Next of Kin: Frank and Mary Elizabeth Skelton, Brucefield, Ontario
Personal Details: 5 ft. 11 1/4 in., fair complexion, blue eyes, light brown hair, Church of England
Fred Skelton was born on his family’s farm at Plumbley in the County of Derbyshire in England. Sometime in the early 1900’s, Fred, along with his parents and younger twin siblings, Frank Jr. and Kathleen, moved to Rotherham, Yorkshire. Here Fred worked with his father in their butcher shop, serving the workers at the newly opened Dinnington coal mine.
In 1911 Fred embarked from Liverpool on the ship “Victorian”, arriving at Quebec City on May 19th. He listed his profession as butcher, his destination as Hensall, Ontario and his intended occupation as farm labourer. Fred found employment on the farm of Arthur and Jennie Caldwell at Lot 8 ½, Concession 3, in Tuckersmith Township, located northeast of Hensall, near Kippen. Living just a farm or two away, were local boys Edward Cecil Dilling and Warren Livingood, both about the same age as Fred. Fred and his neighbours would all be killed in the war.
Fred’s father, Frank Sr., arrived the following year in July 1912, just months after the disastrous sailing of the Titanic. On a postcard written to his family in England Frank records, “We’re just about 40 miles north of where the Titanic went down and have been running slow since Wednesday night on account of fog. We have seen some icebergs and a whale.” It must have been a chilling journey! The remainder of the family arrived some time later and settled into a small house in the village of Brucefield.
Fred enlisted in September 1915 with the 70th Battalion mustered from Essex, Kent, Lambton and Middlesex Counties. The battalion sailed for England in April 1916 aboard the S.S. Lapland, and arrived in Liverpool on May 5th. Fred spent what little free time he had visiting family members still residing in the area. He had an especially close relationship with his cousin Dora Hartley, who he sent cards and gifts to. Dora kept Fred’s cards, gifts and mementos by her bedside all her life.
Fred’s company was transferred as reinforcements to the 58th Battalion and proceeded overseas, joining the unit on June 21, 1916.
On the day of Fred’s death on October 8, 1916, his battalion was to take part in a large planned attack on Regina Trench on the Somme front in France. Their objective was to advance over 350 yards of No Man’s Land and enter the enemy trenches. The longer it took them to cross this barren landscape the more time the enemy had to leave their deep dug outs, man their positions, and prepare to meet the advancing troops. Clad in sodden uniforms caked with heavy mud and carrying 100 pounds of ammunition and equipment prevented them from crossing the rough wet ground at anything more than a walking pace.
At 4:50 the Brigade artillery came down on the enemy positions and the battalion advanced. As they passed through No Man’s Land the company took heavy casualties from enemy machine gun fire. In front of Regina Trench, they encountered barbed wire about four feet high and four feet deep, which had not been cut by the artillery barrage. They were subject to very heavy enemy machine gun and rifle fire as they tried to find a way through the wire. The company made numerous attempts to get through the wire but each attempt caused the loss of more men. The attack could not continue, and those still living dragged themselves and the wounded back to shell holes where they waited to be evacuated under cover of darkness.
They had started the day with approximately 500 officers and men. Of all the officers who went forward only one returned unwounded. Casualties totaled 30 men killed, 111 missing and 141 wounded. Fred Skelton was one of the killed or missing, as his body was never found or identified.