Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Charles William Priest (of Luddenham)
d. 9th August 1917. Aged 22
The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Remembered with Honour
Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery
Bay 2, Course "C", Stone No.5
Killed in Action
Charles was the oldest of five children to agricultural labourer and shepherd Charles and wife, Emma Jane. All his siblings were born in Luddenham - brothers Joseph and Arthur A. and sisters Nellie Jane and Felorie/Flora Elizabeth. The extended Priest family had very strong links with the Isle of Sheppey, including Minster and Harty. In 1901, he is living at Wilmarsh Farm, Luddenham; in 1911, Conney Banks, Graveney. At the time of his enlistment in 1915, his home address was given as Nash's Farm, Luddenham and his employment as "plate layer" on the railway. Previously registered employment was mainly agricultural labouring.
With this strong association with Luddenham, it is perhaps odd that his name does not appear on the Luddenham War Memorial - a so called "lost" local man. However, a cursory look at the Memorial gives one explanation - that Memorial was installed to remember the "employees of Ashley Stephens, Luddenham Court". As a railway worker, living at Nash's Farm, Charles was not included.
His parents were beneficiaries, who at that time were living in Water Mill, Ospringe and it is on the Ospringe Memorial that he is remembered. We have included this man's story for his strong association with Luddenham. The record of soldier's effects show a payment made up of £1 5s. 6d and War Gratuity of £7 10s, that translates to an enlistment date confirming December 1915.
On 8th December 1915, aged 20, Charles enlisted at Canterbury into the (No. 4423) 4th Battalion (Reserves) The Buffs as a private, later to join the 6th Battalion The Buffs when he was posted to the Front a year later on 30th December 1916. His death on 9th August 1917 was "presumed on lapse of time as having occurred on or since" that date.
As Charles arrived in France to join his Battalion, the Battalion were in billets at SOMBRIN undergoing extensive training, parades, sport and awards of medals. Records of "fighting strength" suggest Charles arrived in the week beginning 4th January. On 13th January 1917, the Battalion left in buses for ARRAS (I Sector) together with the 6th Battalion, East Kent Regiment. The Battalion H.Q. went to Rue de la Paix, the Companies were distributed between Grand Place, Cemetery Defences and St. Sauveur. Charles' first experience in the Trenches was in "I" Sector in relief of the Queens. He was witness to several trench mortar rounds with some landing in support trenches. In total, the Battalion had three casualties. Quite a low-key introduction to trench warfare. They returned to billets in ARRAS, from which they supplied working parties as needed. On 12th February in Montenescourt billets, the 6th Battalion received the Medaille Militaire (a French award usually made to Other Ranks who distinguish themselves).
March was spent training in Battalion formations and rehearsing trench attacks. April, in Arras trenches, the Battalion witnesses heavy artillery exchanges between British and German positions. On 9th April, Zero Day, the Battalion formed up in Reserve Trenches behind the 6th Battalion, The Queens, as an attack opened up - the beginning of the First Battle of the Scarpe (9th-14th April). They passed through The Queens at the first objective "without much loss" before they got stuck into hand-to-hand fighting. The only casualties counted in the War Diary were officers. The Battalion was relieved back to ARRAS on 12th April and Montenescourt on 15th April. Inspecting the weekly summaries of fighting strength, the Battalion was reduced by 160 Other Ranks during the Battle.
On May 1st, the Battalion went into Trenches at MONCHY readying for the attack on 3rd May, Third Battle of the Scarpe (3-4 May 1917), when the Battalion went over the top. Communication broke down through the day. Gradually, it became clear that the Battalion had suffered severe losses without any progress on the Line. There was very little progress on the flanks and some 360 other ranks lost. On 4th May, the Battalion was relieved by the 6th The Queens back to ARRAS. The Third Battle of the Scarpe was very costly to the Creekside Cluster that lost eight soldiers over two days (principally from Lynsted Parish). However, Charles appears to have survived unscathed.
June saw the depleted Battalion undergoing training and drill together with sports fixtures at IVERGNY. On 18th June, the Battalion left IVERGNY for billets at GOUY and then ARRAS. The seriously depleted Battalion did not receive any drafts of men during June. 33 Officers with 483 other ranks, less than half their full strength!
