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Doiran Memorial, Greece
Doiran Memorial, Greece
image: © Ralph McLean - South Africa War Graves Project
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Priest, William Edward

Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private William Edward Priest (32495)
Killed in Action on Sunday 1st September 1918
Vardar Offensive, aged 20
Son of William & Ada Neal Priest
Father's occupation: Electric Engine Driver
Born 18th October 1897 at Hurst
4 sisters, 1 brother, position in family: 1=
Relatives: Twin brother John Harry Priest, uncle William Ambrose
Infant School:Hurst Infants
Senior School:Hurst Boys
Admitted:Monday 17th April 1905
Age on admission:7
Left school:Monday 8th January 1912
Age at leaving:14
Local address: Club House, Hurst
Pre-war occupation: Gardener
Enlisted:Wokingham, Monday 22nd May 1916
Battalion:10th Bn.
Previous unit:24267 9th Bn Berkshires
Went overseas:After 22/05/1916
Died:Sunday 1st September 1918
Cause:Killed in Action
Action:Vardar Offensive
Battalion at:Roche Noire Salient, Salonika
Commemorated:Memorial at Doiran Memorial, Greece

William Priest was born in Hurst on 18th October 1897 to William and Ada Priest. He had a twin brother, Harry, and four younger sisters (May, Una Beatrice, Ada and Elizabeth Mary). William and Harry were baptised on Boxing Day that year at St.Nicholas Church. William's father was an electric engine driver and by 1901 William was living with his grandparents in Club House, Hurst (now the Small Village Hall). His grandfather, John White, was a domestic gardener and a parish councillor. William attended Hurst Infants School and at the age of seven he became a pupil in Hurst Boys School, leaving at the age of fourteen.

Prior to participating in the First World War, William worked as a gardener and lived in Hurst. He enlisted into the army at Wokingham on 22nd May 1916 and joined 9th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment for training. He was subsequently assigned to 10th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which was in 82nd Brigade and fought as part of 27th Division.

By August 1918 the Battalion was in Salonika fighting against the Bulgarians. On 1st September the 27th Division undertook an offensive to capture a portion of the enemy's line west of the Vardar River. The target was the Roche Noire Salient. The Roche Noir Salient formed, roughly, a square of 1,000 yards and jutted out far in advance of the main Bulgarian line. It was not connected with it by communication trenches, though three ravines whose bottoms were screened from view served the same purpose. One of these ravines ran through the salient from north to south, dividing it approximately in half. The position was strongly fortified, with a continuous trench containing machine-gun emplacements and covered on its southern face by a double or triple belt of barbed wire.

It had been realised that the enemy was very alert at night, but that the front line of trenches didn't appear to even be occupied during the daylight hours. Battle planners had also observed that the enemy artillery barrages didn't hit the ground until four minutes after they were called for. An attack was planned to commence late in the day when the 10th Hampshire Battalion, along with the 2nd Gloucesters, would rush across no-man's land with no prior artillery preparation. The advance was to start at 5.30p.m., but to avoid alerting the enemy the artillery barrage wasn't to commence until 5:36p.m.

The War Diary for the 10th Hampshire Battalion describes the attack as follows:

Pactol Ravine 31st August 1918
0800 All spare kit was dumped in large wooden huts in PACTOL ravine lately used as workshops for Battalion.
1930 Battalion H.Q. and A, B, C and D Companies moved off from PACTOL ravine to Parallell II to get into position for the advance. Battalion got into position in Parallel II at midnight. A few hostile shells were put over here, but no damage resulted. Operation orders by Lt. Col. Taylor MC issued
Ravine Sector 1st September
1730 10th Hampshire Regiment together with 2nd Gloucester Regiment assaulted and captured the ROCHE NOIRE salient; the following is an account of the Battle:
1730 Companies “jumped off” to attack punctually. The reserve Company (B Company) led off after D Company but for some unknown reason waited about 3½ minutes before jumping off, and then worked over slightly too much to the right, moving on pt. C115. When about half way across, the reserve Company came under enemy's barrage. Lt. SPARROW and several leaders were killed, and before Capt. LOWY could get his Company under control it became badly disorganised with the result that on the arrival of the C.O. at C113a touch with the reserve Company could not be obtained.
At 1758 his H.Q. arrived at advanced position at C113a. Situation then as follows:
A Company on point of capturing LES 2 ROCHES, C Company — LA ROCHE NOIRE, D Company in possession of LA TABLE except for pt. C112b without loss.
At 1810 hrs A & C Companies advanced on final objectives and in places got in front of our 18 pounder barrage. This was unavoidable owing to the heavy shelling at the time, and the great difficulty in observing either our own barrage or the action of troops on either flank.
At 2100 hours report received that DOS DE MULET had fallen into our hands. About 28 prisoners were captured by A Company in LES 2 ROCHES, and about 12 and the machine Gun by C Company in LA ROCHE NOIRE. Owing to the extreme intensity of the enemy shellfire it was found impossible to keep in touch either with Companies or with Brigade H.Q. by vision or phone. Runners had to be used, a very slow method owing to very broken ground and the continuously heavy fire. The artillery liaison officer managed to keep his phone working wonderfully well which was of exceeding great assistance throughout. As soon as it was dusk prisoners were evacuated and consolidation was begun. Owing to continuous heavy gun shellfire consolidation (especially carrying) was very slow, also owing to the unavoidable disorganisation through casualties the working parties took some time to arrange. Numerous flares and hostile searchlights also added to the difficulty of getting consolidation pushed on as quickly as possible.
2005 hours B Company collected and reorganised under Capt. LOWY, about 58 Other Ranks and 3 Lewis guns left. A Company then estimated at 59 Other Ranks and 6 Lewis guns, C Company 51 Other ranks and 3 Lewis guns, D Company 42 Other Ranks and 3 Lewis guns. C.O. accordingly issued fresh orders as to garrisoning captured position. Two Platoons of B Company with 2 Lewis guns were attached to A Company and A Company was ordered to occupy the positions as laid down in Preliminary Instructions reinforced by 3 Lewis guns from C Company.
At 2030 hours the remainder of B Company under Capt. LOWY reinforced by 5 Battalion scouts proceeded via TR des ROCHES to reconnoitre TR du SILLANT.

Militarily the attack on the Roche Noire Salient was a success and, despite enemy counter-attacks, all of the objectives were achieved. However the Battalion casualties for the offensive were 47 killed and 132 wounded. William Priest was one of those killed in action on 1st September 1918; he was twenty years of age. William has no known grave and is commemorated on the Doiran Memorial in Greece, about fifteen miles from where he fell. William's twin brother Harry Priest was also killed during the final months of the First World War.


William Priest on the Doiran Memorial, Greece
Doiran Memorial, Greece
image: © Ralph McLean - South Africa War Graves 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