Saturday, 23 February 2013

On the Somme with the13th(Service) Battalion The Rifle Brigade: Europeana 1914-1918

 Has part of the centenary commemorations of the outbreak of World War One the Europeana Portal has teamed up with cultural institutes across Europe to digitise selective collections which relate to the conflict. These items will be freely accessible online through the Europeana Portal.

A second strand to this programme and potentially most exciting aspect of the project  is Europeana 1914-1918, it offers members of the public the opportunity to create an account, login and upload digital images of artifacts relating to relatives  who where involved in the First World War.  In my case I did a bit of digging on my great-grandfather Major T.G. Skyrme (Rtd.) and submitted the  his story to the Europeana 1914-1918 project illustrated with some digital images of him and his medals.

My great grand father's story  makes quite a nice self contained blog post in its own right so I thought I'd post it here has a preview while I wait for my submission to Europeana 1914-1918 to go through the moderation process.  I hope it will inspire others to do a bit of digging into their relatives and login to Europeana to add their stories.

Theophilus Garfield Skyrme was born on the 8th October 1881 at Chase Villa, Newport, Monmouth, Wales. He was the second son of Henry Arnos Theophilus Skyrme and Mary Ann Skryme (neé Evans). His commission in the British Army as Temporary Second Lieutenant was gazetted on 22nd June 1915.

Theophilus Garfield Skyrme served with the 13th (Service) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own). The Battalion departed for Le Havre, France from Southampton on 30th July 1915. He remained in England and later that year he was married to Wilhelmina Helen Matthew at St Paul's Church Newport on 14th December 1915. Furthermore, he is listed in the Army List of January 1916 has being attached to the 15th (Reserve) Battalion whom were based at Seaford in East Sussex.

According to T.G. Skyrme’s Medal Card, which is held in The National Archives, Kew, He joined his battalion on the Western Front on 12th February 1916 This tallies with the ‘War-Record of the 13th (Service) Battalion in 1916’ from The Rifle Brigade Chronicle; (1920 p.p. 99-103) it states that on the 12th of February 1916 the Battalion moved and took over a line of trenches outside Bailleulval from the French. February 1916 saw two further tours of trench duty for the 13th (Service) Battalion, at this point it is likely Second Lieutenant Skyrme would have been counted in their number. From the 20th to the 24th February, and again on 28th they served in trenches on the left of Berles-au-Bois. The following month the Battalion carried out a further two tours of trench duty in the same area.

From the 26th March until the 28th April the Battalion carried out training in the Auxi-le-Chateau area attached to the IIIrd Army School of Instruction. On the 1st May the 13th (Service) Battalion marched back to Berles-au-Bois and then on to Bailleulval where they were based and undertook three tours of trench duty in the front at Ransart. Their service continued through June with a further two trench duties.

On 6th July 1916 the 13th (Service) Battalion moved to Albert on the Ancre in reserve to the 56th Infantry Brigade as they prepared to play their part in the Somme offensive. During the following days they took over the trenches running across the Albert-Bapaume road, relieving the 8th Battalion North Staffordshire Regiment in the frontline. However, on 10th July the 13th (Service) Battalion, Rifle Brigade was ordered back to the support trenches due to the congestion of troops in the front being too great. Later that afternoon the Battalion was subjected to a four hour bombardment which caused sixty-three causalities.

Less than an hour later at 8:15 p.m. the Battalion received orders to attack the German Front line at 8:45 p.m., half an hour later. The Battalion’s attack was met with resistance in the form of machine gun fire from enemy positions at Ovillers. Inexplicably before the last companies had advanced 200 yards a runner arrived with the message that the attack was cancelled and the Battalion was ordered back to their start position despite having penetrated the German third line of trenches and captured 200 prisoners.  This attack of the 10th July cost the 13th (Service) Battalion twenty Officers including the Commanding Officer, Adjutant and all the Company Commanders and 380 Other Ranks. On the 1st January 1916 the Battalion’s strength was listed as 1,037 Officers and men. In a period of less than twenty-four hours the 13th (Service) Battalion lost nearly fifty percent of their total number.

According to The Times newspaper of 10th January 1918 on page 11 in an extract from the “London Gazette” it stated that the next day ‘Temporary Second Lieutenant T.G. Skyrme from 13th (Service) Battalion was promoted to a Temporary Captain from 11th July 1916.’  Considering the action fought on the previous day it appears that this promotion be has a result of the heavy losses suffered by the Battalion during the attack the previous day which may have amounted to two thirds of their Officers being causalities. It is possible that Skyrme’s promotion can be seen has an attempt to make good the losses to the chain of command and in an entry to the “Supplement to the London Gazette” on 4th December 1916  it  notes that Skyrme was promoted to Temporary Captain while commanding a company along with three other comrades.  The promotion was first listed in error under the heading Royal Dublin Fusiliers (R. Du. Fus.) on the Gazette of the 2nd November 1916 and it gave the date of the 10th August 1916. The error in regiment was corrected in the next month’s edition of the Gazette dated 4th December 1916. Nevertheless, it is clear Skyrme and his surviving Second Lieutenant Comrades were acting Company commanders of the 13th (Service) Battalion from the 11th July.  On that day the Battalion were moved back to Usna-Tara line. By the end of July the Battalion was in the Reserve line south-west of Mametz wood.