On 2nd July, the Battalion was in dug-outs and trenches in the WANCOURT LINE from where they provided carrying parties under the 87th Company, Royal Engineers on Long Trench or undertook training with the sound of heavy gunfire in the distance. By 9th July, the Battalion returned to the Field to relieve the East Surrey Regiment. Their position in LONG TRENCH was subjected to heavy German attack with artillery barrage, smoke and liquid fire. Attempts at a counter-attack failed and the Battalion suffered a further 63 casualties. They were relieved back to the WANCOURT LINE on 13th July where they were able to clean their equipment and themselves.
The War Diary describes the conditions facing Charles.
"24 July: Wancourt Line: Battalion relieved 7th Suffolks in Left Sector, Monchy.
25 July: German attack on our Right - took Long Trench, leaving 2 prisoners in our hands.
26 July: Raid carried out on our Left. Two direct hits on Arrow Trench. Permanent Post established in S.E. corner of Twin Copse.
27 July: A great deal of work was carried out during the night. The gap at Twin Copses being filled in, and weak parts along the whole part strengthened. Rain fell at intervals.
28 July: Quiet day. An inter-company relief took place in the evening; B.Coy taking over C.Coy (Right), D.Coy taking over A.Coy (Left). A.Coy in Support, C.Coy in Reserve. While it was in progress a lively artillery duel was opened. The 6th R.W.Kent Regt. also relieved the 6th Queens.
29 July: Some Trench Mortars and fishtails during the day, but quiet on the whole.
30 July: Quiet day, except for a few fishtails in Snaffle Trench. A raid was announced to take place at midnight on the Right, but did not take place. A great deal of wire was put out. Some rain.
31 July: Enemy Artillery active. Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., 5.9s fell intermittently near the junction of Orchard and Orange Trenches.
Monchy shelled at intervals with 8in., 5.9s and 4.2s. La Foss Farm with 8in.
News was received that the offensive in the North had started.
1 August: TRENCHES: Quiet day. The Battalion was relieved by the 6th Battalion, the Queens in the evening. Relief complete by 11 p.m. The Battalion went back to the BROWN LINE.
2 August: BROWN LINE: The Battalion all had baths at TILLOY.
4 officers, viz., 2/Lieutenants F.I. SOWTER, W.H. MASON SPRINGGAY, J. RUSSELL and H.H. HUNT and 86 Other Ranks volunteered to take part in a Raid and went to BEAURAINS CAMP for training. Working parties and carrying parties were provided at night.
3 August: About 6 p.m. the enemy opened a heavy barrage on the front line. The Battalion was ordered to 'Stand to'. 2 officers and 100 O.R. were sent up to the line to support the 6th Queens and 6th R.W. Kent Regiment about 8.30pm., the enemy having attacked HOOK TRENCH. The attack failed and heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy, who withdrew leaving several prisoners in our hands.
4 August: 50 men from the Transport Details, i.e., Drums, Storemen, Grooms etc., were sent up to the Brown Line to reinforce the Battalion and find working parties, and a further 80 arrived from the Divisional Depot Battalion.
5th August: Sudden orders were received to relieve the 7th East Surrey Regiment in MONCHY DEFENCES. The Battalion left the BROWN LINE at 9.30pm and the relief was completed at 1am.
6th August: MONCHY DEFENCES: Orders of a Brigade Relief by 36th Infantry Brigade received. The Battalion was relieved by the 7th Battalion R. Sussex Regiment and proceeded via FEUCHY CHAPEL CROSS ROADS & TILLOY CROSS ROADS to BEAURAINS CAMP.
7th August: BEAURAINS: The Battalion all had baths at the Camp. The remainder of the day was devoted to cleaning up and refitting.
At 8.30pm the Raiding Party left by motor bus for the trenches. Advanced Battalion Headquarters was established in ORANGE LANE.
8th August: Company parades were held in Arm Drill, Box Respirator inspection etc.
Rain fell heavily from 12 noon onwards.
The Raid was postponed.
9th August: Parades were held as the day before.
At 7.45pm the raid on the German trenches took place. The party from this Battalion went over, the 7th East Surrey Regiment being on the Right and the 1st Essex (3rd Division) on the Left. The raid as a whole was a great success, the enemy trenches being entered many killed, dug-outs destroyed and eighty prisoners brought back. The Battalion was unlucky in encountering heavy enfilade machine gun fire, which held up the advance. 1 prisoner, an officer, was brought in. Our casualties were:-
2/Lieutenants F.I. SOWTER & J. RUSSELL - missing; 2/Lieutenant W.H. MASON SPRINGGAY - wounded.
