The life and family of Thomas Jeffery Skinner : 1887 to 1916
If you stand at the War Memorial at Woodacott Cross, you will quickly see that it commemorates the loss of only one of Thornbury’s sons in the Great War –
8003 Sergeant Thomas Jeffery Skinner
This is the story of Thomas and his family.
Note: Thomas’s death is incorrectly stated as being on September 14th but he died on the 4th September.
The Skinner Family
Thomas’s grandfather, Samuel Skinner was born in 1806 in Milton Damerel and married Mary Gerry on 9th April 1835, also in Milton Damerel. The couple seem to have had 7 children including, in 1847, twin boys Leonard and Richard. In 1841 Samuel is a farmer employing a female servant and a boy as an agricultural labourer. However by 1851 he is living as an Agricultural Labourer at Gidcott Mill. By 1861 the family had moved to Thorne and three of the sons were living elsewhere as farmer’s servants, with one, John, working for Jane Skinner a widow and farmer of 100 acres in Wonford. Samuel died in 1869 and was buried in Thornbury Churchyard on 28th December 1869. In 1871 his widow Mary is living on 11 acres at Woodacott with her family, including Leonard who is a mason, and Richard. Richard seems to have died soon after this aged just 24 and was buried on November 2nd 1871 in Thornbury Churchyard. Mary died in 1878 aged 77 and was buried in Thornbury Churchyard on 8th February 1878.
Leonard Skinner was born on 13 February 1847 at 5.20, the elder of twin boys. He trained as a stonemason and on 18 July 1876 he married Elizabeth Jeffery, daughter of Thomas Jeffery, at Thornbury Church. In 1881 Elizabeth and Leonard are living at Windy Cross and between 1877 and 1892 they have 8 children, one of whom, Frederick Thomas, died in infancy, probably in March 1883 aged 2 months. By 1891 the family had moved to South Wonford with Leonard recorded as a farmer and stonemason.
In 1897 tragedy struck the family. Leonard contracted diphtheria and 5 days later on 21st March died, aged 48, after an illness of 7 days. His wife Elizabeth died on March 30th aged 44 and a week later on 6th April daughter Emily or Emma died aged 12 and on 17th May, Eliza died aged 8. Annie Jeffery, who may have been Elizabeth’s younger sister, came back from service in Exeter to look after the family. Leonard’s assets were valued at £97 and probate was granted to his brother James, Farmer and shoemaker.
Most of the surviving siblings moved on but Mary, born 1892 remained in South Wonford with her aunt Annie Jeffery. By 1901 the eldest son, Samuel was living in Devonport with his wife Conda and baby Clara. His siblings Clara and Charlie were living with them and Samuel and Charlie were both stonemasons. Thomas had stayed behind and, aged 14, was working as a cattle man for John Slee at Down.
Thomas’ Military Service
Thomas later joined the army and was serving as a private in the 2nd Battalion Devonshire Regiment in Malta in 1911. At the outbreak of the First World War he was posted with the 1st Battalion to France where he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. An unconfirmed family story states that he came home on leave in 1916 and had a bad cold and was urged to request to postpone his return until he was well but he refused saying ‘I must go back and join my pals’. Two weeks after returning he was killed in action on 4th September 1916. The War Diary for his Regiment showed heavy military engagement during the 3rd to the 6th of September. No daily casualties are recorded but finally on the 6th there is the following entry:
His medals were the 1914 Star, the British Medal and the Victory Medal (posthumously). Following his death his surviving siblings each received £9 2s 7d and in 1919 his brother received the War Gratuity of £14 10s.
Memorials to Thomas
His grave in Flatiron Copse Cemetery, Mametz, France, and his commemoration on his family grave in Thornbury
The complete entries for the War Diary of his Battalion for 4th to 6th September when Thomas died
By the 14th September 1916, the Battalion was at Ambrines and no longer on the front line, having been relieved by the 13th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment on 7th September 1916.
We will remember them……….
Laying the wreath at the War Memorial, Remembrance Sunday, 2015