Throughout the following months the 13th (Service) Battalion remained in the reserve line fulfilling working party duties until the 11th September 1916 only to return on the 26th for another tour of trench duty. October saw the Battalion relieved and moved to billets in Barlin.

In November the 13th (Service) Battalion advanced to Divisional Headquarters of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division where they were put at their disposal. At 3.15 pm of the 11th November the Battalion moved forward though Beaumont-Hamel to the “green line” west of the Station road which the reached about midnight. They were about to take part in the Battle of the Ancre, one of the final actions of the Somme Offensive.    
The Battalion took part in a successful attack at Beaucourt on the Somme on the 14th-15th November 1916.  The History of the Rifle Brigade notes during the advance to the “green line” two officers and a number of troops were wounded by a hostile enemy artillery bombardment. (pages 234-238.) At 4 a.m.  on the 14th the Battalion received orders to attack the Beaucourt trench from  Railway alley  at 6.15 a.m.  (the place names mentioned can  be seen in the Map of the Battle of  the Ancre on page 235  of The History of the Rifle Brigade Volume 1.) It is possible Captain Skyrme was one of these officers whom were wounded by the German artillery bombardment during the advance on Beaucourt. However, he may have been wounded later in the assault when the Battalion was delayed by enemy rifle and machine gun fire by nearly an hour until 7.15 a.m.  The advance was resumed by 8 a.m., after a British artillery bombardment of the German positions, the Beaucourt trench was captured. In any event it is believed that Captain T.G. Skyrme was wounded in the leg either by shrapnel or direct fire at some point during this action. At some point later the leg wound became gangrenous and it was necessary to amputate Skyrme’s leg.   

It is highly likely that Captain T.G. Skyrme was wounded in this particular action at Beaucourt for two reasons. Firstly, The Rifle Brigade Chronicle mentions him by name as one of the wounded during this operation in the 13th (Service) Battalion’s war records. In addition he is also listed amongst the eleven wounded office in the  13th (Service) Battalion’s biography For the Duration by D.H. Rowlands, Although Captain Skyrme is erroneously referred to has being South African in this account. Secondly, nearly a year later on the 8th October 1917 his son and only child was born. He was named Henry (Harry) Beaucourt Skyrme.  It was said that Skyrme named his son Beaucourt, after the place which cost him his leg. In 1938 Henry Beaucourt Skyrme volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He was posted missing 16/17th January 1941 during a raid on Wilhelmshaven. Harry Skyrme’s daughter Mary Jacqueline (Jakki) Skyrme-Judd, my mother, was born on the 10th September 1941 almost nine months to the day since her father went missing.    

Captain T.G. Skyrme survived the war, on being discharged from the Rifle Brigade he was promoted by brevet to the rank of Major, a title he continued to use until his death on the 17th October 1960.  In civilian life he worked as a tobacco importer according to his probate notice. As far as it is known, after the war he settled and lived in Ascot in Berkshire where he lived with his wife Wilhelmina and son Harry. In the 1950s he was the Bursar of Heathfield School, Ascot. Despite the loss of his leg was a keen golfer and regularly holidayed in North Wales, where he played often. He would also make occasional trips to visit Jakki, his granddaughter who by this time had relocated to Dublin, Ireland with her mother and step-father.  It is during one of these visits it is said he would  amaze my mother and her young sisters by pushing wooden knitting needles through his trousers and prosthetic leg [which had an thin aluminium skin] giving the impression he could pass the knitting needle through his leg and appear impervious to the pain.        

For his service in the Great War of 1914-1918 he received the British Campaign medal set which consists of
British War Medal
Victory Medal
These two medals were affectionately known as Squeak and Wilfred.
He was also issued the Special Constabulary Faithful Service Medal.

This story was compiled by using the following bibliography:

Berkeley, Reginald, The Rifle Brigade 1914-1918 Volume 1, The Rifle Brigade Club: London, 1927.
Rowlands D.H., For the Duration: The Story of the Thirteenth Battalion The Rifle Brigade, Simkin Marshall Limited: London, 1932.

The Rifle Brigade Chronicle, John Bale & Sons: London, 1918 & 1920.


  1. A fascinating story, thanks for sharing it Jerry.

  2. Many thanks for your kind words chaps I am glad you enjoyed it.

  3. A great story Jerry, France (and Europe) have traces of many battles and many devotions ...
    All the best,

    1. Phil, Many thanks for your comments. I hope one day to find the time to to visit some of the battlefields around France.