Elisabeth Parry obituary

Other lives: Classical singer and ‘forces sweetheart’ who performed for troops during the second world war

My friend and relative Elisabeth Parry, who has died aged 95, was an accomplished classical singer and recitalist who became a “forces’ sweetheart” during the second world war, entertaining the troops.

She was born Mhari Elisabeth in Aberdeen. Her father, Arthur Parry, who had been badly injured in the first world war, had gone on to be a junior personal secretary to Winston Churchill; her mother was also Mhari (nee Forbes). Elisabeth was the great-granddaughter of Joseph Parry, the Welsh composer who wrote the famous hymn tune Aberystwyth (which later formed the basis for Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, the national anthem of South Africa). She was later to contribute generously to the Parry Trust Fund, set up to help aspiring young singers.

She was brought up in London and after her parents separated she boarded at Eversley School, which was in Folkestone, Kent, before moving to Lymington in Hampshire. In 1939 she was offered a place at Oxford University to study French and German, but refused this on the outbreak of war to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver.

Singing lessons with the concert singer Mark Raphael and a chance audition led to her becoming a soloist with the staff band of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with whom she performed as “Thirty Men and a Girl”, in Britain and the Middle East until the war’s end. She was voted “forces sweetheart” for Paiforce (Persia and Iraq Force). She also sang and gave many recitals for the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, later the Arts Council.

Following the end of the war, she set up and ran the Wigmore Hall lunch hour concerts in London for musicians returning from the war, and also auditioned successfully for Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group, working with great artists such as Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears. She made her operatic debut at Glyndebourne performing as Lucia in Britten’s Rape of Lucretia. She was also awarded an Italian government scholarship to study at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena and Rome.

She started the London Opera Players in 1950, which she ran until her retirement more than 50 years later, touring productions around the UK to give many people who wouldn’t otherwise the chance to experience live opera.

Elisabeth, a relative of my wife through her mother’s side, took up climbing and colour photography in the 1960s, and gave illustrated travel talks all over Britain. She was a member of the Alpine Club and Association of British Members of the Swiss Alpine Club, and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She contributed articles to magazines and mountaineering publications.

In 1973, she was awarded a commendation for distinguished achievement in World Who’s Who of Women. In 2011 her autobiography, Thirty Men and a Girl, was published, followed by a book of her poetry, Reflections in Verse (2013).

Tim Skipper

The GuardianTramp

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