Jack Parsons: soldier and man of peace

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

The Jack Parsons collection takes pride of place in our museum

Jack Parsons, from Birmingham, served through the First World War in both the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanrys.  He won the Military Cross for leading part of the charge at Huj, 8th November 1917, the last recorded cavalry charge carried out by the British Military.

The charge was successful in that the British troops captured the position from the Turks, taking seventy prisoners, eleven pieces of artillery and four machine guns. However British casualties were heavy; of the 170 men taking part, twenty-six were killed and forty wounded, and 100 horses were also killed.

Jack Parsons was one of only two men from his Squadron still on their feet afterward. He carried and used the revolver shown above at the charge.

After the war Jack Parsons became a vicar, and for the 1946 Remembrance Day sermon he decided to follow the Bible’s advice ‘and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares’ (Isaiah 2:3-4).  He took his old sword, plus a captured Turkish one, and asked a blacksmith to forge them together to form a ploughshare (the part of the plough that makes the groove in thh soil). He then used the ploughshare to sow wheat, which he grew for Communion bread.

The ploughshare and sword hilts were later given to the museum by Canon Parsons, and take pride of place in our displays

Gas! A teaching aid for the WI

A box of gas phials used for training purposes

A box of gas phials used for training purposes

Amongst the curiosities in the collection, we found this box of colourful phials issued during the lead up to World War Two for training ARP wardens, firemen, ambulance men and other civil defence workers. Each test tube contained a very small amount of a different poison gas, including lethal ones such as Phosgene and Chlorine alongside merely unpleasant ones like Mustard Gas. The tubes were passed around so that each worker could have a sniff and learn to recognise all of the different gases that the Germans might drop.

Each gas had different treatments and precautions, and it was important to know which was which. The phials were supposed to contain only a very safe amount of gas, but the label warns that ‘Delicate persons with bad lungs or respiratory weakness must be cautious. The quantity of substance applied is so small that serious casualties cannot occur.’

Evidence that the emergency precautions and training were underway in the county well before the start of hostilities can be found in the minutes of Wilden Women’s Institute, Worcestershire.  The secretary recorded that on 1 Nov 1937:

‘A lecture was given by Mrs Neligan of Droitwich on gas defence work and the action to be taken by civilians in the event of gas attacks.  She illustrated the talk with gas masks and phials of different gases to so that members might become acquainted with their colour and smell’. (1)

Volunteers from the county’s Women’s Institutes contributed a great deal towards the war effort in organising and delivering Civil Defence, food production and public health duties throughout the war. Their records are a mine of information for any researcher into Worcestershire’s Home Front.  The Worcestershire Federation of Women’s Institutes archive is now held by Worcestershire Archives and can be viewed at the Hive.

(1) reference: records of Wilden WI deposited by Worcs Federation of Women’s Institutes, Worcestershire Archives, BA14296/box 7

The Regimental Badge

badge_web

The badge of the Worcestershire Regiment from 1881

Men of the Worcestershire Regiment in 1897 - note the star on the soldiers 'valise' or leather backpack.

Men of the Worcestershire Regiment in 1897: note the star on the soldier’s ‘valise’ or backpack.

The regimental badge of the 29th Regiment of Foot until 1881

The regimental badge of the 29th Regiment of Foot until 1881

The Star of the regimental badge is that from the Order of the Garter, and was used by Colonel Farrington, founder of the 29th Regiment of Foot. He had been an officer in the Coldstream Guards, and kept the Star for his new Regiment. As a result, the 29th were nicknamed ‘Guards of the Line’.

The number of the regiment in written in the centre of the star in Roman numerals. The lion above it may be copied from the Royal Crest.  It is believed that it was presented to the 29th when they were on duty at Windsor in 1791.

The 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment also used a star in their badge, which bore their motto ‘Firm’. It was worn from the 1770s at least, although the origin is unknown, and became official in 1810.

The Regiment also used to use the Naval pattern of crown on their badges to commemorate their service with the Fleet at the Glorious First of June in 1794. This link to their maritime service is also remembered in two of the regiment’s marching tunes, Hearts of Oak and Rule Britannia, both traditionally associated with the Royal Navy

In both regiments, the Star was worn for many years on the Valise – part of a soldier’s backpack. When the regiments were amalgated to form the Worcestershire Regiment in 1881, the badge incorporated the star, the lion of the 29th and the motto of the 36th.  Thus the regiment continued to remain ‘FIRM’.