Eulogy for William Thomas Barry Hirst by his nephew Simon Hirst – Chelmsford 29th September 2023
It’s perhaps his achievements in the service of our nation as a professional soldier that many in the audience will remember Barry for. Indeed, much of his storytelling centred on his rich and enduring association with his fellow Army comrades-in-arms, albeit I must confess he privately admitted to me that in hindsight, he probably would have joined the RAF for a much more relaxed life if he’d had his time again.
Barry began military service as a Boy Soldier with the Royal Armoured Corps, based at Bovington, and followed in the footsteps of several generations of Hirsts before him. I recall him proudly telling me – more than once – that whilst my Grandfather George Hirst was stationed in Bovington, Barry, as a young boy would often head up to TE Lawrence’s motorbike shed in Clouds Hill and ‘borrow’ a few of his tools.
He joined the 4th Hussars in 1955, Winston Churchill’s old Regiment, and saw service as part of the British Army of the Rhine and the Desert Rats in Hohne/Germany. Apart from being part of Churchill’s Honour Guard, he was also keen to regale me of his liaison with the Colonel’s German Nanny! Long days on the North German plain in Centurion tanks, when winters were still winters, and only bearable with Bols Cherry Brandy, and the start of his love of all things German – particularly its various varieties of bread.
The Regiment’s motto Mente et Manu (with Mind and Hand) defines the qualities of an Armoured Corps soldier and Cavalryman. Having your wits about you when the going gets tough and working as a close-knit team that formed lifelong bonds with training, humour, intelligence and ingenuity. A love of soldiering and an esprit de corps that is seldom found elsewhere.
Super fit, in 1958 he began his Airborne service with the 2nd Battalion of The Parachute Regiment, having passed the gruelling Parachute Selection and becoming a member of the Airborne brotherhood. 2 PARA took part in the deployments to Cyprus, Kuwait, Bahrain and Libya. Very much a case of Utrinque Paratus (Ready for Anything).
But he missed his old Regiment and was a little tired of hot sandy places, so he re-joined the Hussars with the Queens Royal Irish (QRIH) in 1962, with whom he went on to serve in Singapore, Borneo and the Ipoh region of Malaysia where his brother Michael was serving and later Terry. These days were before the internet and separation from your family was tough, but everyone was in the same boat.
In 1964, he began four years of service with The Parachute Squadron RAC, including deployments to Aden, Radfan and the Gulf States. I recall meeting his erstwhile Commanding Officer Major Biddy at a dinner, who described Barry immediately as a ‘wonderful man’.
After a short spell back with the Queens Royal Irish Hussars, in 1969 he became a Staff Instructor at the Guided Weapons Wing, Gunnery School RAC based at Lulworth, then later Paderborn, Germany. It was also during this time that he won the famous Parashot competition, beating many high-calibre Parachute Regiment teams. It was rightly one of his proudest achievements, albeit I think someone else did the map reading.
In 1971, he re-joined the QRIH and took part in the UN mission to Cyprus and did lots of deals with Cypriot tailors to improve his impressive wardrobe.
Following 22 years of regular service, Barry re-entered as a Volunteer in 10 PARA in 1983, forming part of 5 Coy of the Home Service Force (HSF), a Territorial/Volunteer force established as a Home Defence unit against sabotage and having a huge amount of fun screeching around airfields in Land Rovers. His volunteering at the Airborne Assault Museum, Duxford and activities in the Parachute Regiment Association and their regular dinners meant much to him.
There are many words and phrases that spring to mind when I think of my Uncle Barry and the man, we all knew as someone from a fading generation that spanned a unique post-war era and witnessed the long recessional of empire.
Our memories will reflect upon a man who was proud of his roots, well-read and displayed humility, compassion, decency, generosity with his friends and family and was always on hand to provide advice and thoughtful gifts. His encouragement and genuine pride in the success of others is a quality that shone through. We enjoyed the quirks of his slightly impetuous nature, wonderful stories normally set in hot and humid countries and with colourful characters and eccentrics from a bygone non-PC age.
He would often tell me there are no atheists in foxholes and he loved to talk with broad interests comprising history, antiques and variously successful bathroom DIY projects and car repairs.
He was a man of style and standards and a love for good old-fashioned humour such as Dad’s Army and Spike Milligan and music by Satchmo – enjoyed with a good brandy! Luckily, he gave up smoking many years ago otherwise I probably would have been here in front of you with a slightly shorter version of this speech.
This afternoon we will raise a dram to you William Thomas Barry Hirst for a life well lived and the cherished memories you leave behind. You are gone but never forgotten.
Mente et Manu/ Utrinque Paratus.
Colonel SA Hirst