George Samuel Skingley was born and raised in Chelmsford. He worked as a doctor’s boy, joined the army and landed in France in October 1915. He was killed in action on the opening day of the Germans’ Spring Offensive in March 1918.
George was born in Chelmsford in 1895, the son of the groom William Skingley and Alice Skingley (nee Langstone). George’s father had been born in 1865 at Galleywood Common; his mother in 1866 at Hatfield Peverel. The couple had married on 11th July 1887 at St John’s Church in Moulsham. At the time George’s father was aged 22, a groom and resident in Mildmay Road, Chelmsford. George’s mother was aged 21 and also lived in Mildmay Road.
By 1891 George’s parents were living at 1 Burgess Well Road, Chelmsford.
George was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Chelmsford on 16th February 1896. At the time his father was a traveller of Legg Street.
George’s siblings, all Chelmsford-born, included Alice Edith Skingley (born in 1889), William George Skingley (born in 1889), Caroline Ethel Skingley (1891-1972), Agnes Emily Skingley (1891-1980), Dorothy Emma Skingley (born in 1897) and William Sidney (a.k.a. Sidney William) Skingley (1900-1990).
The 1901 census found George, aged five, living with his parents and four siblings at 8 Legg Street in Chelmsford.
George’s mother died in 1904, aged 38. His father remarried shortly afterwards to his sister-in-law Selina Langstone who was ten years younger than his first wife.
In 1907 George’s step-mother was involved in a collision with a car while out cycling.
The 1911 census recorded 15 year-old George, a doctor’s boy, living with his unemployed father, step-mother and brother William at 127 Upper Bridge Road in Chelmsford (today’s number 132}. The family was still there in 1914.
George lived and enlisted at Chelmsford. He served as Private 19500 in the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Essex Regiment. The battalion was one of the ‘New Army’ battalions and had been formed at Warley in August 1914. It landed in France at the end of August 1915, whilst George arrived in France later that year on 4th October 1915.
By March 1918 George’s battalion, then part of the 18th Brigade in the army’s 6th Division was in the Lagnicourt sector north-east of Bapaume in France. Early on the morning of 20th March 1918 the battalion arrived at Beugnâtre north of Bapaume. After morning baths at Bapaume and Favreuil that afternoon most of the battalion (except A Company and two platoons of B Company) travelled to Maricourt Wood to dig a trench called Lagnicourt Switch.
SKINGLEY, GEORGE SAMUEL,
Private, 11th (Service) Battalion, Essex Regiment
Around midnight the troops set off back to their camp at Beugny, which when reached was found to have been heavily shelled by the Germans as they began their 1918 Spring Offensive. The battalion proceeded to the Morchies sunken road and suffered many casualties there until around midday it went into action to attempt to slow the German advance which had taken British trenches. They were however forced back in the face of the German onslaught and many casualties were suffered around dusk as the majority of the battalion withdrew to the corps line.
After a fairly quiet, but unnerving night the enemy attack, the opening stages of the German 1918 Spring Offensive resumed on the morning of 22nd March 1918. A post-war history of the battalion described the day’s events and its aftermath:
“The early morning was again misty and advantage was taken of this by the enemy to place machine gun fire and trench mortars a short distance from the wire. Their movements were observed and from 7.30 a.m. until 11 a.m. a number were shot down. No communication had been established with the artillery, so that its fire could not be directed, but apart from this disadvantage the situation remained much the same until 4.30 p.m. when report came that the enemy had broken through the corps line to the north of Morchies and was moving south-west, rendering the position of the 18th Brigade [of which George’s battalion was a part] most critical.
By 6.30 p,m. it had become untenable, for the enemy penetrated the right flank and the Brigade was isolated, though for a time the stout resistance of two platoons of the Royal Scots afforded material aid. At midnight Brigade headquarters ordered withdrawal without waiting for relief. Buses were promised at the Monument, Favreuil-Sapignies road. but shells were falling around this point and no buses were available, so that the exhausted units of the Brigade staggered along the road to Buchanan Camp. All ranks fell asleep at each ten minutes’ halt, but there was no straggling, and at 6.30. a.m on March 23rd seven officers and 77 other ranks marched steadily into camp.
At 10 a.m. all men of the Battalion who were not in the fight were ordered to stand to ,and during the morning Captain Alexander and 80 other ranks dug a defensive line upon the ridge north-east of Aichet-le-Grand. The Germans had broken through at Mory and this work was done to arrest any further advance. The situation became easier during the day and the party was withdrawn early on the morning of March 24th. ‘Thus ended’ says the War Diary, ‘the Battalion’s part of the battle’.
The losses were very heavy. Ten officers were killed....and six wounded. Thirty-one other ranks were killed, 44 other ranks wounded and missing, 231 other ranks missing and 105 other ranks wounded - a total of 16 officers and 411 other ranks.”
George was one of those missing and was later presumed to have been was killed in action on 22nd March 1918. He was aged 22.
George has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais in France and on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford. He was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
George’s father later lived at 1 Kerton Villas, Bury Lane, Horsell, Woking in Surrey, and died in 1948.