Other Ranks: 35 killed, Wounded and Missing.
The Raiding Party returned to the Camp about 3 a.m., and were played in by the Drums.
10 August: BEAURAINS: Company parades in the morning. The Raiding Party had baths from 12 noon onwards. A draft of 56 Other Ranks reported for duty.
It is safe to assume that Charles had volunteered to join this Raiding Party and was one of the casualties counted.
The Brigade Report on this Raid (below) gives us a clearer understanding of the circumstances in which Charles was killed.
Medal Records show that Charles William Priest was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals:-
British War Medal
Click on image for larger version
During this research, it was noted that several relations, in the same generation as Charles William Priest, served in British Armed Forces either just before or during the First World War. It appears that he was the only one in this group who lost his life in the service of his country.
His cousins included: Herbert Edward Priest, Reg. No. 17068, Royal Artillery (Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery); Noah James Spillett, Royal Navy [Noah's mother was Charles' aunt Esther; Noah was invalided out in 1911 after injuring his right eye]; Albert Edward French (Royal Navy) whose mother was Harriett Anne Priest.
In addition, in his generation, Thomas Henrich Tarbuck, Reg.No. 13223, Warrant Officer Class 2, Royal Engineers [whose wife was Ethel Elizabeth French, Charles' cousin and daughter of his aunt, Harriet Anne Priest.
37th Infantry Brigade No.G.265/27/17. Headquarters, 12th Division "G".
I beg to submit the following report on the operations concerned and attach the reports from the Officers Commanding the 6th Battalion, The Buffs and the 7th Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment.
The operations on the day in question consisted of four distinct phases:
(1) The Bombardment of the Artillery and Trench Mortars, lasting all day.
(2) The "forming-up period", when troops taking part in the Raid evacuated their dug-outs and filed down to their positions of assembly.
(3) The Raid.
(4) The Withdrawal.
Phase 1. The Bombardment.
All ranks are loud in their praise of the accuracy of the Bombardment carried out by the R.F.A.
The shooting of the Heavy Artillery left much to be desired. Though fully recognising it was impossible for them to avoid sending an occasional "short" into our own front line, there appears to be no excuse for the persistent bombardment by the Heavy Artillery of HOOK TRENCH.
The Heavy Artillery appear to have made two grave errors in their preparations for the bombardment:
(i) No Heavy Artillery Officer reported to the Infantry, and liaison between these units was NIL.
(ii) They selected an O.P. from which they could not see our front line, viz., South of the RIVER COJEUL, from which point HOOK TRENCH is invisible.
The accuracy of the 2" Trench Mortars and the gallantry they displayed in continuing in action under a heavy fire was admirable.
The 3" Stokes Mortars did good work until the heavy rain in the evening loosened their plates and made it impossible for them to keep in action.
The Officer Commanding 7th East Surrey Regiment, was wrongly informed when he states in his report that they did not come into action.
The Barrage covering the Raid could not have been better.
The Infantry report it was perfect and enabled them to get up closer than they had ever done in any previous operation.
It was continually reported during the day that the enemy were in an obvious state of moral dejection from the effects of our Artillery fire.
Phase 2. The "Forming-up".
Both the 6th Battalion, The Buffs and the 7th Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment, report that, owing to the many points flattened out by the enemy bombardment, it was impossible to escape observation from the enemy in filing out of the dug-outs to the jumping-off positions.
They were subjected to fire from the enemy Machine Guns and Snipers during this period, and a few casualties were incurred.
The actual jumping-off positions afforded enough kneeling cover in places but were badly knocked about.
Phase 3. The Raid
The Raid was most successful, though the left party of the 6th Buffs, from TWIN TRENCH, failed to gain a footing in the enemy trenches, this party coming under a heavy enfilade fire from hostile Machine Guns.
The right party of the Buffs failed to reach their ultimate objective, but did good work in the BOIS DES AUBEPINES, elements of them succeeded in reaching MAY TRENCH.
The 7th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, did splendid work and succeeded in reaching all their objectives. They reported finding over a hundred dead of the enemy, killing sixty and capturing twenty-five and a Machine Gun.
Two enemy dug-outs were destroyed.
