The life of one paratrooper shows how we learned to see soldiers as ordinary people suffering in the service of their country, finds Lara Feigelby Lara Feigel / October 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
On 26th July 1982, the government held a memorial service at St Paul’s for the families of servicemen who had died in the recently concluded Falklands War. Preparations had been fraught. The church wanted to express regret not just for the 255 British men who had died but for the war as a whole—and to initiate reconciliation with Argentina. The dean proposed reading the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. The government, however, was more interested in celebrating victory, keen to assure the bereaved families that the sacrifice had been worthwhile. On hearing about the proposal for a Spanish prayer, Margaret Thatcher asked simply: “Why?”
In the end the service was a compromise. The chaplain of the Second Battalion, Parachute Regiment (known as 2 Para), the battalion that led the advance in the bloodiest battles, read a lesson, as did two junior members of the British task force—this despite the dean’s preference that the military not be involved in the religious aspects of the service. There were no prayers in Spanish. But the church’s position was made clear in the sermon by Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had served in Normandy during the Second World War.
After praising the courage of the British Task Force, Runcie insisted that “war was a sign of human failure, and everything we say and do in this service must be in that context.” He prayed not just for the British dead but for the fallen Argentine as well, reminding his congregation that there was “mourning on both sides of this conflict.” This was not what many of his listeners wished to hear. “The boss is livid,” Denis Thatcher reported. Nonetheless, the service had found a way of steering a course between nationalist reverence and international humanitarianism.
This is also the path successfully steered by Helen Parr in Our Boys. Subtitled “The Story of a Paratrooper,” it begins as the story of Parr’s uncle Dave, who was a soldier in the 2 Para Battalion and was killed as the Falklands War ended, at the age of 19. Parr grew up in the shadow of this war and, now an academic and historian, decided to investigate the experiences of paratroopers from a military and social perspective. Her interviews with Falklands veterans will prove a vital resource for…