensive on the Somme on the 1st of July. The 23rd Division did not take part in the attack on the first day of the Somme offensive, but it went into line in the Contalmaison sector on the 4th of July. On this day Private Parry’s battalion moved from Henencourt to La Boisselle. From their position at La Boisselle, the 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment took part in the first attack on Contalmaison on the 7th of July, an attack that was not successful. A second attack on the town was made on the 10th of July when Contalmaison was successfully captured [12].

Following the capture of Contalmaison, the 23rd Division went to a rest area near St. Gratien on the 11th of July 1916. Private Parry and his battalion went to Shelter Wood. On the 15th of July the 24th Infantry Brigade left the 23rd Division and returned to the 8th Division [13].

Life was relatively quiet for Parry and the men of his battalion during August and September of 1916. On the 23rd of October 1916 the battalion took part in the battle at Le Transloy and after the termination of the action there, the battalion settled in to wait out the winter months of 1916/1917. By February of 1917 Parry was at Bouchavesnes and on the 4th of March his battalion was in action against the Germans near that town. In rapid succession thereafter, Parry’s battalion fought at Gouzeaucourt (on 12 April) and at Westhoek Ridge in Belgium (on 31 July) during the Battle of Ypres. In this action the men of the battalion captured 200 prisoners and 19 machine guns, and for their services were awarded two Distinguished Service Orders, seven Military Crosses, eight Distinguished Conduct Medals and 19 Military Medals. This is believed to be a record number of decorations for any single battalion in the history of the British Army.

It was not until the 1st of August 1917 that Parry’s battalion was finally sent into division reserve at Ypres [14]. On the 16th of August 1917 the 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment was attached to the 25th Infantry Brigade at the foot of Westhoek Ridge. The battalion saw little action through the autumn and winter of 1917/1918 and was at Poperinghe by the 19th of January 1918 [15].

The German Spring Offensive on the Somme began on the 21st of March 1918 and Parry’s battalion was right in the middle of it. The battalion put up a valiant and stubborn defence at St. Christ from the 23rd to the 24th of March, but was finally forced back to the vicinity of Omiecourt on the 25th of March by overwhelming numbers of enemy forces. The German advance was relentless and the battalion was forced to retire many times, reaching Ablaincourt and Méharicourt on the 26th, Vrély on the 28th, until they were finally able to hold up the German advance at Morisel on the 30th of March [16].

A second German offensive began in April of 1918 and Parry’s battalion was at Bois d’Aquenne during the battle of Villers Bretonneux between the 24th and 25th of April. The battalion was allotted to the 23rd Infantry Brigade during this battle and was ordered to move along the southern edge of the wood (Bois d’Aquenne) and then to turn northward into it. They encountered the enemy in strength and drove them towards the eastern edges of the wood. At this stage of the battle the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel R.F. Moore, M.C., was wounded. Deprived of his leadership at this critical juncture, and losing direction in the wood, the battalion was unable to push home its attack and commenced to dig in on a road that ran diagonally through the wood. While digging in the battalion came under a very heavy 5.9-inch barrage and suffered many casualties.

During the battle of the Aisne on the 27th of May, the battalion was in reserve at Roucy. It was thrown into the line along the River Aisne during this battle to defend a vital bridge at la Pêrcherie. By the 28th of August the battalion was in a defensive position at Blandford Trench near Gavrelle [17].

During the month of October 1918 the 8th Division, along with the remainder of the Allied Armies, began the pursuit of the Germans to the Hindenburg Line. At the start of the offensive Parry’s battalion was at Oppy along the Rouvroy-Fresnes Line. From the 6th to the 8th of October the battalion advanced eastward through the town of Neuvireuil. Thereafter the march of the 8th Division to the east was rapid, reaching the following locations by the dates shown below:

10 October:

Near Izel

11 October:

Cuincy

12 October:

Planque

13 October:

West of Douai

17 October:

Eastern edges of Douai

18 October:

Between Rache and Marchiennes

19 October:

Foret de Marchiennes

20 October:

Between Marchiennes and St. Amand

21 October:

St. Amand

22 October:

Cubray

23 October:

West of Odomez

25 October:

Between Odomez and Condé

The 8th Division was taken out of the line on the 5th of November and did not go back into the line until the 9th of November 1918. On the 11th of November, the day of the Armistice, Parry’s battalion was at Bermissart, Belgium, west of Mons.

