Eulogy for Reverend Paul Abram MVO MA

Padre Paul Abram, MVO MA- Eulogy – 25 th October 2023 – Final
How do you encapsulate such a varied and busy life in just a few minutes; and of such a special man? A husband to Jo, a father to the girls, grandfather and
great grandfather to the extended family, priest, soldier, chaplain, author, friend to me and to many, and an Old Hymerian. He is listed in the top 100 Old Hymerians of all time. I was lucky to know because we overlapped at Hymers College which is in Kingston-up-Hull (plain Hull to those who are not from the area). This overlap was during his second stint at the School, and I got to
know him a little. Paul was born in York where his Dad was a curate, then in 1940 his father became an Army Chaplain, and so began the peripatetic life of Paul and the family moving hither and yon, including a brief period at Hymers Junior School. By March 1953, it was back to England from Germany for his sister Sally and himself, and this time to Tidworth in Wiltshire where his father became chaplain to the Armoured Assault Regiment, Royal Engineers, who were at Perham Down; however education was still a problem with constant school changes. He was packed off back to Hull to Hymers College, but as it was a day-public school, he stayed with his Uncle. He eventually became Head of Brandesburton House and, of course, a Prefect and Underofficer in the CCF. Now I was `lower pond life’ at Hymers at this time, Paul being older than me,
but I was in the same House. Prefects had powers of punishment for misdemeanours, so I was often in their sights. Paul was a fair but firm disciplinarian, and always seemed to issue his punishments with a smile on his face…and they were rather different but effective. Instead of “lines” like 50 lines for “failing to tip your school cap to a member of staff or prefect in
School or in public” and this could be at a range of 50 metres or more! Paul however would say ` Conn, Lord’s Prayer, 20 times by break on Thursday”, or far, far worse, “Conn Hymn 291, Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!, all verses and punctuation 10 times by break on Wednesday” It is probably because of such minor punishments that I know so many hymns off by heart.
When I joined the CCF, Paul was an Underofficer and a highly respected leader of the Corps at that. In his time at Hymers, Paul showed great leadership, and as Head of House, he inspired and encouraged others. My first overlap ended with Paul in 1955, I continued until 1959 when I joined the Parachute Regiment. So then what? Paul was offered a place at Keble College, Oxford, but then deferred to complete his National Service with the East Yorkshire Regiment.  In 1956, after he had completed his basic national service training he was
chosen to attend a War Office Selection Board, he passed and was recommended for officer training at Eaton Hall near Chester. This officer training lasted four months and finally Paul was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in June 1956. By the 1 st April 1958, Paul was seconded to the Oxford University Contingent of the Officers' Training Corps (TA), having been promoted to Lieutenant in January of that year whilst still in the East Yorks TA. His National Service had been in BAOR based in Osnabrück, then in August 1957 the
Colonel offered him a permanent commission in the regiment which he refused, thinking more of service with the Chaplain’s Department. He had passed the selection board to be a civilian clergyman already. While at Keble, he took over the infantry platoon of the OTC, and as many cadets had little parachutes on their sleeve, he thought that he ought to qualify as well, but that thought did not enamour him of jumping from a perfectly serviceable aircraft. In July 1959, and that is four whole months before I qualified as a paratrooper,
Paul had completed his first parachute training course, but in October 1960, he relinquished his commission as a Lieutenant while he finished his studies at Oxford. After receiving his MA at Keble, he moved to a theological college in Chichester and then obtained a curacy as an assistant to a parish priest In
Redcar. There was an interesting interlude while completing his TA (Reservist) period because there was a problem; his TA work was too far away in Hull. A friend suggested that he should contact this SAS fella, the adjutant of 21 SAS, one Captain Tony Jeapes. He did, and Tony Jeapes said that he would be delighted
to see him as he had already done his parachute course, but there was a small matter of the SAS Selection Course, and if he passed he would lose his
commission. It was arranged that he would turn up for selection in the March of 1960. Ouch; but he was successful. After Oxford, there was a small problem of finding a theological college. After a few false starts and a nudge from Archbishop Michael Ramsey who had
moved from York to Canterbury, he joined the Chichester Theological College. He married his wife Jo in 1961 at The Royal Hospital, Chelsea with a Guard of
Honour of Chelsea Pensioners. The curacy though was difficult, and over time he asked the Archbishop of York if he could join the army as a chaplain. This was agreed provided he only did one tour…fat chance of that! On the 3rd May 1965, Paul rejoined the army in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department (RAChD) as a Chaplain to the Forces, 4 th Class, and in the following year he joined 3 PARA as padre, performing the marriage ceremonies for several paratroopers early on and setting a trend which would continue for many
years. Paul went to Malta and Cyprus with 3 PARA between 1966 and 1970, stating in a letter in February 1969:

"Life is good in Malta. Very hectic, very busy, but it is great to have my
own church"

