Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1914, Private John Henry Parr, 4th Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s), was killed at Obourg in Belgium. He is believed to be the first British soldier to be killed in action in the Great War, although not the first to die after the outbreak of war in other circumstances.
The youngest of eleven children of a milkman, he left school at a young age to work as a butcher’s boy and a golf caddie. He joined the army at the age of fourteen, convincing recruiters that he was four years older, despite his short stature and boyish appearance. Private Parr’s battalion was mobilised at the outbreak of the Great War and was among the first to cross to France, arriving near the village of Bettignies, a few miles from Mons.
Private Parr and another soldier, as infantry scouts, were sent ahead to check out the village of Obourg, located near Mons and just over the border in Belgium. They came under heavy rifle fire from a German cavalry patrol; Private Parr was killed as he remained to hold off the enemy while his companion returned to make his report. A theory emerged in recent years that he may have died by friendly fire – either way, his body was not recovered and was believed to have been buried by the Germans. His grave is in the Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery at Mons. Across from him lies the grave of Private George Edward Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, believed to have been the last British soldier to die in the Great War.
John, from Church End in London, was 17 years old.