Reverend Paul Robert Carrington Abram was born in York on July 21 1936. He had four siblings: Sally, born before the war, Charles, born in 1946, Peter, born in 1949 and Pippa, born in 1951. His father joined the Army as a Chaplain in 1940 and the family moved with him to Egypt, Aldershot and Germany. Rev. Abram was educated at Hymers college, a public school in Hull, as well as King Alfred School, a boarding school for children of military personnel, in Schleswig Holstein. As a young boy, Rev. Abram experienced the German air raids while he lived with his grandmother near York. He later said of this time: "Air raids were nightly. We would sit crammed together underneath the stairs or go out to the brick shelter in the street outside. One night we got fire bombs in the roof. My windows were blown in and I was covered in soot".
By 1955, now in the Sixth Form, Rev. Abram was a prefect and also became the head of the school's Brandesburton House. He had previously joined the Army Cadet Force while at school, later recalling: "We wore dark blue berets and the Parachute Regiment Cap Badge". Later he joined the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) as an underofficer. Clearly a very able student, he also became head of the Sixth Form Society. Here they discussed philosophical questions like "Can a code of morals replace Christianity?", whilst also allowing space to consider digressions (whether life on Mars was Christian too). Rev. Abram was then offered a place at Keble college, Oxford, but deferred to complete his national service with the East Yorkshire Regiment. He describes the experience of national service below:
"The expected letter in a brown envelope came telling me to report to Victoria Barracks, Beverley, for National Service. Towards the end of August I reported. It was a long journey there, so I was the last to arrive. Sent to the Quarter Master’s Stores, the various items of equipment were issued. Then my hair was cut. Even the barber apologized for how much he had cut off[...] After those ten days I was transferred to York and the potential officers company of the Six Yorkshire and Northumberland Regiments"
In 1956, now part of the East Yorks, Rev. Abram was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 23 June, receiving his new service number as an officer (23169526 changed to 448434). He described what it was like to command a platoon for the first time:
"My platoon came from Hull, some could not read or write and a proportion was sent to the appropriate school at Scarborough. My Batman Pte. Southwold was convinced, in his own words, that I was loaded. Certainly my cupboard suggested this with mess kit, dinner jacket, suit blazer all suggesting this. In fact I was as poor as a church mouse. It was important that my men felt like this, if they were to follow me."
Rev. Abram attended Keble College, Oxford from 1957, studying Geography and Law. By April 1, 1958, he was seconded to the Oxford University Contingent of the Officers' Training Corps (TA), having been promoted to Lieutenant on January 19 of that year. From 13 to 29 July 1959, Rev. Abram completed a parachute training course designed for undergraduates of the OTC (OTC3). On October 3 1960, Rev. Abram relinquished his commission as a Lieutenant as he enlisted as a trooper in the Artist's Rifles, 21 SAS (TA), successfully completing the SAS selection course. After receiving his degree at Oxford (a third which would today be a 2:2), Rev. Abram moved to a theological college in Chichester and then served his three year mandatory curacy as an assistant to a parish priest in Redcar (1962 to 1965). He married his wife Joanna on June 24 1961 at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. During his wedding, Rev. Abram was asked what he would be doing if not marrying Joanna that day. He replied: "parachuting into Denmark with 21 SAS" (TA), the unit he was part of at the time. He had been chosen for 21 SAS by Major General Tony Jeapes.
On August 26, 1962, Abram's first daughter, Shân, was born. On May 3, 1965, Rev. Abram rejoined the army in the Royal Army Chaplains' Department (RAChD) as a Chaplain to the Forces, 4th Class. He was posted to the Army Catering Corps (ACC) and the Cambridge Military Hospital. Having trained and passed an SAS course, Rev. Abram was now afforded extra respect by the soldiers he cared for. His second daughter, Lucy, was born shortly after this. Joanna later gave birth to two other daughters, Birdie and Emily.
It was in February of the following year (1966) that Rev. Abram first joined 3 PARA as padre, performing the marriage ceremonies for several paratroopers. He did Padre's hour for 3 PARA, 7RHA and 23 PFA and ended up doing 78 jumps. Rev. Abram went to Australia, Libya, 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". However, the life of a paratrooper was not without danger for Rev. Abram. Lieutenant Colonel Pat Conn was both married to his wife Judy by Rev. Abram and had both of his children baptised by the Padre. He recalls:
"[During] a continuation night jump on Fox Covert DZ on Salisbury Plain[,] I came across Paul struggling to get out of his harness with his `chute draped over an electric fence which was live. I said that was a close shave, it could have been nasty straddling that. He replied that he had a bit of help…divine intervention! He later told me that it is amazing that he survived parachuting at all as he was one of the world’s worst parachutists!"
