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R.M.S. Viper
R.M.S. Viper
St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen
St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen
image: The War Graves Photographic Project
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Priest, Arthur Maurice

Arthur Maurice Priest
1914-1915 Star
1914/15 Star
Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private Arthur Maurice Priest (14322)
Died of Wounds on Tuesday 5th October 1915
Battle of Loos, aged 21
Son of George & Elizabeth Priest
Father's occupation: Bricklayer
Born 11th November 1893 at Hurst
2 brothers, position in family: 2
Infant School:Hurst Infants
Senior School:Hurst Boys
Admitted:Monday 1st April 1901
Age on admission:7
Left school:Thursday 8th March 1906
Age at leaving:12
Local address: Whistley Green, Hurst
Pre-war occupation: Worker, Hurst Nurseries
Enlisted:Reading, September 1914
Regiment:Royal Berkshire
Battalion:"B" Coy. 8th Bn.
Went overseas:Saturday 7th August 1915
Died:Tuesday 5th October 1915
Cause:Died of Wounds
Action:Battle of Loos
Battalion at:Loos
Commemorated:Grave at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen

Maurice Priest was born in Hurst on 11th November 1893 to George and Elizabeth Priest, and was the middle of three brothers. By 1901 the family was living in Whistley Green.

Maurice attended Hurst Infants School and at the age of seven he became a pupil in Hurst Boys School. His father, a bricklayer, died late in 1905 at the age of 42, a few months before Maurice left school aged twelve.

In 1911 Maurice was living in Tape Lane with his mother, two brothers and young sister. Both he and Ernest Lloyd, were bell ringers at St.Nicholas Church. By the start of the First World War he was still in Hurst and worked at Hurst Nurseries as an assistant nursery-man.

Maurice enlisted into the army at Reading in September 1914 and served as a Private in 'B' Company of 8th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. 8th Battalion was one of the new service (or Kitchener) battalions that were formed to take the great influx of volunteers eager to fight for their country.

The Battalion was initially posted to a training camp at Codford St. Mary in Wiltshire but then returned to pass the winter in billets at Reading where they used farmers' fields as their training ground. In May 1915 they moved back to Wiltshire, spending three months at Sutton Veny Camp on the edge of Salisbury Plain. With training complete the Battalion was ready for the front and on 7th August 1915 they took the train from Warminster to Southampton for embarkation on R.M.S. Viper.

After landing next day at Le Havre, the Battalion spent one night in a rest camp before entraining for St. Omer. It was a very hot day and the troops would have been relieved to reach their billets at nearby Arques in the early afternoon. By Sunday 15th August the weather had cooled following rain and the Battalion began a long march south-eastwards towards the front line. After ten miles they reached their overnight stop in Ham-en-Artois where about a dozen men were treated for sore feet, caused by the new boots issued shortly before departure from England.

Next day they pressed on the remaining eight miles to Béthune where the Battalion found billets in the orphanage. The time had come for the men to gain their first experience of the trenches and next morning Maurice's 'B' Company was attached to a London Scottish Battalion in the front line at Noyelles-les-Vermelles. After two days of acclimatisation to trench warfare they returned to billets in the orphanage where they rested before being called back into reserve. For the next few days the men formed working parties and spent each night reinforcing and improving the support trenches at Noyelles-les-Vermelles.

By the end of August the Battalion had been withdrawn from the front line to the relative calm of Ames, eight miles west of Bethune. Their first job was to dig a set of trenches which, for the next fortnight, became their training ground for the forthcoming offensive. In addition to rehearsing the infantry manoeuvres, the Battalion's bombers and machine gun section also had plenty of practice for their roles in the imminent attack. A gas attack was going to precede the advance, with smoke bombs also being used for concealment, and so everyone was issued with smoke helmets. These required some modification with safety pins and elastic to make them effective while on the move.

