Private Sidney SKELLINGTON


Regiment/Service:
Cheshire Regiment 
Unit:
10th Battalion
Service Number:
50489
(Formerly: 4789)
Date of Death:
16 April 1917 - Died of wounds
Age:
22
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
I. H. 8.


Personal History:

Sidney was born in the June quarter 1895, the son of John (Hospital Porter) and Mary (née Raiswell) Skellington. (Although the couple were married in Buxton in 1892 there is no trace of them on the 1901 Census) He had two older brothers, John Henry and William, and five younger brothers and sisters, Henry, Ida May, Alice Minnie, Lizzie and Charles.

In 1911 (Census RG 14/21241) the family were living at 8 Scarsdale Place, Buxton and Sidney was employed as an "Errand lad". The Buxton Advertiser, 28th April 1917, reported that Sidney was working for "Mr. J.E. Simpson, fishmonger and poulterer" and had been virtually since leaving school.  

Military History:
Sidney enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment in Manchester. His Medal Index Card indicates that he entered the War after 1915 as he was not eligible for the 1914-15 Star medal but unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. When reporting his death on the 28th April 1917, 'The Buxton Advertiser' gave the date of Sidney's enlistment as the 13th March1916. The same source stated that Sidney "... had been in France since January 18th" [1917].

The 10th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, was formed at Chester on the 10th September 1914 as part of K3 (Kitchener's Third New Army) and came under orders of the 75th Brigade in 25th Division. It moved to Codford St Mary and by November 1914 was in billets in Bournemouth. On the 26th September 1915 the Battalion landed at France and a month later on the 26th October 1915 it was transferred to the 7th Brigade in same Division.

The 10th Cheshires was in action in the autumn of 1916 at the Battle of the Ancre, but it had been relatively quiet for them since then and at the time Sidney was posted to his Battalion. To maintain an aggressive posture in the men, the trench raid became a regular feature. Small groups of soldiers would be ordered to dash across No Mans Land to the enemy trench with the intent of capturing some prisoners (to gain intelligence) and to kill anyone else they found. Not only was this thought to improve the morale of the raiders but it meant that the enemy could never completely relax.

Sidney may have taken part in such a raid planned during the early weeks of February. 70 men from each of three companies were picked and each was trained in his particular task. A life size model of the enemy positions (at a place known as Factory Farm, several miles south of Ypres) was made so the party could practice. For days, British artillery shelled No Mans Land to cut the German wire. 

At 10.40 a.m. on the 17 February 1917 the men left their trenches in two parties. The right hand party, commanded by Captain Appleton, was about halfway across No Man's Land when an enemy machine gun opened fire, causing a few casualties. When they reached the enemy wire they found it had not been destroyed, but it was still possible to get through. At that point a second machine gun started to fire and, in front of them, the Cheshires could see the enemy trench full of troops. They quickly took shelter in shell holes and waited for a few minutes in the hope that the other party would be able to help them. It was impossible to make any further progress and Captain Appleton made the decision to withdraw. It was while they were making their way back to their own trenches that most casualties occurred.

The left hand party, commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Rowe, reached the enemy trench without much difficulty, but was then fired on by a machine gun. Lance Corporal Nicholls knocked it out by pointing his Lewis gun through a loophole in the German sandbags and emptying the full magazine. Lt Rowe bayoneted three Germans and shot two more. About 20 more tried to run away from the raiders but were all killed. The War Diary records that "... there were about 4 Germans in each dugout. They refused to come out and were consequently bombed, first with Mills bombs and then Fumite bombs. They must nearly all have been killed as they were unable to get round a corner to avoid the bombs and could be heard screaming." At 11.10 a.m. Lieutenant Rowe gave the order to withdraw. This was costly as a sniper had taken up position and machine guns were sweeping No Man's Land.

The raid had killed 50 of the enemy and had taken 10 prisoners, although eight were killed on the way back by fire from the German machine gun. However, 53 men of the Battalion had themselves been killed and another 60 wounded.

On the 15th April 1917 the 10th Battalion lost 12 men killed in action. They were in "Long Avenue" trench and are buried at Tancrez Farm Cemetery. At 7.45 p.m. the German artillery opened a heavy bombardment on the Cheshires' positions. After only a minute, the bombardment lifted onto the support trenches, cutting off the front line from any chance of re-enforcement. Under cover of this very accurate shelling, two small parties of Germans, each about 25 strong, jumped into the British trench. The raiding party threw grenades into the dug-outs and took seven men prisoner. They then ran back to their own lines. They had not been in the British position for longer than 5 minutes. The German artillery continued to bombard the Cheshires to cover their withdrawal and it did not stop until about 8.15 p.m.

Almost undoubtedly Sidney was wounded in this attack and died of his "... gunshot wounds to his lower extremities and face ..." the following day in a Casualty Clearing Station. He now lies in Trois Arbres Cemetery. The site for Trois Arbres Cemetery was chosen for the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station in July 1916, and Plot 1, where Sidney is buried, and the earlier rows of Plot II, were used by that hospital until April 1918.

In his last letter home on the 12th April, Sidney wrote:

"My dear Mother and Father, Many thanks for the nice letter and parcel received Monday; will you also thank Madam for the cigs, and remember me to them. Where is Teaser now?

Well we are in the line again. I am writing this in a dugout. The guns are now banging away. We are having very bad weather, snow storms and rain all day. I am glad you have a letter from Harry [see Footnote below] I hope he will soon be off the water, as it will not be very nice this rough weather.

I have just received a small parcel from the Convent, with cakes and chocolate in. Will you thank them for me? Well, I wish you many happy returns of the day; it will be your birthday by the time this arrives. I wanted to get a card for you, dear, but with being in the line I cannot get one, and I had no money before we went in because we haven't been paid for a fortnight.

The first thing I saw on Easter Sunday was a poor chap on a stretcher with his leg blown off, and one or two more wounded; a shell had caught them. .... Good night and God bless you all. - Your ever-loving Sidney"

In view of the news that followed barely a week later, it would certainly not have been a Happy Birthday for Sidney's mother. He had been in France just under 3 months when he died.


Footnote:
· The suggestion in Sidney's letter is that his brother, John Henry ['Harry'] was also serving at the time. He most likely served as
   Spr. 87759 John Henry Skellington, Royal Engineers, and he landed in France on 7 April 1915.

Sources:
· "The Buxton Advertiser" - 28 April 1917
· I am grateful to John Hartley for the note on the 'Factory Farm' and 'Long Avenue' trench actions from his site "Stockport Soldiers"
· I am also grateful to Pierre Vandervelden for providing a copy of Chris and Jean Cosgrove's photo of Sidney's grave [see: "In Memory"]
· "The History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War" - Col. A. Crookenden [ISBN 1-845741-40-4] p. 97-8

Link to CWGC Record
Sidney Skellington's grave
poppy
Pt Sidney Skellington