Sunday 12 November 2023

A. E. PRIOR - Corps of Military Police

Albert Edward Prior (Lance Corporal No. 7689948) Corps of Military Police

Albert was born on Boxing Day 1912. He had a younger brother Thomas, and two sisters named Annie and Joan. The family home was at 7, Bell Cottages, Alma Road, Boveney Newtown. As with the majority of Eton Wick lads, he attended the village infants school until he was seven years old, and on April 13th 1920 he registered at Eton Porny School where he continued his elementary education until he was 14. On leaving school he was apprenticed to Goddards of Eton as a carpenter and cabinet maker. Upon completion of his apprenticeship he was employed by Eton College as a qualified tradesman.

Albert liked football and competed in the boys' Easter Monday five-a-side competition for sons of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers of the Great War living in Eton Wick, Boveney or Dorney. There were two other Prior families living in Boveney Newtown and in South View. All were related and all had a strong affiliation with St. John the Baptist Church of Eton Wick. Albert, his brother Tom and their cousins all sang in the church choir, and his uncle served as the church verger for many years. Albert acquired his first motorcycle, an old A.J.S. machine which caused him constant and frustrating trouble with its kick-start. Later he changed the model for a more up to date Sunbeam and his troubles were over.

With the threat of war during the late 1930s he became an A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution) warden, and was invited to take employment in an aircraft factory at Langley. Had he chosen to accept this change of employment his skills would certainly have ensured exemption from military service. As a result of working in Eton he met and married Dorothy in 1938. They settled into their smart new semi-detached house in Moores Lane and being close to Albert's family home in Alma Road they aptly name the house "Nearome".

The following summer saw the start of W.W.II. and Albert, now 27, was soon to be in uniform. His sister said he was loathe to take up arms with intent to kill, and if in fact this was so, it may explain his decision to join the Corps of Military Police. Previously his motor cycling had been very local, but now came a period when as a military policeman he was required to escort military convoys throughout the British Isles.

In January 1941 Dorothy gave Albert a baby son to think about, and the early days were anxious ones. Fortunately a supportive family was close by. Perhaps now Albert was wishing he had taken the job offered him at Langley. Twice he made very brief visits to his wife and baby son, Christopher, before making the last farewell for overseas service. It has not been satisfactorily established whether he went direct to the Far East, to India as his sister Joan has stated, or to the Middle East as his son thinks probable. The following year he sent a telegram postmarked from Sansorigine and dated January 14th 1942, briefly saying:


This was probably from a transit place in the Far East, for three weeks later Dorothy received another telegram, this time post marked from Singapore and dated February 9th 1942 saying:


There could not have been a worse time to arrive in Singapore, for just six days later General Percival surrendered the island garrison of 85,000 men to the advancing Japanese Army. They had infamously attacked the Americans at Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941, entered Burma on the 11th December, taken Hong Kong on Christmas Day and Kuala Lumpur on January 10th. In theory at least, the swift Japanese advance had left them with an attacking force inadequate to conquer Singapore and the early surrender was never expected. The 85,000 prisoners of war were terribly misused and ill fed, with many thousands dying of disease, sickness and malnutrition. It was 15 months later that Dorothy received the first official information in a brief letter from the C.M.P. Record Office dated May 26th 1943, reporting Albert to be a P.O.W. in Japanese hands at Malai Camp. More than two years elapsed before she received a further notification dated October 25th 1945, reporting that he had died of colitis on November 12th 1943.

Albert Prior is buried in Thanbyuzayak Military Cemetery in Burma, 116 miles south east of Rangoon. The cemetery contains nearly 4,000 graves, which include 1,700 British, 1,350 Australian, 15 Indian, 80 Malayan and over 600 Dutch. Unlike most C.W.G.C. cemeteries the graves are marked by bronze plaques. Albert's grave is No. 4, Row D, Plot B.6. 

His widow Dorothy did not marry again. She continued to live in the home they had established together for the next 40 years before moving to the West Country to be near her son, Christopher. For many years she was a Sunday School teacher in Eton Wick. Albert is commemorated on the village memorial situated in front of the church, where he had sung as a choir boy and later as a man. His name is also on the memorial plaque attached to the Village Hall.

Albert Prior's page on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

This is an extract from Their Names Shall Be Carved in Stone  
and published here with grateful thanks to the author Frank Bond.

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