By the end of the war, Parry was a Corporal. For his service in France and Flanders he received the 1914 Star and bar with rosette, the British War Medal and Victory Medal [18].

3. SERVICE BETWEEN THE WARS (1918 – 1936)

Henry Parry remained in the Army after the Great War and was assigned Army Number 1862165 probably around 1921. Parry did not, however, remain a Corporal in the Notts & Derby Regiment. Instead, he continued his service as a Musician in the Royal Engineers with the rank of Sapper. Without his service papers it is impossible to determine what happened at this point with regard to his rank. Was he discharged from the Army after the Great War and did he then reenlist as a bandsman in the Royal Engineers with the rank of Sapper? Perhaps he was reduced to the rank for some offence while serving in the Notts & Derby Regiment and then transferred to the Royal Engineers, or perhaps he joined the Royal Engineers Band as a Corporal and was subsequently reduced to the rank of Sapper. At any rate, he joined the band of the Corps of Royal Engineers as a euphonium player and served with the band until just prior to the Second World War.

Sapper Parry (standing) with his medals,
four Good Conduct Badges,
and his euphonium, c. 1930.

Sapper Parry’s duties with the band took him to many places within the United Kingdom, as the band followed a fairly regular annual routine of playing at both official and non-official events. For most of the time that Parry was with the band, it was conducted by Captain R. Neville Flux, F.R.A.M. [19], the Director of Music. The Band Sergeant was Sergeant F.E. Ralph during most of this period.

During the inter-war years, the full band of the Corps of Royal Engineers, 57 men strong, played at numerous events each year of which the following were typical:

During these events, Sapper Parry frequently came into close contact with many dignitaries of the Army and the Corps of Royal Engineers. The July 1928 Annual Veteran’s Church Service Parade was inspected by none other than General Sir Bindon Blood, G.C.B. On the 20th of February 1931 Parry played in the farewell parade for Major General G. Walker, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. on the square at Brompton Barracks, and on the 18th of November 1932 the Band played on the occasion of Sir Bindon Blood’s visit to Brompton Barracks to celebrate his 90th birthday.

All of the activities listed above were in addition to the band members’ normal training as soldiers. Their training included an annual musketry course, usually fired in April, followed by a Spring Drill Course in preparation for marching concerts in full dress to be held once a month for each battalion of the Army.

In addition to these recurring events, Sapper Parry and the Band also played at numerous special events. These included the Band’s first marching concert held at Kitchener Barracks on the 12th of April 1935 [20] and a full dress marching display on Brompton Square at Chatham on the 21st of May 1935 in honour of the visiting King’s Indian Orderlies [21]. On the 22nd of January 1936 the Band attended the Proclamation Parade for King Edward VIII at Rochester Cathedral [22] and on the 28th of January they formed at the Westminster end of Whitehall to participate in the funeral ceremonies for the late King George V [23].

During Sapper Parry’s service with the Corps Band other significant events occurred. Captain Flux retired from the Army on the 15th of November 1932 and was replaced as the Director of Music by Lieutenant W. Jones, L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M. [24] On the 7th of July 1934 eight members of the Band were in a tragic motor accident. Fortunately, Sapper Parry was not among them. Traveling by motor coach to fulfil an engagement at the Café Royal on Regent Street in London, the coach and a private car collided at the junction of Bexleyheath by-pass road and Danson’s Road. The coach overturned, somersaulted twice, and landed with its wheel in the air. Lance Corporal E.H. Banks was killed in the accident and Band Sergeant F.E. Ralph, along with two other sergeants, a lance sergeant and two corporals were injured.

In October of 1935, Sapper Parry received permission to continue his service beyond 21 years. It was not unusual for Band members to serve beyond 21 years. A photograph of the band in The Sapper magazine of September 1930 shows 26 men of the Band (including Sapper Parry) with a total of 618 years of service, or an average of 23.8 years per man.

In the spring of 1936 Band Sergeant Ralph retired from the Army after 30 years of service. The announcement of his retirement was carried in the April 1936 issue of The Sapper magazine. In the same edition of the magazine under news of the band, there was mention of a whist drive and dance held on the 28th of February 1936 at the Band Room. Musician Parry is mentioned in this article as one of the prize winners. No further mention of Parry is found in issues of The Sapper after this date. It is assumed that he too left the Army shortly thereafter with somewhere between 24 and 27 years of total service.

