Fred and Reg Priscott, twin brothers, served with the 1st 6th Devons in both India and Mesopotamia during the First World War. Born 18th October 1895, in Barnstaple, they were the Regiments only serving twins.
Before the war both Frederick John and Reginald James Priscott were working for local furniture maker Shapland and Petter and their names can be found on the Roll of Honour listing all those who signed up to fight from the firm, now held at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. Fred took an active part in the Rackfield Mission and would also play the organ for the Baptist Sunday School.
The brothers joined the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, a territorial unit primarily drawn from the North Devon area. Shortly after the outbreak of war the 6th Devons were amongst those who were due to be sent to France, however, a change in plans saw them being sent to India instead. The men of the 6th Devons, including the twins, found themselves spending Christmas in Lahore.
They remained in India for just over a year. Fred found himself being posted to Amritsar, whilst Reg remained in Lahore. Both took the opportunity to do some sightseeing, Fred visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and Reg the museum and zoo in Lahore. Reg also found time to visit a cabinet shop! Fred was also appointed as organist to the Church of England church of St. Paul by the Colonel.
Christmas 1915 saw the 6th Devons prepare to leave India for Mesopotamia to relieve the besieged town of Kut-el-Amara. There was excitement and apprehension over the task ahead of them. The letters the twins sent home, which were published in the local newspapers, were full of hope of reaching all the way to Baghdad but they also asked for prayers to be said for them. You can read the published letters in previous posts 6th Devons in Persian Gulf – Barumites Who Hope to Reach Bagdad and Sixth Devons -Leaving Lahore for Active Service
Landing at Basra in January 1916 the twins faced a long march ahead of them to reach Orah, over 220 miles away. The journey was long, the days hot and the nights bitterly cold. Rations were often late in getting to them and there was the constant threat of attacks and looting from the locals they encountered. Many of the Devons developed illnesses including dysentery and pneumonia due to the conditions they faced.
The 8th March saw the 6th Devons involved in the Battle of Dujailah, a defensive post held by the Turks and a key objective towards securing the besieged town of Kut. The battle saw the heaviest loss of life in a single day for the battalion. In total they lost 49 Officers and hundreds of men within the space of 24 hours, with hundreds more being wounded.
News of the battle started to appear in the local newspapers eight days later, on the 16th March and there was more to come in the weeks that followed. For those back home, information about what had become of their loved ones was slow to come through prompting the Mayor of Barnstaple to write to the War Office to try to expedite matters.
It wasn’t until three months later did the North Devon Journal newspaper publish news about the fate of the Priscott twins. Reg was in hospital after becoming sick, presumably with dysentery or something similar, having fought in the Battle of Dujailah. Fred was seriously wounded a month after Dujailah when a final attempt to relieve Kut took place.
Fred was shot in the neck and the bullet grazed his spinal column before becoming lodged under his shoulder-blade. In a letter home he wrote “The doctor is always telling me I am a lucky fellow, as another one-eight of an inch and I should have been paralysed.”
Both twins survived the war but eventually went their separate ways. Reg stayed in Barnstaple, returning to Shapland and Petter. He also became involved with the Unions, setting up a branch of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union in Barnstaple, and also served as chairman of the Barnstaple Trades Council. Fred moved to Royston, in Hertfordshire where he became a travelling bible salesman and preached regularly, he too was involved in trade union and labour movements.
The twins were to be reunited in 1953 at the annual Devonshire Regiment reunion to mark the Battle of Dujailah. They had not seen each other for nearly 30 years! Fred died in June 1961 a week before he was due to preach at the Rackfield Mission. Reg passed away in July 1987.
You can read more about the 1/6th Devons and their experiences in the First World War in our Discover the Battle of Dujailah & the 1/6th Devons…On Our Shelves post.
“Dujailah” Days by Colonel GB Oerton (DP355/OER)
The Bloody Eleventh by WJ Aggett (D355/AGG)
The 6th Devons and their Origins by John Rowe (DP355/ROW)
The Sixth Battalion Devonshire Regiment in the Great War by Lieut-Colonel CL Flick (D355/FLI)
We also hold a pedigree files for the Priscott twins