E. T. Skudder
Service no. 651614
Rifleman, London Regiment (First Surrey Rifles), 21st Battalion
Enlisted at Camberwell; lived in Clapham
Wounded accidentally on 18 February 1918, aged 20.
Remembered at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt, France
National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918
SKUDDER, E. T., Rifleman, 21st London Regiment (1st Surrey Rifles).
He volunteered in June 1915, and on completing his training was sent in the following year to the Western Front, where he played an important part in several battles, including those of Hill 60, Ypres, II, Loos and Vimy Ridge. He was unhappily killed in action at Cambrai, during the Allied Advance in October 1918*, and was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals.
“Honour to the immortal dead, who gave their youth that the world might grow old in peace.”
10, Clarence Street, Clapham, S.W.4.
* CWGC and Soldiers Died in the Great War give 18 February as Skudder’s date of death.
British Army WWI Service Records 1914-1920
On 18 February 1918, at Cambrai, France, Ernest Thomas Skudder, a 20-year-old Rifleman in the 21st London Regiment, was with his platoon at the front. They were taking part in an exercise to test a new type of grenade, the No. 84, Mark II. Unfortunately Skudder remained standing after the order was given to get down, and he died of multiple and severe wounds, to the neck, left shoulder, arm. “Hand spattered,” noted [an officer] in the file.
As was usual in such cases, the Army held a Court of Enquiry in the Field. The notes from this have been lost so we do not know the conclusions it came to. However, superior officers felt that questions remained. “Was a qualified officer in charge of the ‘throwing,’ in accordance with instructions contained in Para I, Chapter IX, SS 182 – Part II, please?” they asked. What happened, exactly, to Rifleman A. Silverton, who was apparently caught up in the explosion, where did he get his much less severe injuries? Captain F. C. Barker and his collegues Second Lieutenants G. N. C. Woodruff and A. W. Humphreys wanted answers.
When soldiers received injuries that were not severe enough to permanently damage them but sufficient to send them home to “Blighty” to recover, the Army was immediately suspicious. Were these injuries SIWs (self-inflicted wounds)? The officers were evidently suspicious about Silverton. In addition, if there was someone to blame for the loss of Skudder, they wanted to know about it.
At the beginning of the second enquiry they were interested in Silverton. What was the extent of his wounds? He was wounded in the back of the leg and on the thigh, according to the testimony of Serjeant W. Ellis. Silverton was sent to the Aid Post, which is where Corporal Myers, another witness, found him. Myers had gone there to enquiry about Skudder, who had taken the full force of the bomb.
The party had been testing the throwing of grenades, with an instructor and assistant instructor. The thrower stood up with the instructor, and aimed over the top of the trench at the rifle butts, which were about 100 yards away. However, 15 yards to the right of this group stood Skudder with the rest of his party behind him. He was not in the line of fire, but, according to one witness, Rifleman W. Richardson, he was the only one not to obey the order to get down. Lance Corporal Gray, whom the officers suspected had failed in his duties, claimed he did not notice anyone not lying down, the reason being that he had got into the trench and was facing in the opposite direction to Skudder and his party.
It is unclear from what is left in the file exactly what happened next. The bomb exploded and killed Skudder. From the diagram it looks as if the bomb landed in the trench near Skudder. However, the conclusion of the Enquiry includes one tantalising line: “If Skudder had obeyed the order given by Sgt. W. Ellis he would not have been wounded. He went forward with the intention of throwing the bomb clear of the trench.” Did the bomb land in the trench and did Skudder attempt to pick it up and throw it out of harm’s way?
In the event, the enquiry found no wilful negligence. They blamed Gray but decided to take no action as there was no intention to harm Skudder. As for Silverton, there was not enough evidence to decide how he was injured.
Skudder death, after serving 2 years and 259 days, bereaved his parents, Emma Elizabeth and Alfred Thomas, and sister Edith Emma. Just a few months later, in July, his mother died of flu and pleuropneumonia. She was 58. The Army sent on Skudder’s effects: an identity disc, letters, a small pocket notebook, a cigarette case, a Christmas card, a “wounded stripe” (he had received a gunshot wound to his thigh in June 1917), a canvas wallet and a linen bag.
In life, Skudder stood 5 feet 6¼ inches tall. He measured 36½ inches around the chest. His physical development was deemed “good.” Skudder’s war was, at least on paper and disregarding the accident that ended it, not especially eventful. We know from the National Roll that he took part in several of the war’s most bitter battles, including Hill 60, the Second Battle of Ypres, Loos and Vimy Ridge. During this time he had only one black mark against his name, and that was before he was posted to France – for being absent from Retreat until Tattoo on 21 November 1915, for which he was punished with three hours’ pack drill and the loss of two days’ pay. He was in England for five months in 1916, during which he was hospitalised for 28 days with “debility following influenza.”
We cannot know what, if anything, the Army told Skudder’s parents about his accidental death.
Information from the 1911 census
In 1911 Ernest Thomas Skudder, then 13, was living at 26 Clarence Street, Studley Road, Stockwell with his parents and sister. His father, Alfred Thomas Skudder, 53, was a brewer’s drayman from Greenwich; his mother, Elizabeth Emma Skudder, 50, was born in Clapham. Edith Emma Skudder, his sister, aged 11, was born in Lambeth like her brother. The family had 5 rooms.