Friday, January 11, 2013

Introduction to Letters of Harold Skilling

Harold Roy Skilling was born 31 July 1893 in Teeswater, the next older brother to my mother-in-law, Agnes Norma Skilling Jackson. He was 21 when World War One broke out and eagerly enlisted in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces on 21 November 1914. We don't know why he chose to join the 5th Canadian Field Ambulance Corps as a Stretcher Bearer, except that recruitment orders had just come down on November 11th to recruit a Field Ambulance Corps for overseas service with the Second Canadian Contingent.

At Exhibition Camp in Toronto, Harold was first examined by doctors,  measured and attested. He was one of the shortest men in the Fifth at 5 feet 3 3/4 inches. After 5 months of training in infantry drill, stretcher drill and first-aid treatments, other necessary skills and physical conditioning, the first units boarded the train on April 15, 1915 for Halifax. Harold left Toronto in April 1915 and sailed on the S.S. Northland (formerly the Zeeland) of the White Star Line.

Harold arrived in England at the Port of Avonmouth on 29 April 1915. Trains transported the men to Westenhanger in Kent. They set out on foot, marching two miles to Sandling Camp where huts awaited them. On the 24th of May the men moved from Sandling to Otterpool Camp where they lived in tents.

Harold's letters begin on 25 June 1915 at Otterpool Camp. These letters are in poor condition, written in pencil on onionskin paper or other scraps of paper. Many were written under difficult conditions by candle light. Some will be possible to scan but many will have to be transcribed.


  1. Such a handsome new recruit. It must have been difficult for his sister to see her brothers go off to war. To think of retraining for the Royal Flying Corp after being injured at the Somme ...

  2. My mother-in-law and all her sisters and younger brother were distressed about the 2 brothers going off to war but at the same time proud theirfamily were doing their bit and weren't shirkers. That was the tenor of the times. Most families had 1 or 2 overseas. Her fiance Ray Jackson was also there.

    Thanks for commenting Mary!