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Thomas Clement Skurray

10181 Sergeant Thomas Clement Skurray, 6th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

 

Thomas was born in late 1879 in Shrivenham, then in Berkshire but now in Oxfordshire, the son of John and Maria (Ethel Maria Greenwood) Skurray.  On his 1871 census return John gave his occupation as ‘London Cow Keeper’; however, Thomas was not destined to learn his father’s trade for John died within weeks of Thomas’s birth. The family left Shrivenham and, in 1900, arrived in Newbury and settled at 2 Hensworth Villas in Stanley Road. By the time of the 1911 census Thomas was 31 years old, but still single; he was working as a ‘Gas and Water Fitter’. His employers were Edwards and Godding whose shops either side of the Market Place were Newbury landmarks; the company is still operating in Reading but no longer has premises in Newbury.

 

Edwards & Godding

Edwards & Godding's shop on the west side of the Market Place.

Thomas had some limited pre-war military experience with the Newbury Volunteer Company, but he had served his full time well before war was declared and was not liable for immediate mobilisation. However he soon came forward and signed up with the National Reserve volunteering for active service overseas. He sent to the newly formed 6th Battalion of the Regiment, as a totally new battalion there was urgent need for men with some experience to serve as NCOs. Thomas evidently met this need and rapidly rose to the rank of Sergeant.


The 6th Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment was formed in Reading in September 1914 and was part of ‘Kitchener’s Army’: the thousands of man who  responded to Secretary of War, Kitchener’s, plea for volunteers in 1914. Attached to the 35th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division the battalion underwent training in Essex and on Salisbury Plain before arriving in France on the 26th July 1915.

 

While in Essex Thomas was admitted to a VAD hospital in Chailey. It is not known what illness or injury necessitated a spell in hospital, but his presence there is recorded in an autograph book kept by one of the nurses, Rose Smythe - which includes the entry L/Cpl Thomas Clement SKURRAY, 6th Royal Berkshire Regt.

 

The Battalion spent a few weeks training behind the lines with short periods manning trenches with experienced units of the 154th Brigade. On 22 August they took their first spell of duty manning a trench opposite Mametz on their own. Five days later on 27 August 1915 B Company were manning a trench near Bray when a sausage [German mortar shell] exploded at 8.30pm close to their Company HQ; the 6th Battalion’s war diary summarises the result: ‘Some damage was done & the following NCOs killed & wounded - KILLED Sgt Skurry - L/Cpl Bettis. Ptes Westall - Smith & Gillam. WOUNDED - Ptes Slater - Gorton - and Neil.’

 

More detail comes from the entry for the following day, 28 August:

 

Consultation with gunners as to best way of dealing with the sausage and preventing enemy making use of the crater. Decided to fire ranging shots on crater and to open fire in direction from which next sausage arrives. Artillery did excellent practice into crater. Enemy snipers very much less active - and there was little or no response to our Artillery. Sgt Skurry Ptes Westall & Smith were so blown to pieces that they will have to be buried in one grave. Three rifles brought back from scene of explosion smashed and twisted. Improvement of trenches continues under great difficulties. The 5 men killed last night were buried tonight at 8. Pte Andrews accidentally wounded on 26th died today at No 5 Casualty Clearing Stn. D Coy relieved B on left sector. Pte Richardson "D" Coy wounded. The night passed without incident.

 

After only a month in France Thomas had been killed, not in some grand advance or valiant defence but by mortar-fire as he went about his duties.


Thomas Skurray's name on Newbury War Memorial

Thomas Skurray's name on Newbury War Memorial (centre left)

The local newspaper reported his passing:

 

Newbury Weekly News 9 Sep 1915 – Local War Notes
Another distressing casualty is that of Sergeant Thomas Clement Skurray, of the 6th Royal Berks, killed in France on August 27th. He had served full time in the Newbury Volunteer Company, and had retired some time, being engaged as a gas fitter in the employ of Messrs Edwards and Godding for many years.He was one of the first to join the National Reserves and to volunteer for active service. He was drafted into the 6th Berkshire battalion and trained at Shorncliffe, Colchester, and Codford St Mary, leaving England for France in July. He married in February, Miss Mary Bray of Hungerford, and now of Devizes. A comrade forwarded a letter found on him, ready for posting to his sister, Miss May Skurray, assistant secretary of the Ladies Conservative Club.  He thanked her for sending a nice parcel, containing the things a soldier most wants. He described his experiences in the trenches and told of narrow escapes from a German sniper. He was going to rest because of a blistered foot, and his only anxiety appeared to be that his mother and sister should no worry about him. He was the mainstay of the home, and always a good lad to his mother, an old lady of 75, now lying in a dangerous condition, too serious to be told of her son’s death. Expressions of sympathy have been numerous, including an official letter from Earl Kitchener, conveying His Majesty’s condolences.


And the following week:


Newbury Weekly News 16 Sep 1915 - Tribute to the Fallen
At St. Bartholomew's Church, East Fields, on Sunday evening, a sympathetic tribute was paid to the memory of local men who have fallen in the war, including Sergt Thomas Clement Skurray, who as a boy was for several years in the choir.  Suitable hymns were sung, and the "Dead March" played.

 

St Bartholomew’s Church in East Fields may not be familiar to many; a small prefabricated corrugated iron hut/chapel at the northern end of the Boundary Road railway bridge, it was a mission chapel for the parish of St John the Evangelist.

Thomas Skurray’s body lies in Citadel New Military Cemetery, Fricourt, France in grave II C 8.

 


Thomas Skurray's grave (right)
The three stones (from left): Smith,

Westall & Thomas Skurray.

The close proximity of two more stones (Privates J Smith & F Westall) is typical of a shared grave, they lie as they died - together. The Battalion war diary entry for 29 August refers to their burial: Sgt Skurry Ptes Westall & Smith were so blown to pieces that they will have to be buried in one grave. Three rifles brought back from scene of explosion smashed and twisted. 

 

Private James Smith was also from Newbury (Falcon Court), his death was reported in the same newspaper as Thomas Skurray’s.

 

Locally Thomas is remembered on Panel 12 of the Newbury Town War Memorial and on his mother's gravestone in Newtown Road Cemetery.

 

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 Died this day:
17 October 1917
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