100 years to the day after King George V posthumously awarded his father with a Victoria Cross on his behalf in a ceremony on the Downs, a blue plaque commemorating the life of Second Lieutenant Hardy Falconer Parsons has been unveiled at his former home in Redland.
Parsons single-handedly defended his men against a German flamethrower attack on the night of August 20 1917 near Epehy in France, later succumbing to his wounds.
In attendance outside 54 Salisbury Road on Wednesday morning to remember Parsons’ heroism were representatives from several military regiments, Bristol Civic Society, Bristol Cathedral, schoolchildren from Redland Green School and The Dolphin School, the Western Front Association and the Kingswood Association, as well as local residents.
Author and local historian Clive Burlton thanked the crowd for coming and explained that the unveiling was just one project of the network coming into fruition. “We’ve given Hardy Falconer Parsons just desserts today,” he told Bristol24/7 after the ceremony. “It’s been three years in the making, so it’s been a long journey, but we were pushing at an open door.”
As part of nationwide First World War commemorations, the Government is funding a commemorative stone at the birthplace of each of the 627 recipients of the Victoria Cross from 1914-1918. In Bristol, these are located next to the ruins of St Peter’s Church in Castle Park. However, as Parsons was not born in Bristol it transpired that the house where he spent his formative years would not be eligible so Bristol Civic Society offered an alternative in the form of a blue plaque.
Military historian Jeremy Banning gave a moving speech about Parsons’ life and the circumstances of his death, which led to him receiving the Victoria Cross – Britain’s highest award for gallantry.
Banning read the following passage from Parsons’ Victoria Cross citation: “For most conspicuous bravery during a night attack by a strong party of the enemy on a bombing post held by his command. The bombers holding the block were forced back, but Second Lieutenant Parsons remained at his post, and, single-handed, and although severely scorched and burnt by liquid fire, he continued to hold up the enemy with bombs until severely wounded.
“This very gallant act of self-sacrifice and devotion to duty undoubtedly delayed the enemy long enough to allow the organisation of a bombing party, which succeeded in driving back the enemy before they could enter any portion of the trenches. This gallant officer succumbed to his wounds.”
Bristol lord mayor Lesley Alexander addressed the crowds before Grace and Archie, head girl and boy of Kingswood School in Bath which Parsons attended, unveiled the plaque. The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, dean of Bristol Cathedral, said a prayer, before Major General Robin Grist gave a heartfelt exaltation, and members of the Salamanca Band of the Rifles Regiment played The Last Post which was followed by an immaculately respected minute’s silence.
Chris Chart, who has lived in the house for 28 years, explained that much of the campaigning for the commemoration had come from nearby Redland Green School. “One of the history teachers regularly brings pupils down here to see the house, and to tell the story of Hardy Falconer Parsons,” he explained. “We had an email asking us if we would consider having a blue plaque on the house, and we said yes. It was an easy decision.”
Lord mayor Alexander told Bristol24/7 that, 100 years on from the first commemoration ceremony for Parsons, it was still a civic duty to remember him and others like him. “So many families, like the Parsons who lived here, lost two of their three sons to the First World War. It was a dreadful, horrific, bloody war. It was lovely to see schoolchildren here. Lots of young people don’t know about war and it is very important that we never forget.”
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