Skillen, James

Skillen, James

Third Engineer Officer

SS Glen Head (Belfast), Merchant Navy

Died as the result of enemy action on Friday 6 June 1941 (aged 49)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 52)

Family grave headstone in Bangor Abbey Graveyard


James Skillen was born on 1 March 1892 in Ballymaconnell, Bangor and he was a son of James and Margaret Jane Skillen (nee Skillen).  James Skillen (a son of William and Sarah Skillen) and Margaret Skillen (a daughter of William and Hannah Skillen) were married on 26 March 1880 at 21 Abbotsford Place, Glasgow (according to the forms of the Church of Scotland) in the district of Gorbals, Lanarkshire.  James Skillen Senior was a carpenter; Margaret Jane Skillen was a schoolteacher and, when the Skillen family moved to Bangor, she taught in the National School at Ballymaconnell.

James and Margaret Jane Skillen (nee Skillen) had three children:

Hugh Andrew (born 2 August 1881 in Ballymagee Street, Bangor)

Hannah (born 24 April 1884 in Ballymaconnell, Bangor; married John Aiken on 7 June 1917 in Groomsport Presbyterian Church)

James (born 1 March 1892 in Ballymaconnell, Bangor)

James Skillen Senior (aged 50) was found drowned at Groomsport on 28 November 1902.  He had been missing for about a month and there was no evidence as to how he had come to be in the water.

During the First World War James Skillen Junior served with the Merchant Navy and his elder brother, Hugh Andrew Skillen (a schoolteacher), also served.

James Skillen and Ann (Nannie) Alberta Bailie were married on 7 April 1917 in Helen’s Bay Presbyterian Church.  James Skillen, an engineer from Ballymaconnell, was a son of James Skillen, a builder.  Nannie Bailie (aged 19) from Cottown was a daughter of William James Bailie, a farmer.

James Skillen and Ann (Nannie) Alberta Skillen (nee Bailie) had three sons, all of whom were baptised in Trinity Presbyterian Church, Bangor:

Hugh Andrew (born 2 January 1918 in Ballymaconnell; baptised 10 February 1918)

William James Bailie (baptised 18 March 1921)

James Albert (baptised 9 April 1925)

During the Second World War James Skillen’s son Hugh served in the Merchant Navy as an engineer and his son William was a wireless operator.  James Skillen’s father-in-law, W.J. Bailie was a JP, a member of Bangor Borough Council, a member of Newtownards Rural Council and a member of the Board of Guardians and Hospital Governors.

During the Second World War James Skillen served in the Merchant Navy and he died on 6 June 1941 when the SS Glen Head was bombed 100 miles southwest of Cape St. Vincent, Portugal.  Built in Glasgow in 1909, the SS Glen Head was owned by the Head Line Shipping Company.  After being bombed the ship sank within three minutes and 27 of the 36 crew members were lost.  Boatswain John Hawthorne and Chief Steward William McKinley Rae also died that day.

Initially James Skillen was reported as missing and, after it was officially confirmed that he must be presumed to have died, his immediate and extended family placed Lost at Sea notices in the 19 July 1941 edition of the County Down Spectator.  The notices were from his wife and sons; his parents-in-law W.J. and E. Bailie of 2 Ward Avenue, Bangor; his brother Dr H.A. Skillen of Duncairn Gardens, Belfast; his sister Hannah and brother-in-law John Aiken of 28 Brixton Road, London; the Ferguson family of 24 College Avenue, Bangor; the Agnew family of 165 Belfast Road, Bangor and his cousin Dr G. Millar of 434 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast.

Third Engineer Officer James Skillen is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London and on the family grave headstone in Bangor Abbey Graveyard.

His father James died on 8 November 1902 (aged 50); his mother Margaret Jane died on 25 August 1937 (aged 80) and his sister Hannah died on 19 December 1941 (aged 58) – six months after James was killed.