How The Little Prince, an Aviator Scarf, and a Cravat Led to Uncovering Capt. Parry’s WWII Heroism
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Crisp. Cold. Calm.
Boxing Day 1980. Ms. P and two of her fellow lovely ladyfriends took me, wearing my Sergio Valente jeans and suede leather jacket and scarf, to visit her parents, George and Dora Parry, somewhere in the country near London, Ontario. It was bone chattering cold but brilliantly sunny out of the City.
On the way there, some of the talk was about the tragic death of John Lennon on December 08, the day before I had traveled to Ottawa to interview PM Trudeau’s estranged but still gorgeous wife, Margaret — Maggie T of the Rolling Stones-at the El Mocambo fame in 1977.
Ms. P (Georgia) had bought me a long flowing white scarf for Christmas, as she had glommed onto some “aviator” penchant I had developed. To this day, I own a “passel” of scarves, several silk, some wool, a couple monogramed. But I don’t know exactly where it all started.
Yes, I’ve had several uncles and relatives in the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement on both sides of the Atlantic and even further afoot. I had one uncle who had been in the RAF (British Royal Air Force), and a dear friend Jane whose own father had been an Air Vice Marshal in the RAF, one of those chappie fellows with a hyphenated surname and in photos he was always wearing a silk scarf around his throat.
But my impulse could have started with the inspirational tale, The Little Prince, which I had initially read in its original language in French Lit class in High School. The character had worn a long flowing scarf, and spoke simple words that spoke to me. The Little Prince character also had an aviator look about him — most assuredly because the author of the legendary tale, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was a pioneering aviator himself, who had survived a couple of crashes but ultimately disappeared somewhere over the Mediterranean after being shot down in 1944.
So, there I was developing a taste for fine silks around my neck and throat.
When our foursome entered the well-appointed Parry home, standing in the back was a very upright gentleman in a stylish jacket, open necked shirt and, wait for it, a cravat.
Alrighty then. That was new for me, for someone who had grown up wearing bowties and ties in schools in the UK. But had never seen a cravat being worn during the day.
After he had asked if I had wanted to share some scotch with him, I asked him about scarves and cravats, and a whole flow of information cordially spilled out of him. He told me the Aviator’s Scarf was a one, most often silk, worn by airplane pilots during the First World War. That the cravat was the forerunner of the modern tailored necktie and bowtie, originating from a style worn by members of the military in the 17th century.
Crikey, he knew his stuff and went on in a most genial way, explaining, that “day cravats” were a more casual look, the option to wearing ties during the day. They were most often worn under the collar against the skin, tucked under the front of the shirt. Day cravats can also be worn as a short tie like an ascot cravat.
“No one is ever satisfied where he is….Only the children know what they’re looking for….”―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
I didn’t get my first cravat until many years later, again as a Christmas gift from Ms. P — I wear it in honor of her father. But while he was a font of information on all sorts of topics, it wasn’t till after his death that I discovered what a fine fellow Captain George Ronald Parry was. I knew he had joined the Canadian Army and somehow got seconded to the British operations.
With WWII anniversaries like D-Day this June, here are some of the facts:
•George joined the Canadian Army and in 1940 he became of interest to the British Army.
•Why? Well, while Hungarian was his mother tongue, he also could speak fluent English along with German, French, Russian, Italian and he could apparently get by in the Slavic languages, as well as others.
•As soon as the Brits found out he was a top-notch linguist, they seconded him immediately to British Intelligence.
•He began working at Bletchley Park, doing cipher work on the Enigma machine, just like Benedict Cumberbatch who played interdisciplinary scientist Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.
•He became involved in top secret missions behind enemy lines, and served in Africa, Italy, France and Holland.
•He also became an attaché to PM Winston Churchill, and was within Churchill’s inner sanctum. Totally top secret.
- And something completely out of left field, he had a hand in using Homing pigeons (message-carrying) out of London.
•George, who had also served in the Black Watch Regiment, re-entered the Canadian Army at the time of the Korean War, retiring with the rank of Captain in 1962.
•And, he remained active with: the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) a Primary Reserve infantry regiment of the Canadian Army; the Military Museum Society; the United Empire Loyalists and the Royal Canadian Legion.
There were all sorts of other activities, but when the “Statutes of Limitations” were lifted, Georgia, adds, “Father was able to talk about his dealings and suspicions at the time, of one Kim Philby — a supposed British Intelligence Officer. Father was part of the missing link, in figuring out Philby was a double agent for the Soviets.”
Plus, he had this knack for wanting to fix things. His daughter, Georgia explains: “When I was about six, living in Montreal, my dad did a wondrous thing. In our playground down the street, there was one of those roundabouts that was multicolored that had bars on it that were all metal and we kids would make it go round, round, and round really fast and you had to hold on for dear life. It squealed like crazy! Well one summer night, it was so hot and muggy, we couldn’t sleep. He pulled the mattresses out onto the balcony to see if we could get a slight breeze to get some sleep in but to no avail. So, he took me by the hand in the middle of the night. He grabbed his oil can, and we saw the roundabout noisily swirl like crazy. We could almost hear it from our house, even when nobody was on it. So, dad oiled the roundabout and it never squealed again. Ever. I’ll never forget that.”
I can see the ghost of Captain George Ronald Parry (1920–2004) watching over his daughter and other kids swirling around on a noiseless roundabout. That was him, one of those silent heroes, wearing a cravat and smiling happily. A job well done.
“It is such a mysterious place, the land of tears.”―Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince