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J B Priestley - Wartime Service


Guest Ian Bowbrick

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Guest Ian Bowbrick

I recently came across some extracts relating to the wartime service of J B Priestley. It was stated that he enlisted into a New Army Battalion, went to France, was commissioned, gassed, medically downgraded to B2 and transferred to the Labour Corps serving at a depot. Can anyone else put a bit of flesh onto this skelton please!!

Ian

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He joined as a pvt but was caught up in the sweep for "temporary gentlemen". Then as a 2nd Lt he was wounded and ended up working in a clerical role at a supply dump. Hated the army/war/country after his initial jingoism had been crushed and never collected his service medals because of this. Sorry I cannot add more but this is basically what's in 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes.

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His autobiography "Margin Released" does cover his war years.

However, I can't add much more than the above - however, I seem to recall that, unlike most soldiers with a strong artisitic bent, it is not a classic 'horror of war', anti-general tome; indeed, quite pro-general in places (praises the training, etc).

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His Who's Who entry for 1953 states that he served with the Duke of Wellington's and the Devonshire Regiment.

Terry Reeves

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Sorry that i can't add much in terms of direct references at the moment, but seeing your query certainly kick-starts something at the back of my mind; as far as I can recall, Priestley served in France in 1918 as a reinforcement to the 16th Devons; this was one of the composite infantry battalions formed in early 1917 from the old Yeomanry regiments, and was created by amalgamating the old 1st Royal Devon Yeomanry (which traditionally recruited in the southern half of Devon, with one Squadron being drawn from Cornwall) and the Royal North Devon Hussars. After service in Egypt, on the Gallipoli peninsula and in Palestine, the combined units were rushed to France in the aftermath of Ludendorff's final thrusts of early 1918, and remained on the Western Front until the Armistice; I believe Priestley was a casualty (gassed?); check out W.J.P.Aggett, 'The Bloody Eleventh', a relatively recent three-volume history of the Devons

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  • 18 years later...

Priestley had originally intended to enlist into the Bradford Pals (16th West Yorkshire Reg.) but because of the slow pace of its formation decided to walk to neighbouring Halifax with a group of friends and enlist there. The West Riding Reg. (Duke of Wellingtons) were forming two Service Battalions 9th and 10th and Priestley and his friends were allocated to the latter.

In 'Margin Revisited' which was originally serialised in the Sunday Times, Priestley gave a rather tragi-comic account of his service in which he recalls being buried by a trench mortar on the Somme. 

Priestley remained a little reticent about his war service but in 'English Journey' a travelogue written in the 30s he gives the most extraordinarily poignant account of a battalion reunion in Bradford. Mixing his trademark Yorkshire bluntness with endearing sentimentality he paints a vivid picture of the of the genuine affection  he felt towards his comrades of the 10th West Ridings.

A large collection of Priestleys wartime letters home his held by Bradford University

Edited by ilkley remembers
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