In the First World War, over 850 Old Emanuels fought and around 150 lost their lives.
On this Remembrance Day we tell the story of Frank Skinner (OE1904-08), one of a number of Emanuel boys who left England for new opportunities in Australia and Canada, but when war was declared they fought with various Australian and Canadian units in France and the Mediterranean. In the month before Frank died he wrote to Emanuel desperate to hear news from his old school. The youngest OE was 16 and the oldest was 41 when they enlisted. They saw action in some of the fiercest battles of the war and Lieutenant Frank William Skinner served with the 7th (British Columbia) Battalion CEF.
Frank attended Honeywell Junior School and Emanuel. He passed the Cambridge Senior Local Examinations and went to work as a banker for the London City and Midland Bank Limited, subsequently travelling to Canada in 1912 to take up an appointment at the Bank of British North America at their Head Office in Montreal, Quebec. He later transferred to the St John branch in the province of New Brunswick.
Frank enlisted in the 1st Divisional Signalling Company (DSC) in August 1914 shortly after war was announced. The small signalling unit was moved to Valcartier, Quebec where the rest of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was organising for active service. A huge camp of some 12,428 acres was established at Valcartier to accommodate 30,000 men.
The 1st DSC sailed for England in convoy with the rest of the 1st Canadian Contingent on 2nd October 1914 with the crossing lasting 12 days. Whilst in England, Frank completed his training on Salisbury Plain. Conditions in October worsened as heavy rain turned the ground to mud and the construction of promised huts was delayed due to the contractors not meeting their obligations, so troops had to live in bell tents for longer than anticipated. The official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force described training as a ‘drudgery.’
Frank sailed for France on 20th March 1915 and was set to work in the Ypres Salient. He was at the 2nd Battle of Ypres starting on 22nd April, which not only saw the first major gas attack by German forces but was also the first major operation the Canadians were involved in. The 1st DSC were busy restoring communications in the next few days where cables and wires had been destroyed by German artillery fire.
The Portcullis noted that he was “very anxious to obtain news of the School”. Frank wrote to Emanuel in the summer of 1915:
We are all very optimistic as to the final result of the war. My training with the OTC proved very beneficial to me.
In September 1915 Frank was admitted to hospital in St Omer suffering from boils, but by November 1915 he attended Cadet School and gained a temporary commission in the 7th (British Columbia) Battalion on 7th November. This unit saw much front line action in the following months through to the summer of 1916 where Frank was wounded on 3rd May. He was hit by shell fire while the battalion was holding trenches in the Ypres Salient. He received what was described as a GSW (gunshot wound) to the abdomen and was taken to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station. Two days later on 5th May, Frank, who only a decade before had been playing cricket for Marlborough House on the school field, died of his wounds and never returned to England.
Frank Skinner was buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery Belgium. He was 24 years of age when he died.
If you are reflecting upon those who lost their lives this weekend, spare a thought for Frank and the 250 Old Emanuels who lost their lives in both WW1 and 2 and the other 1,450 who served. In 2015 OE historian Mr Daniel Kirmatzis, who researched this article, visited Frank’s grave with a copy of the book Emanuel School at War, which is in the photo.
Tony Jones (Senior Librarian and Archivist)
Lieutenant Frank Skinner's grave at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery Belgium