Parsons, Sir Lawrence Worthington (1850–1923), British army general, was born 23 March 1850, the only son of Lawrence Parsons, gentleman, of Parsonstown (Birr), King's Co. (Offaly). His father was related to the earl of Rosse; nothing is known of his mother. Educated at Cheltenham, he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Artillery (July 1870). He was promoted to captain in 1890, and in 1896 to lieutenant-colonel, seeing service during the second Boer war. He was present at the disastrous battle of Colenso (15 December 1899) where he commanded the batteries sent to support the advance of Maj.-gen. Fitzroy Hart's Irish Brigade. After the battle he was criticised when it was revealed that his batteries had dropped shells short on to Hart's brigade and also later inadvertently opened fire on Maj.-gen. Neville Lyttelton's 4th Brigade when he mistakenly identified them as Boers.
These blunders were largely due to poor communications between the infantry and artillery branches. At the battle of Spion Kop (24–5 January 1900), Parsons tried to silence the artillery of Gen. Louis Botha but was frustrated by the fact that the Boer guns had been placed in good cover. Despite these reverses, he established a reputation as a progressive artillery officer and, in cooperation with Gen. Sir Redvers Buller, perfected the creeping artillery barrage, taking part in the relief of Ladysmith in February 1900. Mentioned in dispatches three times, he was awarded the Queen's Medal with six clasps and made a CB. On his return from South Africa he was appointed as officer-in-command of the Salisbury Plain district.
In 1903 he was promoted to major-general and appointed as inspector-general of artillery in India (1903–6). He supported the reforms made by Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener (qv) in the Indian army, introducing new equipment and training methods to the artillery. In 1906 he was appointed to command the 6th Division in Ireland, a post he held till 1909. Promoted to lieutenant-general in 1909 on the retired list, he was made a KCB in 1912 in the birthday honours list. After the outbreak of the first world war he was called out of retirement to take up what was perhaps the most difficult divisional command in the British army. On 16 September 1914 he was informed that he was to command the 16th (Irish) Division, made up of 47th, 48th, and 49th Brigades, which was being raised as part of Kitchener's Second New Army. The division had been sanctioned due to the efforts of John Redmond (qv) and the Irish party were to have a separate Irish division formed out of the National Volunteers. Parsons was perhaps not the ideal choice for divisional commander: a protestant and a unionist, he had been a signatory of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1912. His wife, Florence (Lady Parsons), was, however, a supporter of home rule, as was his daughter, Nora. Through them he met prominent nationalist politicians such as John Redmond, Stephen Gwynn (qv), Tom Kettle (qv), John Dillon (qv) and others, and a working relationship was eventually established. His main priority was to recruit and train men for the division, and his letters and diaries show that he detested the constant political wrangling about all aspects of the 16th's organisation.
He had maintained contacts with senior officers at the war office and was friends with both Kitchener and Gen. Sir Henry Sclater, the adjutant-general. Yet despite this he had difficulties getting uniforms and weapons for his division, and he was also dubious as to the military worth of the National Volunteers officers. Establishing a cadet company, he refused to award commissions to those whose only qualification was their political connections. Among those to whom he refused automatic commissions were Stephen Gwynn, Tom Kettle and William Archer Redmond (qv), son of John Redmond. Parsons also resisted the idea of designing a special badge for the division, preferring instead to foster a sense of regimental pride in the units under his command, although a divisional badge was later sanctioned. The 16th (Irish) Division was also hampered by a lack of recruits, recruitment for its 49th Brigade being especially poor. By late 1915 there were rumours that the 49th Brigade was to be disbanded and replaced by a South African brigade, while elements of the division were being sent to the Guards Division and the 10th (Irish) Division as replacements. Parsons was now faced with a serious decline in morale while he himself, having visited France and witnessed war in the trenches, was convinced that the war would be a long and costly one. He continued with the training programme, and in late 1915 it became increasingly likely that the division would soon be sent to France. At the age of 66, he was obviously too old for active service and Redmond and Kitchener began to discuss who should replace him. On 5 December 1915 he was replaced by Maj.-gen. William Bernard Hickie (qv), who had the dual qualification of being both Irish and a catholic. Many of Parsons's officers objected to his removal but the decision was final. The 16th (Irish) Division landed in France in December 1915, and during the battle of the Somme (1916) distinguished itself in the capture of Guillemont and Ginchy. For the remainder of the war, it adopted the intertwined initials ‘L.P.’ as its divisional sign in honour of its first commander.
In 1917 Parsons was appointed as a colonel commandant of the Royal Artillery. He never held an active appointment again. He died 20 August 1923 at Hatherton, Reigate, Surrey. He married (1880) Florence Anna, later Lady Parsons, daughter of Dr Robert Graves of Cloghan Court, King's Co. They had one daughter, Nora, who married the architect and town planner Manning Robertson (qv), son of Thomas Herbert Robertson, MP.
There is a collection of his papers in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College, London. In Ireland there are further collections of his letters in the John Redmond and Col. Maurice Moore collections in the NLI. There is a further collection of his own diaries and letters in the NLI, which has not been the focus of sustained research and includes material on the 16th (Irish) Division, the defence of Ireland in 1914–18, and the Easter rising.