On this day in history : 21st August 1914 – Private John Parr becomes the first British soldier to be shot and killed during World War One….

The grave of Private John Parr, Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery – Image credit : http://www.smg-authie.co.uk/graphics/photos/cwgc_sz/st_symph_06.jpg – CC BY-SA 2.5

Parr had joined the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment in 1912, after lying about his age; he claimed to be the required age of 18 whereas in truth he was only 14…. He was trained to be a reconnaissance cyclist – a scout riding ahead of the marching battalion on a bicycle to check the way ahead for enemy activity….

In August 1914 the 4th Middlesex was one of the first British Army units to be mobilised and sent to Northern France…. 1,100 men left Southampton destined for Boulogne-sur-Mer – just as the Germans were advancing into Belgium….

On the 21st of August Private Parr and another cyclist were despatched to the village of Obourg, just over the border into Belgium…. Their mission was to pinpoint the exact location of the German troops…. Nobody knows for sure exactly what happened next…. It is believed that Parr and his companion came across a German patrol engaged in a similar task to that of their own…. Whilst his companion returned to report to the commanding officer of the Middlesex Regiment Parr remained behind to try and head off the enemy patrol…. It was thought he died in an exchange of rifle fire with the Germans….

However, later research carried out in 2014 unearthed the possibility that Parr was actually killed by friendly fire…. Whatever the circumstances, British troops almost immediately retreated from the area and Parr’s body was left behind…. His grave was later found in a battle graveyard, where he was most likely buried by the Germans…. He now lies in St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, south east of Mons – in a grave that faces that of George Edwin Ellison, thought to be the last British soldier to be killed in World War One…. The age on Parr’s headstone reads as ‘20’ – not the 17 he really was….

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