Bryn S. Parry OBE (Hg 75)

10 January 2024

During his time in charge of Help for Heroes, the charity Bryn Parry OBE (Hg 75) co-founded with his wife Emma, he raised £260 million and helped more than 50,000 people to recover from the trauma of combat stress and injury while fighting for their country, whether in the army, navy or air force. 

Bryn St Pierre Parry was born in 1956 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, the son of Doreen (née Painter) and Robin Parry, a career army officer who fought in Burma in the Second World War with the Gurkhas and whose family’s military roots dated back to 1645. Sadly Bryn had little opportunity to know him. His father was killed on exercise in Germany in 1961 and his only memories of him were throwing him a ball in the back garden and seeing him parachute out of an aircraft.

His father’s military service meant that Bryn was eligible for a Foundation Scholarship at Wellington College. He was a pupil from 1970 to 1974 and forged a strong bond with his housemaster, Nicholas Bomford, later headmaster of Harrow, who became almost a surrogate father. “He had faith in me and gave me a lot of confidence,” Parry said. When he left Wellington with “long hair and good looks” he considered himself “a blade” but a spell at Sandhurst and a commission in the Royal Green Jackets put him right.

Parry did three tours in Northern Ireland and was also an instructor in counterterrorism and jungle warfare. He left as a captain aged 29 and bought a cottage in the Wiltshire village of Whiteparish to pursue a career as an artist.  He eventually became a highly successful cartoonist, building the Bryn Parry Studios into a design and gift business supplying aprons, mugs and mouse mats adorned with his whimsical creations such as Mrs Aga and Wocker Cocker. There were also more than a dozen books of his cartoons, his subjects reflecting his passion for “the countryside, shooting and badly behaved dogs”.

The inspiration for Help for Heroes came when Parry and his wife visited a ward at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham where 40 young soldiers who had lost limbs or had horrific shrapnel wounds were being treated. “I defy anyone not to have been moved,” he said. “They had been in a place where people wanted to kill them in a war of which everyone disapproved. The least we can do is look after them when they come home.”

He was particularly moved by the plight of 19-year-old rifleman Stephen Vause, who was on a life-support machine after suffering brain damage in a mortar attack in Iraq. Above his bed was his cap and badge. It was the same regiment in which Parry had served three decades earlier in Northern Ireland. “He was a totally different generation but it felt like visiting a member of my family. We didn’t have any choice. We had to help them,” he recalled. They initially aimed to raise money for a gym and swimming pool at the Headley Court military recovery centre, where facilities were so poor that the injured had to exercise in the public swimming baths in nearby Leatherhead and some locals had complained about sharing the pool with veterans who had lost limbs.

Working out of a small office near Salisbury in Wiltshire, he used his skills as a graphic artist and cartoonist to design H4H’s distinctive logo and insignia. Parry and his wife, Emma, organised a sponsored bike ride and envisaged the charity as a six-to-nine month project with a solitary objective. However, they soon recognised the real size of the problem as service personnel returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with lifechanging injuries. 

The money he raised through Help for Heroes funded a rehabilitation complex with a gym and swimming pool at Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Surrey, and established four more recovery centres for wounded service personnel at Tidworth in Wiltshire, Plymouth, Catterick in North Yorkshire and Colchester in Essex. The centres offered medical, psychological and welfare support, designed to aid the sick and injured either to return to active duty or transition to civilian life.

In doing so, Help for Heroes became one of the best supported charities in Britain. David Beckham, Princes William and Harry and the broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson were among the celebrities seen wearing “H4H” wristbands. Fundraising enterprises ranged from large-scale national events such as an X Factor charity single and a star-studded rugby match at a sold-out Twickenham to local initiatives such as cake sales, car washes, sponsored shaves, fun runs, park walks, clay shoots, pub quizzes and a thousand other ingenious ways of raising money “limited only by the law and the imagination”, as Parry put it.

Parry retired from his executive role with Help for Heroes in 2016. After supporting so many others to rehabilitate their lives, he concluded that it was time to “rebuild” his own and return to the career he had put on hold as a cartoonist.

Bryn Parry CBE, co-founder of Help for Heroes and cartoonist, was born on September 22, 1956. He died of pancreatic cancer on April 12, 2023, aged 66.

Courtesy of The Times