Before Paul joined 3 PARA, a chance for me to even things up a bit for all those hymns was presented. In 1965 I was a platoon commander in the Depot
PARA and Airborne Forces at Maida Barracks in Aldershot, and one of our duties was to make sure that we `looked after’ the potential officers for Airborne Forces in the Mess, and so of course we did. Because Paul had SAS wings he did not have to do the full ‘P’ company week in Wales, but he did have to complete the Aldershot leg, the delights of the Log Race, Milling,
Assault Course, Trainiasium and similar. We gave Paul an alcoholic time of course and a series of late nights which made P Company hard going, but he made it. The pattern of life from then on within a unit was straightforward. Once qualified and posted, he did Padre’s hours for 3 PARA, 7 RHA and 23 PFA plus lots of parachute descents. Then work overseas began, British Guyana, a long exercise in Australia, then Cyprus, Malta, Libya and similar. Paul had his PR moments as well. Some of you will have seen the old newsreel clip `Parachuting Padres’ on the internet or ParaData. This is what really happened. A publicity expert arrived one day and told him that his life was
about to change. It did not really, but he went down to RAF Odiham to find an Argosy aircraft lined up together with parachutes, one of which was put on him and they took numerous photographs. He became a `pin-up’ on the front cover of the “Soldier” magazine, posing with a parachute billowing behind him. The Bishop to the Forces paid a visit to the Airborne Chaplains, John
McNaughton, 1 PARA, Father Hugo Beattie, and Paul. With the Bishop and Terry Finch, who was a Daily Express photographer, they climbed aboard the
Argosy, and they dropped onto Hankley Common, with lots of photographers present. The drop was successful, and Paul was meant to fly back with the
Bishop by helicopter, but the weather closed down, so he had to take a staff car and he missed the television interview after the event. Then to Malta with 3 PARA, and it is there that our military paths crossed once
again. Paul had married Judy and I and had baptised the children over the passing years, something he would do many times both for the military and
civilian families. I joined 3 PARA for the last six months or so of the Malta tour. During his time in 3 PARA he also wrote a history of the Airborne Chaplains
named Lower than the Angels. In his introduction, Paul described what it meant to be an army chaplain:
"His two main tasks are to pray and to care...instinctively, men look to him for hope and encouragement. He knows them and they know him,
but it is Christ who can speak through him...the only way he can do this is by giving himself to them without reserve. War is a vile business...but the chaplain does not use the vileness of war as an excuse to opt out of
it and instead elects to serve his fellow men because as soldiers they need God".
Now I do not have time to do his full military career justice but suffice to say that with many other postings to bases in the UK in which the Province of Northern Ireland features quite a lot, Germany, Berlin, and post-conflict Falklands, he covered a lot of ground. He also had another period with 3 PARA in Northern Ireland. Pack in other postings and a period in Hong Kong as the Senior Chaplain, it was highly active and eventful life. Paul reached the rank of Chaplain to the Forces; 1 st Class by end of his service but he was getting
disenchanted as an Assistant Chaplain General because looking after lots of chaplains over a large area simply was not fun.

At this time the Church Times advertised that the parish of Salcombe, which was in the gift of his old college of Keble was available. He applied. He was not surprised to be shortlisted because he was a Keble man; but after what in his opinion was a disastrous interview by five Dons, he was not hopeful, but he impressed and Salcombe was his. Now fast-wind forward a few years. Paul was enjoying Salcombe, sailing and in fact 7 fun years of a normal parochial life of the priest. Then a letter came out of the blue from the Queen, appointing
him as the Chaplain of the Tower of London, a Royal command with which it is difficult to argue. Apart from the preliminary visit there was no other handover procedure for the job, and his fixed flock were the Yeoman Warders of The Tower and their Families, and he should just get on with it. The house for the Chaplain was built in 1614 and had seven bedrooms, mostly little ones, dotted everywhere and reputedly was haunted. It was situated just outside the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula The walk to work door to door was all of 20 metres.

As well as this important position Paul also was the Chaplain to the former Bishop of London, as well as many other London clubs and societies and livery companies. He also was the Chaplain to HMS President on the Thames. Services were held every Sunday in The Tower which had a fantastic choir and hosted many visiting preachers, and I am sure that many here will know that. Certainly Judy and I thoroughly enjoyed our visits and services.

Eventually all good things must end, particularly as you get older, and Jo and Paul retired to Kimpton just outside Andover before moving to Odiham, and sadly in his later years he had been plagued by infirmity although his brain remained sharp. Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth conferred the award as a Member of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) on Paul, a personal award from the Sovereign for his services; which brings this overview nearly to a close, but it would be remiss of me not to mention memorial services and pilgrimages. I attended numerous services and pilgrimages which Paul held in the UK and overseas, and he was simply a brilliant preacher who could hold a congregation, sometimes of not so religious soldiers, in the palm of his hand, and he was a top-notch Parachuting Padre. His services from drum-head services in the field to extremely memorable Memorial Services and eulogies on pilgrimages were always first class. He always personalised Graces as many here will know to match an event, and often composed prayers and Blessings to suit the occasion. As an example, many here will be familiar with his Airborne Blessing which I think reflected his often interesting experiences in parachuting. Just take a moment, think of Paul standing tall here, with the hint of a smile giving this Blessing which I have heard many times before…

In life, may your flights be smooth,
Your exits easy,
No twists,
No idiots close by

And a safe landing 50 yards from the RV;
You are Ready for Anything.

And through life may the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall soft upon your fields
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand;

And then would follow the usual Blessing but with the Paul twist. He always did his homework, and I will miss him. So how do you describe such an incredible man who has lived life to the full with over three decades of military service tucked under his belt, such a large span of experience and with a hugely supportive family? Well you can use all those many superlatives available to you, but I like to remember Paul by the name by which the Toms, that is the soldiers gave him, “Yul Grinner” because of his permanent grin and rather sparse head of hair. He was a great orator who could hold those paras in the palm of his hand with his snappy repartee and simple well-constructed preaching. It was a pleasure and great honour to have known him in so many differing circumstances for so long. In my view, he lived up to the Hymers motto in every aspect – “High Merit; High Reward.” The Parachute Regiment Motto, “Ready for Anything” and as a true Airborne Chaplain “All to One End”. He was a giant of a man who will be missed deeply by Family, Colleagues, Friends and Acquaintances alike. Paul you served us well, thank you.

Pat Conn (Author)

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