Royal recognition for family of young soldier from Lowestoft
THE bravery of a young soldier from Lowestoft who died on the last night of the Falklands War was remembered at a special ceremony this week.
Pte David Parr was 19 when he was killed by so-called 'friendly fire' during the final push to reclaim Port Stanley from Argentine invaders on June 14, 1982.
On Monday, in recognition of his efforts, his 'very proud' brother Harmer was present at the first service of its kind in Norfolk to receive an Elizabeth Cross and memorial scrolls, signed by the Queen.
Until recently, the loss and sacrifice of loved ones left behind by the fallen Service victims of military operations or terrorism since the second world war have not been officially recognised.
But family members from Norfolk and Suffolk were present this week to be honoured at a moving ceremony, held in the historic setting of The Great Hospital in Norwich.
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Mr Parr, who was invited as paratroop David's next of kin, said he was delighted to have received the cross. He added: 'We are very proud of what Dave achieved and what he did in the Falklands, and we are very pleased to see it recognised with such a magnificent award.'
Having joined the army straight from school in 1978, a 'determined' David set out to join the Parachute Regiment. 'After basic training he undertook the gruelling P Company selection process, which quickly weeded out those not meeting the standards,' Mr Parr said. 'The majority of those beginning the course did not complete it. During this period, whenever he was home on leave, he would fill a rucksack full of bricks and go for long runs so as not to lose condition - he was very single-minded about his ambition.'
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So much so that he successfully completed the course and joined the 2nd Battalion parachute regiment, based in Aldershot. Training tours in Denmark, Switzerland and Kenya followed before time in 'hot spots' such as Belize and Northern Ireland - with one Christmas spent on a hillside in South Armagh.
'David was on leave in Lowestoft in 1982 when he received a telegram that just said: Bruneval,' Mr Parr recalled. 'He knew the significance, though we did not - he had 24 hours to get back to Bruneval barracks in Aldershot.'
The next thing the family knew was that the teenager was on the North Sea ferry to the Falkland Islands.
'David landed at San Carlos Bay with the first taskforce troops to set foot on the island,' mMr Parr said. 'They immediately had to dig in to the hillside, as Argentinian planes were soon flying over what became known as bomb alley. David was injured in the first significant land battle of the war at Goose Green - when a bullet lodged in the webbing of his belt, burning a large circle around his navel.
'He was strapped to a helicopter skid and taken to the field hospital in Ajax Bay. There, as he put it, he was 'patched up'. We did not receive his final letter, written from the hospital, until some time after the conflict. In it he made clear that he was being given the option of whether to re-join his platoon or not. His mind was already made up: he told us he was 'itching to get back with his mates', Mr Parr revealed.
It was while his platoon were advancing on Wireless Ridge, on the last night of the war, that he was fatally wounded.
'Battles were also raging on neighbouring peaks,' Mr Parr said. 'The noise of incoming fire was muffled from some of the soldiers by the rocky outcrops. David did not hear a shell come in and it burst close to him, killing him instantly. In the dark and confusion his comrades only found out when he did not answer the roll call.'
While his family who lived then in Normanston Drive, including mum Joy, Harmer and brother Chris, celebrated the end of the war, it was not until three
days three days later that the Ministry of Defence arrived to break the news to Mrs Parr.
'Over the next few weeks, a flurry of letters were exchanged with politicians, including then prime minister Margaret Thatcher about the repatriation of the bodies,' Mr Parr recalled. 'Initially the government held the line that soldiers were buried where they fell, but eventually they had to relent and provide a choice of burial on the island or repatriation. We chose the latter.'
The bodies were returned to the UK in late November, and David had a military funeral at St Michael's Church in Oulton Broad on December 2, 1982.
But the saga was not over - for about a year later, Mrs Parr received a phone call asking if two senior army officials could pay her a visit - and the family was told that a book by a former senior officer of the Parachute Regiment was about to be published.
'It would allege that David had been killed by what is mistakenly called friendly fire,' Mr Parr said, 'They told us that the British guns were firing over the heads of the advancing troops to give them cover and to clear the ground ahead of them. Either David's platoon was further forward than was realised, or the shells fell short.
'No-one can be certain in heat of battle, but it is likely that the shell which killed David was British. In a further twist, a book of eye-witness accounts published in 2007 alleged that the incident resulted from mistaken information being relayed back to base by a forward observation officer with David's platoon. If that is the case, we accept that in the fog of war mistakes happen. Perhaps we should have been told the truth at the time, but I doubt if it would have helped us to come to terms any better with David's death.'
Described as a 'quiet' teenager, with a 'strong character,' David was an athlete of some note, and in a fitting tribute the Denes High School marks his memory each year with the annual David Parr award for the best all-round athlete.
Now, Mr Parr also has a 'fitting tribute' to his brother's 'bravery.' For on Monday, the Lord-lieutenant of Norfolk Richard Jewson presented the Elizabeth Cross to Mr Parr and nine other next of kin.
'The ceremony was a very moving occasion, and we were impressed that the Lord Lieutenant led the occasion and that Sir Richard Dannatt attended as well,' Mr Parr said. 'We personally were hosted at the event by an officer from the Parachute Regiment, who had come from the barracks in Colchester. I felt very proud in receiving the medal, and felt it was a fitting tribute to Dave's bravery.'
Recalling his brother's bravery, Mr Parr added: 'Having been wounded at Goose Green, he opted to re-join his platoon when he could have stayed in the field hospital. The battle at Goose Green was very brutal, some of it involving hand-to-hand combat in the dark.
'A colleague of Dave's has told us recently that Dave had lost his gloves at some point on this assault, and his hands were frozen. When he learned that Dave had been killed, he returned to the spot on top of Wireless Ridge where it had happened and left his own gloves there as a mark of respect.'
Mr Parr also revealed this week the 2nd Battalion - his brother's regiment - was not supposed to be involved in further battles having fought at Goose Green.
'The loss of equipment when ships were sunk, particularly the Sir Galahad and the Arctic Conveyer, meant that plans had to be changed and 2 Para had to march forward to take part in the final assault - the Battalion therefore saw more action than any other!' he said.
Mr Jewson told those present at the service, held at The Great Hospital, in Bishopgate, this week: 'The Elizabeth Cross was created to provide recognition for the family of armed forces personnel who have died in operations or who have died as a result of terrorism.'
He told family members, who came from across Norfolk and Suffolk: 'I hope that you will wear your Elizabeth Cross with pride and pass it on to future generations so that they can understand the price that has been paid.'