4 Jul 2010

PRIOR Charles James


Rifleman 1214, 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade
Killed in Action on Wednesday 23rd December 1914

Commemorated: Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Belgium, Panel 10

Charles Prior was not a Lancing man and his name does not appear on the war memorial, but he was a member of the village community at the outbreak of war and has an interesting tale to tell, so will be included here. He was born in 1888 in Westgate, Chichester, the son of Nathaniel and Mahala Prior. His father was an engine driver and he was one of at least six children.

In early 1906 the age of eighteen he joined the Army, enlisting into the 4th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, as Rifleman 1214 and his occupation prior to enlistment was given as 'Porter.' His service record shows that he had several admissions to hospital but all for minor illnesses, and his conduct was generally good. In September 1911, while in Cairo, he was drunk on returning to barracks one night and received eight days confined to barracks as punishment, but this appears to have been an isolated incident. In February 1914, after having served for eight years and three months he left the Army, returned from Delhi where he was serving, and transferred to the Army Reserve for the rest of his twelve year engagement. He returned to Chichester and found work once again as a porter, but in May 1914 he applied to join the West Sussex Constabulary. At that time many police officers were former regular soldiers and Charles Prior was accepted, and after initial training he was stationed at Lancing from 19th June 1914.

When a regular soldier was transferred to the Army Reserve he was liable for recall to his unit immediately on the outbreak of hostilities, so with war growing ever nearer during the summer of 1914, these men must have been aware that their civilian lives were drawing to a close, for a while at least. The final entries for Charles Prior in the West Sussex Constabulary Examination Book report:

3rd August 1914: Called upon to resign for being drunk in uniform at Lancing on the night of the 1st August 1914. Date of removal from the Force - 3rd August 1914.

It's interesting to speculate on the reasons for Charlie Prior's actions - his eight years as a regular soldier had only led to one charge of drunken behaviour, so it was not a regular occurrence. Maybe the thought of returning to his unit and war was unbearable to him after such a short time as a civilian with a new life and a responsible job; or perhaps as a highly trained soldier in a respected regiment he was delighted to be facing the enemy in battle at last - no-one will ever know. The next day, 4th August 1914, he would have received a telegram ordering him back to the Rifle Brigade for duty - in that way his dismissal from the Police Force made no difference to the course that his life would now take. On his return, Charles Prior joined the 3rd Battalion, and the following are extracts from the unit war diary held at The National Archives [WO95/1613]:

On the 8th September 1914, the Battalion left Southampton on the S.S. Lake Michigan, having on board the Headquarters of the 17th Infantry Brigade, and the 2nd Battalion, Leinster Regiment, and arrived at St. Nazaire on the 10th, where the boat had to remain outside the harbour until the morning of the 12th while the rest of 6th Division were disembarking ...
... the next 36 days were spent in the trenches near Flamengerie Farm and Bois Grenier during which time the Germans shelled us unpleasantly on several occasions. Still, it was getting near Christmas when we all confidently believed the war would end, and the farmhouses close to the trenches still held chicken and pigs which kept us all in good spirits. On December 15th we left the 16th Infantry Brigade and returned to the 17th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Doran, and went into new trenches at Armentières, on the line we had retired to during the fight on the 17th October. Here we did another 34 days without being relieved. Christmas in the trenches will always be remembered by the Battalion as a day of perfect peace during which, by mutual consent, both sides declared a truce. There were many interesting features on this Christmas Day not the least of which was a German juggler who drew a large crowd of Riflemen and Germans in the middle of No Man's Land ...

Unfortunately Charles Prior did not live to be part of the Christmas entertainment, and the 'day of perfect peace.' His service record states simply:

23/12/14 - Killed in action in the Field and buried near Chappelle d'Armentières.

At least he had the dignity of a funeral at that time, although he is commemorated on Ploegsteert Memorial and has no known grave. His body may now lie in a military cemetery in an 'Unknown Soldier' grave, or his original resting place may have been lost in the constant fighting that took place on that ground during the next four years of war. Because of his dismissal from the Police Force on the eve of war, his name does not appear on the memorial tablet at Horsham Police Station, neither does it appear on Chichester war memorial despite continuing family connections with the city post-war. I feel strongly that his long record of service to his country and his short time in Lancing entitles him to be mentioned on these pages.

Charles Prior's name on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing



I've recently received good news from Bob Prior, a great-nephew of Charles Prior. He has been working towards some local commemoration of his great-uncle and writes:

Pondering on Uncle Charles's situation, a few months ago, thinking about what I considered to be a "Great historical injustice", I decided to do something about his omission from Chichester's WW1 War Memorial. I contacted the City Council, preparing for battle in a last ditch attempt , arguing that after almost 100 years the time was ripe for them to consider my plea.  The replies I received were almost unbelievable! The Town Clerk had been given the task to research & consider my request! The Mayor was fully behind it. Within a fairly short time, my request had been accepted & plans to add THREE OTHER names besides! (This included their only known VC!). The correspondence I received from the Town Clerk had been so kind & considerate all the way along.  Less than two weeks ago I was surprised to hear the work had been completed!  The Town Clerk sent me photos'.  I visited the Memorial & placed a cross near Charles's name on Saturday, in time for Remembrance Sunday. What a marvellous dream it has all seemed.

Well done to Bob for securing such a good outcome!

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