The Daily Telegraph
The Reverend Paul Abram
Parachuting Army padre who was later chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II and to the Tower of London
THE REVEREND PAUL ABRAM, who has died aged 87, was a former Army chaplain, best known for his service and lifelong connection with the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces and the Territorial Army SAS; he later served as the vicar of Salcombe and priest-in-charge at the Tower of London.
Paul Robert Carrington Abram was born in York on July 21 1936, the eldest of five children, his father being the curate of a local church and an army chaplain during the Second World War, which meant that the family were constantly moving. On one occasion young Paul was staying in Hull at his grandmother’s house when German incendiary bombs landed on the roof.
His father stayed on in the Army after the war and the family spent time in Egypt, Aldershot and Germany. Among other schools, Paul attended Farnborough Grammar, and Hymers College in Hull, where (in his words) he “worked really hard to get into Oxford” and was an Under Officer in the Cadet Force.
Called up for National Service, Abram was sent to the officers’ training centre at Eaton Hall near Chester, and from there he was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment then stationed in Osnabrück, Germany.
There, as a rifle platoon commander, Abram learnt the importance of looking after his men. When he left in August 1957 the Colonel offered him a permanent commission, but he declined as he had already decided on Holy Orders.
Meanwhile, he read geography at Keble College, Oxford, where he joined the Officer Training Corps as the officer commanding the infantry platoon. He then volunteered and passed selection for 21 Special Air Service Regiment, one of the two SAS Territorial Army units. He was a keen oarsman, and what little time there was left was spent on the river.
From Oxford he went to Chichester Theological College, and he was ordained in 1962. His first curacy was at Redcar, but he was determined to apply for the Royal Army Chaplains Department at the earliest opportunity, and in May 1965 he arrived in Aldershot as chaplain to the Army Catering Corps Boys’ Unit and the Cambridge Military Hospital, followed by a posting to 3 Para early the following year.
Although already a qualified military parachutist and, as a chaplain, exempt from the requirement to undergo the arduous physical and mental selection process known as “P” Company, Abram insisted on completing the course, and so his credibility with the Paras (whose private soldiers are known as “Toms”) was further enhanced. He was very much in the mould of the Rev Fraser Mccluskey, the “Parachuting Padre”, and those brave chaplains who went before him in the Second World War, who dropped at Arnhem and volunteered to stay behind with the wounded when capture was inevitable.
He soon established a reputation for his hands-on approach and ability to get on with everybody. Soldiers trusted him and were able to share their concerns with him. Soon after his arrival, the battalion went on exercise in appalling weather in Wales. Abram immediately joined the forward companies, in his characteristic garb of camouflage parachute-smock and clerical collar, going from slit trench to slit trench chatting with the soldiers and passing any news, or post, that he had obtained from Battalion HQ. He was not averse to picking up a pick or shovel to dig in the Regimental Aid Post or erect its tentage, and was remembered for always being able to produce an onion or something to make the combat rations more palatable.
On one exercise he volunteered to be the casualty during a practice for nightevacuation. He was wrapped in a blanket on a stretcher and taken to the Aid Post. When the sergeant shone his torch to examine him and realised who it was, he exclaimed: “Jesus Christ!” “No,” Abram replied. “Only his representative.” He used this to start off many a sermon.
He subsequently served two tours in 3 Para, with a total of seven years in Aldershot, Malta and Northern Ireland and on a busy schedule of exercises in many parts of the world.
On one occasion he discovered that the reason an otherwise steady soldier was frequently going AWOL back to his home town was that his new bride was afraid to come to Aldershot. Abram and his wife Jo promptly arranged for the young woman to come and live with them for a week and gently to introduce her to “the Shot” and the battalion. Shortly afterwards a Married Quarter was obtained and the soldier and his bride settled into Army married life. Characteristically, Abram kept his actions on this occasion, as on many others, quiet. There was never any fuss. His mission was to serve.
He continued his devotion to the regiment by making numerous visits to lead memorial services on former European battlefields; he was a main inspiration in the setting up of the annual Airborne Service at the National Memorial Arboretum.
In 1970 he was posted for two years to the Junior Leaders’ Regiment Royal Artillery at Bramcote, Nuneaton. His next posting was on promotion to Northern Ireland, where he was based with the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire, a successor to the East Yorkshires, with whom he had spent his National Service.
On completion of this tour, he was again posted to 3 Para, and the battalion almost immediately went to Northern Ireland. He was remembered for spending time with the Toms, accompanying them on patrol, without a weapon and “armed” only with his clerical collar.
In 1976 Abram moved to an artillery regiment in Germany and followed that with tours of duty at the Royal Military College of Science Shrivenham, in Hong Kong, and in York, where he was the senior chaplain of the 2nd Infantry Division; he was then sent for four months to the Falkland Islands. His next role was Senior Chaplain Northern Ireland, followed by a tour in West Berlin, and finally as the Senior Chaplain of Western District and Wales, by which time he had progressed to Assistant Chaplain General.
By now Abram had come to feel that looking after many chaplains over a large area was not fun and he missed close contact with his flock, so in 1989 retired from the Army.
He was appointed to the parish of Salcombe and so began nearly seven years of normal parochial life. He knew how to socialise, joining both the Yacht Club and the Island Cruising Club; he went to the pub to fraternise with the fishermen and was fully aware of matters affecting local people. On arrival he was surprised to discover that the church had no bells, but, despite many difficulties, he had them in place before he left, whereupon the Church Times declared: “When the Reverend Paul Abram left Salcombe, they rang the bells.”
Abram was astounded when a letter arrived appointing him chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II and priest-in-charge of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London. Here again he was a great success, relishing his many and diverse religious and ceremonial duties, and he was a much-respected figure among the Yeomen Warders, who were not easy to impress.
An invitation to a service at the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula followed by lunch at the nearby 17th-century house was remembered by many of his old “Airborne” comrades. He claimed that the Tower was perhaps the climax of his career: “I enjoyed every minute, particularly services in the White Tower, the oldest Norman church in England”.
The Queen appointed Abram MVO in 2007, just before he left the Tower and retired to Kimpton in Hampshire. In retirement, he remained involved with airborne commemorations and the pastoral care of old friends and families, until overtaken by ill health.
He is survived by his wife of 62 years Joanna, and four daughters.
The Rev Paul Abram, born July 21 1936, died September 28 2023