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Previous: Fred. Harry Priest
Next: William Edward Priest

Priest, John Harry

Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private John Harry Priest (29979)
Died of Wounds on Sunday 16th June 1918
Battle of the Piave River, 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 William Edward Priest, uncle William Ambrose
Infant School:Hurst Infants
Senior School:Hurst Boys
Admitted:Monday 17th April 1905
Age on admission:7
Left school:Tuesday 11th July 1911
Age at leaving:13
Local address: Poplar Lane, Hurst
Pre-war occupation: Telegram messenger
Battalion:1st/7th Bn.
Went overseas:After 1 Jan 1916
Died:Sunday 16th June 1918
Cause:Died of Wounds
Action:Battle of the Piave River
Battalion at:Asiago, Italy
Commemorated:Grave at Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery Extension

Harry Priest was born in Hurst on 18th October 1897 to William and Ada Priest. He had a twin brother, William, and four younger sisters (May, Una Beatrice, Ada and Elizabeth Mary). Harry and William were baptised on Boxing Day that year at St.Nicholas Church. Harry's father was an electric engine driver and by 1901 the family were living in Poplar Lane, Hurst. Harry attended Hurst Infants School and at the age of seven he became a pupil in Hurst Boys School, leaving at the age of thirteen. Harry's first job was as a telegram messenger.

During the First World War Harry enlisted into the army at Worcester and served as a Private in 1st/7th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. The Battalion fought on the Western Front from April 1915 until November 1917 and Harry probably joined the Battalion in France during the latter half of this period. On November 25th 1917 they boarded trains at Tincques station and over the next three days the Battalion travelled to Italy along the following route:

Tincques — Paris — Dijon — Lyon — Marseilles — Cannes — Nice — Ventimiglia — Genoa — Voghera — Piacenza — Bologna — Padova.

Extra troops were needed in Italy to combat the threat of the Austro-Hungarian Army which found itself with many extra Divisions once the Russian Army had collapsed following the October evolution. In mid-1918 the Austro-Hungarians planned a decisive pincer attack against Italy from the north (Asiago) and east (Piave).

The Asiago Plateau lies north of Vicenza and an advance by the Austro-Hungarians would have endangered the whole Italian position on the River Piave. The Plateau measures 7 miles from east to west, three miles north to south and forms a step in the descent from the Alps to the sea. It was described as 'a confusion of rugged pine-clad hills and valleys, bare rock where there are no trees, with spurs projecting towards Asiago'. At the bottom of the slope was the British front line. On the left the trenches faced each other across an impassable gorge, 2000 feet deep; elsewhere No Man's Land was at its narrowest half a mile wide.

In what became known as the Battle of the Piave River, ground initially won by the Austrian army from the Italians was successfully recovered by the British. The British front was being held by the 23rd and 48th Divisions, with both well under-strength due to lack of reinforcements and cases of influenza. For example 144th Brigade, in which Harry Priest's Battalion served , had an average of 75 men per company instead of the regular complement of 250 men.

The Italian and British Armies received good intelligence about the forthcoming attack. At 3a.m. on 15th June, a heavy bombardment including gas opened on the entire British front and battery positions. However, the fire was not registered or accurate, but brought trees down and sent large rock splinters flying. Artillery signalling lines were soon out of action. British counter-battery work commenced at 5a.m. and was successful throughout the day.

The infantry attack opened at 7a.m. and in the mist and wooded country the battle soon broke into fragmented skirmishes, with hand to hand fighting. The front held by the 48th Division was broken in several places but this was recovered by early on 16th June. The War Diary for 1st/7th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment describes their part in this action:

San Dona di Piave 15th — 16th June 1918 MAP REF ASIAGO ½ 5000.
Battalion received orders to 'Stand to' in billets at 4.40 a.m. on 15th June. At 12 noon Battalion left San Dona proceeding by lorry to CARRIOLA. Additional small arms ammunition was drawn at MONTE PAU & CARRIOLA CAMP was reached at 2.30 p.m. The convoy ran into some shelling on the CAMPIELLO — MONTE PAU road at INTERNATIONAL CORNER but there were no casualties. The men had tea and rations for the following day were issued. The Battalion moved forward to C.MAGNABOSCHI, arriving there at 5.45 p.m.
At 6.30 p.m. the Battalion moved forward to attack, capture and consolidate Square 33. Movement was by sections down the CESUNA ROAD to forming up point at H33.27. The enemy was barraging the MAGNABOSCHI — CESUNA valley rather heavily, but only three casualties were suffered, movement being fast and part of the way by trench.
C Company LEFT FRONT                 B Company RIGHT FRONT
D Company LEFT SUPPORT             A Company RIGHT SUPPORT
A & D Companies 1/6 GLOUCESTERS in RESERVE — vicinity of H33.26
Battalion H.Q. was established at H32.25 at 7.15 p.m. At 7.30 p.m. the Battalion was formed up and orders issued to Platoon commanders. The advance began at 8 p.m. On the LEFT the attack was pressed forward for some distance but was checked by heavy machine gun fire from H33.33 and H35.30. On the RIGHT the attack reached about H36.50 wen intense rifle and machine gun fire held them up. The supporting Company had by this time joined the front line.
At 3.45 p.m. an attempt to outflank the enemy on the RIGHT from H37.33 was made with 2 Platoons. In conjunction with a party of 1/6 GLOUCESTERS, 3 Platoons pushed forward and got within 20 yards of the enemy when they were held up by intense machine gun fire from their front and right. The LEFT Companies attacked again at 9.45 p.m. and made some progress, compelling the enemy to withdraw his machine guns from H35.33. An advanced post of 2 Lewis Guns was established at about H36.32.
Soon after this, D Company was withdrawn into reserve and the line organised and consolidated. Connection between Companies and 1/7 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment was made by using two Platoons of reserve Companies 1/6 GLOUCESTERS. The defensive flank on the RIGHT was also strengthened from this source. Line now ran from H41.31 to H38.33, thence along PINE AVENUE to H36.53 and forward to H35.31- H33.31, joining with 1/7 R. WARWICKS at H33.30.
At daybreak a Platoon of 1/8 WORCESTERS was attached to C Company and a Platoon of ROYAL BERKSHIRES to D Company and an attack in conjunction with 1/6 GLOUCESTERS was arranged to take place at 7.30 a.m. At 7.30 a.m. the line moved forward and proceeded satisfactorily. The advance continued with little opposition and the front line was recaptured, numerous prisoners falling into our hands. After the line had been organised and consolidated, it was handed over to 1/6 GLOUCESTERS, and the Battalion withdrawn into close support.

The total British casualties amounted to just under 1,500 of all ranks - killed, wounded and missing. 1st/7th Worcestershire Battalion lost 26 men killed and 55 wounded and Harry Priest was one of those wounded during the action. It is likely that he was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station before dying of his wounds on 16th June 1918; Harry was twenty years of age. He now rests in a Commonwealth war grave in Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery, twenty miles south of the battlefield. Harry's twin brother William Priest also died during the final months of the First World War.

There is an excellent first-hand account of the war in Italy at the time Harry was serving there by Tom Herbert. It provides a very personal insight to one young man's life changed forever by his experiences.


John Priest at Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery Extension
Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery Extension
Here we have life
for life so nobly given
God grant them thy Heaven
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