On 18th September the Commanding Officer issued final instructions to the NCOs and the Battalion contributed working parties to carry chlorine gas cylinders up to the front in readiness for the attack. Over the next few days the Battalion moved gradually eastwards until, at 7 p.m. on 22nd September, 'B' Company entered familiar trenches at Noyelles-les-Vermelles. Next day they relieved the Welch Regiment at the front and took up their dispositions for the imminent attack, with 'B' company in the third line trench. Following a preliminary bombardment the infantry advance towards Hulluch village signalled the start of the Battle of Loos. It commenced at 6.30 a.m. on Monday 25th September 1915 and the Battalion War Diary describes the day's events as follows:

5:50AM. The intensive Bombardment, preparatory to the attack on the German position SOUTH of the HULLOCH ROAD, began, the enemy's artillery at once replying, though they inflicted little damage and caused few casualties in our front-line trenches. Simultaneously with the bombardment, the gas company began to operate the gas cylinders which were in the front-line trench, and there then occurred several casualties from poisoning, caused it is supposed, by leakages in the cylinders.
6:28AM. The gas now ceased, and smoke bombs were thrown from the front-line trenches, proving entirely successful in screening our Advance.
6:30AM. The fire of our artillery lifted, and Battalion advanced in quick time, to assault the first line Enemy Trenches, the 10th Gloucester Regt being on the right, the 2nd Gordons on the left. The advance was opposed by heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, while the wire in front of the German trenches was found to be scarcely damaged, and it was in cutting a way through this obstacle that most of the regiment's heavy casualties occurred. Shrapnel and machine-gun combined to play havoc in our ranks, and an additional disaster was the blowing back of our gas, by the wind, into our own ranks. However, after a struggle, the German first line was penetrated, and the trench found to be practically deserted, the enemy apparently, having deserted it earlier in the day, merely leaving behind sufficient men to work the machine-guns. Mainly overland, but with some men working up the communication trench, our line advanced successively to the 2nd and 3rd German lines, and met with but slight opposition. From the 3rd line a further advance was made, and an Enemy Field Gun captured. A 4th line German trench was also seized, but being in so incomplete a state that it afforded little cover from rifle fire and none whatever from shrapnel. COLONEL WALTON ordered the line to be withdrawn to the 3rd German line trench, and this position was occupied until the Battalion was relieved.
10:0PM. COLONEL WALTON was ordered by the Regimental Medical Officer to leave the trenches for medical attention, as he was suffering from the effects of gas-poisoning, and the command of the Battalion passed, for the night, into the hand of 2nd Lieut T.B. LAWRENCE.
6:30PM circa. The following is a report by Lieut C. GENTRY-BIRCH:- "At this point (i.e. when the Battalion was negotiating the German wire) about 50 of the 8th R. Berks R became separated from the remainder of the Battalion and attached themselves to the Gordons advancing and taking the German guns in the 4th line German trench. They then advanced and occupied the road WEST of HULLUCH. We were unable to advance further owing to our artillery fire, which was falling short We waited for support to come up, in the meantime starting to dig ourselves in."
3:30PM. “At 3.30PM the Germans counter-attacked, driving in our flanks and as the support had not yet arrived we were compelled to retire, holding a position about 100 yards WEST of the road. The Berks numbers were reduced to about half. On receiving news that the supports were coming up we again advanced to the road which we proceeded to place in a state of defence.”
11:30PM. “At 11.30PM the Germans again counter-attacked in large numbers driving in our right flank. We retired to the position we had before held in the afternoon. The Germans continued to push the counter-attack. Our support line then opened fire and we were caught between the two fires. We then made our way as well as possible to our supporting line (the German 4th line). Only 6 of the Berkshires returned safely. The Germans continued to push the counter-attack, but suffered heavily and were driven back.

By the time that 8th Battalion was relieved it had been reduced to half strength, with 68 men killed, 181 wounded and 268 reported missing up to 4th October. Maurice Priest was one of those wounded during the initial attack on 25th September 1915. He suffered a severe shrapnel wound to the chest and was evacuated firstly to a casualty clearing station and then to a Base Hospital in Rouen.

Maurice Priest died in hospital of pneumonia on 6th October 1915 and was buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen; he was twenty-one years old and had served in France for only two months. Maurice's death was reported in the Reading Standard on 9th October 1915 and on the following Sunday the Hurst church bells were muffled as a mark of respect for the passing of this village bellringer. Maurice's cousin Frederick Priest, also died in the Great War and is buried in Hurst churchyard.


Maurice Priest at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen
St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen
Gone but not forgotten
image: The War Graves Photographic Project

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in morning
We will remember them.
Lawrence Binyon