4. POST SERVICE LIFE (1936-1958)

Following his discharge from the Army, Henry Parry took up residence with his wife Florence at 4 Toledo Paddock, Windsor Road, Gillingham, Kent. The Parry’s are only known to have had one child, a daughter named Barbara. Presumably their daughter was also living with them immediately after his discharge [25].

As an ex-infantryman and ex-Army musician, he probably found it difficult to obtain skilled work. He took a position as a labourer at Her Majesty’s Gun Wharf on Dock Road in Chatham, and continued to work there until his final retirement [26].

On the 7th of January 1951 he prepared his last will and testament leaving his estate to his wife Florence and after her death to his daughter Barbara. The witnesses to his will were Roy Lampard of 9 Mill Road, Gillingham, Kent (a Clerk) and R.L. Lampard of the same address, as Shorthand Typist [27].

Henry Parry died at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in Rochester, Kent on the 19th of November 1958 at the age of 67. The causes of his death were listed as uremia and chronic nephritis. His death was certified by Alistair G. Thomson, MB and the informant of his death was his son-in-law Mr. E.M. Lavender of 53 Broadway, Gillingham, Kent. Henry Parry’s death was registered on the 19th of November 1958 in the Registration District of Chatham, in the Sub-district of Rochester, in the County of Kent by Elsie M. Heard, Deputy Registrar [28]. Parry’s will was probated in the High Court of Justice on the 15th of January 1959.

REFERENCES:

Books

1. BORASTON, J.H. and BAX, C.E.O. The Eighth Division in War, 1914-1918. The Medici Society Limited, London, 1926.

2. JAMES, E.A. Historical Records of British Infantry Regiments in the Great War, 1914-1918. Henry Mills, Ltd., Birmingham, 1975.

3. SANDILANDS, H.R. The 23rd Division, 1914-1919. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1925.

Periodicals

1. The Sapper, October 1928.

2. The Sapper, June 1929.

3. The Sapper, July 1929.

4. The Sapper, September 1929.

5. The Sapper, November 1929.

6. The Sapper, September, 1930.

7. The Sapper, December 1930.

8. The Sapper, January 1931.

9. The Sapper, March 1931.

10. The Sapper, July 1931.

11. The Sapper, January 1932.

12. The Sapper, June 1932.

13. The Sapper, July 1932.

14. The Sapper, December 1932.

15. The Sapper, July 1933.

16. The Sapper, July 1934.

17. The Sapper, August 1934.

18. The Sapper, January 1935.

19. The Sapper, May 1935.

20. The Sapper, July 1935.

21. The Sapper, August 1935.

22. The Sapper, October 1935.

23. The Sapper, March 1936.

24. The Sapper, April 1936.

25. The Sapper, June 1936.

26. The Sapper, July 1936.

27. The Sapper, January 1959.

Documents

1. Medal Index Card

2. Last Will and Testament of Henry Parry.

3. Will Probate.

4. Certified Copy of an Entry of Death, General Register Office, London, DXZ921213, dated 21 November 2001.

ENDNOTES

[1] His year of birth was estimated from his age as shown on his death certificate.

[2] The Regimental Number 10277 is listed for him in the death notices published in The Sapper magazine of January 1959. His army number is also published in this issue of the magazine. This same Regimental Number appears on his Medal Index Card for his service during the Great War.

[3] His Medal Index Card (MIC) shows that he served in the 1st Battalion of the Notts & Derby Regiment in France and Flanders.

[4] JAMES, p. 122.

[5] Based on a review of various Monthly Army lists from 1907 to 1914.

[6] JAMES, p. 122.

[7] BORASTON & BAX, pp. 24-26.

[8] www.multeen.freeserve.co.uk/1st%20Btn.htm

[9] JAMES, E.A., p. 122.

[10] SANDILANDS, pp. 47 and 387.

[11] Ibid., pp. 55 and 388.

[12] Ibid., pp. 66 and 388.

[13] JAMES, p. 122.

[14] BORASTON & BAX, pp. 87, 101, 105, 114, 131 and 144.

[15] Ibid., pp. 151 and 170.

[16] Ibid., Map, p. 194.

[17] Ibid., pp. 207, 212, 220, 230 and 251.

[18] Medal Index Card.

[19] Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

[20] The Sapper, May 1935, p. 601.

[21] The Sapper, July 1935, p. 649.

[22] The Sapper, March 1936, p. 205.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music and Associate of the Royal College of Music.

[25] Death Certificate.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Last Will and Testament.

[28] Death Certificate.