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