In 1970, Rev. Abram had another close shave. He was taking part in what should have been a routine Exercise called "Thread" in Sicily and Cyprus. However, during his drop at the Cypriot village of Avdimou, Rev. Abram was "thankful for his reserve as his main parachute distintegrated". He elaborated on this incident in his own memoir:
"When we parachuted, it was normal for a soldier when given number 13 to come up to me and ask to switch. On one occasion when this happened, I was thrust out of the Hercules over Cyprus with too much vigour. I got caught by the slipstream and found myself hooked onto the body of a man, Corporal Emblow, who was jumping on the opposite rigging, my chute a dead straight line. Initially I did not pull my reserve, because we could have come down successfully on his main. I pulled the reserve just before landing and it only just started to inflate; we landed in a newly ploughed field. Whallop! After reporting in, I went back to my parachute to find Mick Morrison standing over it, saying “Don’t touch that parachute, the board of inquiry will want to see it”. When I saw the number of holes and broken rigging lines, I felt weak, very weak".
During this time in 3 Para he also wrote a history of the airborne chaplains named Lower than the Angels. In his introduction, Rev. Abram 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".
Rev. Abram left his role as padre of 3 PARA in September 1970, being posted to Bramcote and the Junior Leaders Regiment Royal Artillery. On May 3, 1971, Rev. Abram was promoted to a Chaplain to the Forces, 3rd Class. He was posted back to the Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire in Northern Ireland as a Senior Chaplain to the Forces. Rev. Abram recalled shots being fired by the IRA through the hospital in which his wife worked as well as changing the school his daughter Lucy attended after "she came home talking about the Fenians" (a derogative term for Catholics). From 1973 to 1975, he was reposted to 3 PARA, again in Northern Ireland. During this stint, he also went on jungle training exercises in Malaysia.
In 1976, Rev. Abram was posted to 12 Light Air Defence Regiment, RA in Dortmund, Germany, where he stayed until 1979. On July 4, 1978, Rev. Abram was promoted again to a 2nd Class Chaplain. He then enjoyed a two year posting to the Royal Military College of Science until 1981. After this he was posted to Hong Kong where he was unfortunately made subordinate to a Naval Chaplain. He returned to York after Hong Kong, where he was responsible for parts of the Second Infantry Division.
Rev. Abram was then called up by the Chaplain General to the Falklands Islands for a four month tour (which was probably in 1983-4 as it was still being defended). Here he recalled thinking "what a godforsaken spot" it was on having a difficult flight in. Nevertheless, he later appreciated the beauty of the local blue petrels and rockhopper penguins. He also visited the battlefields of Mount Longdon and Goose Green.
Following this, Rev. Abram was posted to Lisburn, Northern Ireland, as a Senior Chaplain. This was a period of relative calm, despite an incident in which, Rev. Abram recalls, "the IRA decided to use a CB digger with a bomb in the scoop to take out the RUC station. We had foreknowledge and were waiting for them". After this, Rev. Abram was also posted to West Berlin for a few years. He subsequently covered Western District and Wales in charge of over 100 Army chaplains for a period of two years.
Finally on March 26, 1988, Rev. Abram reached the rank of Chaplain to the Forces, 1st Class. Rev. Abram also held the roles of Assistant Chaplain General and Chaplain to the former Bishop of London. The London Gazette lists him as retiring from the Army on May 8, 1989, after a military career that had lasted over three decades of distinguished service.
Pat Conn shared his fond memories of Rev. Abram:
"I attended numerous services and pilgrimages which Paul held, 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 did his homework and I will miss him."
Following retirement from the military in 1989, Rev. Abram took up the post of Vicar of Salcombe in Devon until November 1995. However, he was then recalled and appointed Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II and priest-in-charge of St Peter Ad Vincula, the former parish church of the Tower of London. On June 16, 2007, Rev. Abram was awarded the Member of the Victorian Royal Order (MVO) by the Queen. In his retirement, he was also active in airborne commemorations in Normandy and the Ardennes, where he led many services. He died of cardiac failure on 28 September 2023 in a hospice near his home. His funeral was held on 25 October at All Saints Church, near Odiham.
Compiled with information from:
Pat Conn, Airborne Network and friend of Paul Abram
Airborne Assault Archive (Box numbers 3H3 17.1.11 and 17.1.12)
The London Gazette
Old Hymerians article on Paul Abram
Lower than the Angels, account of the airborne chaplains by Paul Abram
Professional Security Magazine Online article written by Una Riley
Obituary in The Times newspaperRead More