Phase 4. The Withdrawal
All parties withdrew at the pre-arranged time in good order.
The Lewis Gunners and Snipers who were left out report that they stayed out till it was nearly dawn, but failed to get a target.
The whole of the operations, with the exception of the left party of the 6th Buffs, was most successful. The morale of the enemy had every appearance of being severely shaken and he suffered very heavy casualties.
The heavy rain which fell from 4.30pm for two hours made all movement very slow and difficult.
The enemy's wire was well cut and afforded no obstacle.
Twenty six prisoners and one machine gun were captured.
The enemy opposite the 37th Infantry Brigade front appear to have had some 200 killed.
Our casualties were:-
|Wounded and Missing||
Commanding 37th Infantry Brigade.
11th August, 1917
SECRET - 10/8/17 - "Lemon"
1. The left party failed to reach its objectives. The Right and centre parties who went out from East of TWIN COPSES met Machine Gun fire on their own parapet where many were hit; they got into the trench in the West edge of BOIS DES AUBEPINES, and elements of them reached MAY TRENCH, but any further advance was checked by Machine Guns and Rifle fire that they were unable to locate. 1 German Officer was captured in a shell hole and sent in.
2. Right Party got on very well until they reached the enemy wire where they also encountered hidden Machine Guns and had to seek cover in shell holes; some of them were unable to retire or go forward until dark; all report the enemy trenches practically flat, but cleverly defended by Machine Guns they were unable to locate.
3. The enemy probably saw the parties moving into position as I found SNAFFLE TRENCH blown in in such a manner as to cause all who passed along to be completely exposed even though they crawled.
The enemy barrage came down 15 minutes before ZERO, and aeroplanes gave them a great deal of trouble at about 8.15 flying very low and badly enfilading the trenches.
Signed: A.S. SMELTZER
Tragically, both Charles' parents died in 1926 - his father from possible agricultural spraying in local orchards.
Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Saturday 03 July 1926
FRUIT GROWER’S DEATH AT FAVERSHAM. CASE MAY BE VERY IMPORTANT TO FARMERS.
"Mr.F.V. Budden (Deputy Coroner) opened an enquiry at the Guildhall, Faversham, on Friday last, into the circumstances attending the death of Charles Priest, aged 57, a farm labourer, of 34, Upper Brents, North Preston, who died in the Cottage Hospital on the 23rd June. Mr. Arthur Smith appeared for deceased’s employers, Messrs. Wood and Partis, of Painters Farm, Ospringe, and Mr. G.P. Glanfield represented the makers of a fruit spraying powder the deceased had been using. Mr. W.F. Taylor was chosen foreman of the jury.
The Deputy Coroner said that this was a case where a man had died after spraying fruit trees with a powder, and it might possibly be, though he did not say so, that death had been caused or accelerated by the spray. As the doctor could not give a certificate he ordered a post mortem in the presence of one of the medical officers of the Ministry of Health, and he had taken away some of the deceased’s organs and some of the powder and was going to make a minute examination, so he only proposed to take sufficient evidence that day so that the body could be buried. The case might be very important to farmers in the district who sprayed fruit and the manufacturers of the stuff, but as it might fizzle out he did not proposed to mention the name of the manufacturers that day.
Nellie Jane Priest, daughter of deceased, gave formal evidence of identification.
John Hooker, bailiff to Messrs. Wood and Partis, stated that deceased who worked on the farm had recently been spraying fruit trees under his direction. They only had one form of spray.
Albert Wood, one of the partners stated that deceased had recently been using a certain powder on currant bushes. Witness handed the tin of powder which deceased had been using to P.C. Pett on the 24th June.
P.C. Pett stated that on the 24th June last witness handed to a gentleman who was with Dr. Porter at the post mortem.
Dr. Herdman Porter stated that deceased was a patient of his, and he had been in attendance on him since June 7th. He died in the Cottage hospital on June 23rd. There were certain symptoms that were not quite normal which might have led to his death and, therefore, he (witness) did not feel justified in giving a certificate. On the Coroner’s instructions a post mortem was made by Dr. Kennedy at which witness was present. Certain organs wee handed over to a representative of the Ministry of Health for the purpose of a minute examination and report. The ultimate cause of death was pneumonia.
At this stage the inquest was adjourned until Friday, July 9th, at p.m."