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Bullet took off my Rowley Regis soldier dad's fingers

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: March 02, 2014

By John Workman

  • British nurses near the Western Front in 1917

  • The grave of Pt. William Arthur Skidmore and his sister Mary Louisa Skidmore at Beeches Road Baptist Church, Blackheath

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THERE are many aspects of the Great War, both visible and invisible, that changed the world for ever.

Thousands of brave young men who became brothers in arms on the battlefield were defending a way of life established over centuries. But without knowing, while up to their knees in mud and coming within a whisker of being killed or terribly wounded on a daily basis, they were also helping to create the spark that would ignite the modern age.

Every war memorial is adorned with a list of names of men who died never to see the benefits of their ultimate sacrifice; who were never to see their loved ones again or look forward to growing old; and who had a kitbag full of stories never to be told. Those who survived the carnage rarely spoke of their experiences, the horror remaining for ever in their mind's eye, keeping them awake at night.

But some stories did filter through over the years, and family members, perhaps assisted by letters written during the war, now treasure these memories of a generation who answered the call to defend King and Country. This year will be a year to remember as we commemorate the start of the Great War 100 years ago, and Bugle readers are proudly stepping forward and sending us their individual family war stories.

We firmly believe it is our duty to remember as many Black Country lads, and in some cases lasses, as possible who saw service during WW1, and we are delighted to publish the following story sent to us by Mary Hackett of Rowley Regis.

"My father Samuel Skidmore was a very patriotic man and I have known him stand for the National Anthem when it was played on the old wireless at home. He was born in 1888, and although he was leaving behind a young wife (my mother) with two young sons to look after, he volunteered and joined the South Staffs Regiment.

"Like the majority of First World War soldiers, dad never spoke of his experiences, but as I grew older (I was born in 1925) I asked my mom if she knew anything and she was able to tell me snippets of information gleaned from my dad.

"Apparently he and his fellow soldiers were in the trenches in France, sometimes up to their knees in mud and water, looking out across no man's land. Each soldier had to take it in turns to go over the top and bring the wounded back behind the lines.

"This task needed four men to carry the stretcher and one man to carry a Red Cross flag, which on this occasion was my dad.

"The enemy was supposed to respect the Red Cross and cease firing. But apparently, as dad held the flag high above his head, a bullet took the fingers off his left hand. He later told mom he thought he'd been hit in the head. Because of the injury he was sent back to England for treatment, and the day after he was wounded, mom received a telegram from the War Office stating: 'Husband wounded. Now at a military hospital in Colchester.' Also enclosed were two rail tickets and an address for overnight accommodation.

"Mom and my paternal grandmother arrived at Colchester station late on a cold and snowy November evening only to realise they had forgotten where they were being put up. A teenager came past on a bicycle and after being asked for help said his granddad had died three weeks before and his gran had room. There was no alternative but to accept the young boy's offer, but neither of them could sleep knowing a man had died in the same house just a few weeks before.

"The next day they went to the hospital, still unaware of dad's injuries which must have been a traumatic moment for both of them. Mom remembered the wards were decorated for Christmas, which was just days away. After dad came out of hospital he was assigned to an officer and became his bat man till the end of the war, and for several Christmases after leaving the army, mom and dad were sent a hamper by the officer, a really kind gesture.

"Unfortunately, dad was a bricklayer by trade and returning to his old job he found it almost impossible to hold a brick with his left hand. He was granted one shilling a week pension, but that soon came to an end. My mom told me he was a wonderful hard working man and devoted father and was lucky enough to come home, unlike thousands of others, for which I and two more of my brothers are very grateful, for we would never have existed otherwise.

"One of my favourite memories of dad was also the best holiday I ever had. Before leaving for France with the South Staffs in 1915 he was billeted at Looe, Cornwall, in a big house called St. John's at the top of the cliffs. He had never had a holiday in his life and for his 70th birthday my late husband Arthur and seven-year-old daughter Christine, plus my mom, thought a holiday in Looe was the perfect present.

"Even the evening before we were due to leave he was still hesitant about going. After all, it was a new experience and not many people have to wait till their 70th birthday before their first holiday. But once there he recognised the house on the cliffs which was now called St. John's Hotel, and was so grateful and happy he had made the effort. It is a truly wonderful memory for me."

As a footnote to this story Mary told us that her father had a brother and sister who died through injury and disease respectively during the Great War.

In the churchyard of Beeches Road Baptist Church in Blackheath there lies the remains of Pt. William Arthur Skidmore who died at Ripon General Hospital on January 13, 1918, aged 25, and Mary Louisa Skidmore, a nurse serving in France, who died on March 18, 1919, aged 29.

Have your family any World War One memories that you would like to share with Bugle readers? Email your story and pictures to editor@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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