Date of birth: 18.8.1891
Date of death: 1.7.1916
Regiment: King's Own Yorkshire Light infantry
Family information: Husband of Bertha, father of Mary and Elsie, son of John and Hannah
Service number: 16764
Tom enlisted into the 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) in late September 1914.. The Regiment was raised in Pontefract in September of 1914. The Regiment began initial training in Pontefract, with further training at Aldershot, Frensham, Hythe and Bordon. Tom had been promoted to Lance Corporal in 1915 and he disembarked with the rest of the regiment for France in August 1915. The Regiment landed in Boulogne and undertook training and exercises as part of the 70th Brigade.
On 4th April 1916, as part of the preparations for the Battle of the Albert (the first battle in the Battle of the Somme), the Regiment was moved into the Thiepval sector and moved up to the front line on 30th June, the day before the battle began on 1st July.
The 8th Battalion went over the top at 7:30 am on the morning of 1st July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, with the 8th Battalion of the York’s & Lanc’s Regiment on their left and the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment on their right.
At 7:30 am 25 Officers, 1 Medical Officer and 659 other ranks of the 8th Battalion KOYLI went over the top into no man’s land at Ovillers Spur. The objectives of the battle were to relieve pressures on the French defenders of Verdun to the south by inflicting heavy losses on German forces farther north and drawing German reserves into the battle.
Sergeant Tom Priestley and his machine gun team were part of the 659 other ranks who left the trenches on the morning of 1st July to confront the Germans. Within minutes of the start of the battle the 25 Officers of the Regiment had been killed and before the day was out Tom Priestley was one of 574 gallant men of the 8th Battalion of the KOYLI to die or presumed to be missing in action. The war diary of the Regiment records that the “Medical Officer brought back 110 men of other ranks following the day’s fighting”.
Tom Priestley was killed during a machine gun action against the German forces at some time in the morning of 1st July. For his actions in the battle Tom was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal DCM and the Military Medal MM.
(The Distinguished Conduct Medal is awarded to Non-Commissioned Officers and men of the British Army for "distinguished, gallant and good conduct in the field". For all ranks below commissioned officer, it is the second highest award for gallantry in action after the Victoria Cross).
Tom Priestley was posthumously gazetted in the London Gazette of 22nd September 1916 and the citation read:
“16764 Sjt T. Priestly, Yorks. L.I.
For conspicuous gallantry in action. After losing all the gunners of one team, he took the gun and, although wounded, fired it himself time after time. He displayed great courage and contempt of danger.”
Tom’s medals would be later be awarded to his widow Bertha at a ceremony in his home town of Castleford in late December of 1916. The ceremony was reported in the Yorkshire Post of 2nd January 1917. (The gift of £20.00 to Bertha referred to in the report was not actually awarded by the Castleford War Honours Fund. These types of awards were against War Office rules).
Tom was buried in Blighty Valley Cemetery Authuille Wood. The Cemetery is located about 4 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert, Somme in northern France. It contains 1,027 burials and commemorations of Commonwealth soldiers who died in 1916 during the battle of the Somme. Most of the burials are of soldiers who died on 1 July 1916, which was the first day of the battle of Albert.
The Regimental motto of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry is "Cede Nullis" (Yield to None). Tom certainly lived up to his Regiment’s motto.
Tom Priestley was a Castleford War Hero and like many heroes of the First World War he was born in humble surroundings to hardworking parents. He married, had two daughters and worked in the local pits in Castleford. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted in one of the local regiments and went to France to fight for King and Country, never to return to his wife and children. So, what are the details of Tom’s short life?
Tom was born on 18th August 1891 in Saul's Yard, Off Cow Lane, Knottingley. He was the third child of John Priestley and Hannah Priestley nee Huby. His father John Priestley was a Glass bottle maker at the local Bagley’s Glassworks.
John Priestley moved his family to Castleford in the late 1890's after he gained employment in one of the Castleford glassworks. By the time of the 1901 Census. the family were living in Jackson's Yard, off Church Street in Castleford. By that time the family consisted of John, Hannah and their five children. Tom had two elder sisters and a younger brother and sister.
At the age of 14 Tom went to work in one of the local coal mines and by the time of the 1911 Census, at the age of 19, Tom was a colliery hewer. He was digging coal at the coalface.
Tragedy had struck the family in July 1910 when Tom’s mother Hannah died at the age of 44. Hannah was buried on 31st July 1910 in Castleford Old Cemetery.
In December 1911 Tom married Betha Bates at All Saints Church Castleford on Christmas Day. They were both aged twenty and needed their fathers’ permission to marry. At the time of their marriage Tom and Bertha both lived on Smawthorne Grove in Castleford, Tom at number 94 and Bertha at Number 80.
Their first daughter Mary Hannah, my Great Aunt, was born on 15th August 1912, followed by a second daughter Elsie born in December 1913.
Tom was survived by his wife Bertha who died on 31st December 1950 in Morecombe aged 60. His daughter Mary married Benjamin Smith in 1932and she died in Castleford on 16th March 2005 aged 92. Tom’s youngest daughter Elsie married Arthur Cripwell in 1936. She died in Leeds in August 1984 aged 71. Tom’s father John died in Castleford in March 1948 aged 84.