Skillen OBE, Hugh E.

Skillen Hugh E.

Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) OBE

Greaser and Cleaner

Motor Vessel (M/V) King Edwin, Merchant Navy

Died of disease at sea on Tuesday 2 December 1941 (aged 57)

Buried:

At sea

Commemorated:

Family grave headstone in Bangor Abbey Graveyard

Biography

Hugh E. Skillen died at sea from ‘presumed heart disease’ on 2 December 1941 (aged 57) and was buried at sea.  He was a Merchant Seaman serving as a Greaser and Cleaner aboard the M/V King Edwin.

Although Hugh Skillen does not meet the criteria for CWGC commemoration, he is included on this website because of the wording used on the family grave headstone in Bangor Abbey graveyard:

DIED ON ACTIVE SERVICE 2nd DEC. 1941

He is one of many who are commemorated as ‘war dead’ on local memorials and headstones, and not by the CWGC.

ERECTED

BY

HUGH SKILLEN

BELFAST

IN MEMORY OF HIS FATHER

HUGH SKILLEN

DIED 17th DEC. 1902

ALSO, HIS MOTHER

ELIZABETH

DIED 24th OCT. 1895

AND HIS BROTHER

WILLIAM

DIED 6th MAY 1898

ALSO, HIS SISTER

MARIA

DIED 5th DEC. 1933

ALSO, THE ABOVE HUGH SKILLEN O.B.E.

DIED ON ACTIVE SERVICE 2nd DEC. 1941

Hugh Skillen was born on 2 July 1884 at 25 Fox Street, Belfast and he was a son of Hugh Skillen, an engine driver, and Margaret Elizabeth Skillen (nee McMurtry) who were married on 3 November 1872 in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Church, Belfast.  Hugh Skillen (aged 21), a labourer from Ballymacarrett, was a son of James Skillen, a farmer and labourer from Whitespots, Newtownards.  Margaret Elizabeth McMurtry (aged 18) from Loftus Street, Belfast was a daughter of Hugh McMurtry.

Hugh and Margaret Elizabeth Skillen (nee McMurtry) had at least eight children:

Maria Jane (born 14 February 1874 at 27 Belvoir Street, Belfast; died 5 December 1933 aged 59)

James (born 13 November 1875; died of debility 14 November 1875 aged 13 hours)

Margaret Elizabeth (born 21 November 1876 in Belvoir Street, Belfast; married William Hadden, a widowed machine man, on 23 March 1901 in Knock Methodist Church)

Agnes (born 7 February 1881 at 7 Gertrude Street, Belfast; died of pertussis 17 August 1882 at 37 Cable Street, Belfast aged 17 months)

Hugh Skillen (born 2 July 1884 at 25 Fox Street, Belfast; died at sea 2 December 1941 aged 57)

William John (born 16 April 1886 at 23 Fox Street, Belfast; died 6 May 1898 aged 12)

James (born 6 February 1888 at 23 Fox Street, Belfast)

Agnes (born 2 December 1889 at 23 Fox Street, Belfast)

Their mother, Margaret Elizabeth Skillen (nee McMurtry), died of bronchitis at 18 Thorndyke Street, Belfast on 24 October 1895 (aged 40).  Her husband was with her when she died.

Hugh Skillen and Martha Cairns were married on 14 February 1897 in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church, Ballymacarrett, Belfast.  Martha Cairns, a spinster from 34 Cable Street, Belfast was a daughter of Joseph Cairns, a joiner.

Martha already had a daughter, Maud Bell, whose father, Hans Bell, was a ship’s carpenter.  Maud Bell was born on 26 February 1894 at 7 Portland Place, Belfast.

Hugh and Martha Skillen (nee Cairns) had at least two children:

Irene (born 2 May 1897 at 18 Thorndyke Street, Belfast)

Ethel (born 13 December 1898 at 18 Thorndyke Street, Belfast)

Their father, Hugh Skillen, died of cancer at 112 Newcastle Street, Belfast on 17 December 1902 (aged 47).  His son-in-law, William Hadden, was with him when he died.

Their mother, Martha Skillen (nee Cairns), died of cancer at 44 Mersey Street, Belfast on 10 September 1919.  Her daughter, Maud Bell, was with her when she died, and she was buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

Greaser and Cleaner Hugh E. Skillen worked as a rigger in the shipyard before he joined the Royal Navy on 2 July 1902.  He served during the First World War and after demobilisation became a Merchant Seaman.  In June 1941 he was awarded the OBE for meritorious service at sea.  He lived in Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast with his married sister, Margaret Elizabeth Hadden, who died on 30 March 1950 and was buried in Dundonald Cemetery.

There is evidence that at times the M/V King Edwin carried munitions so in that sense crew members were ‘on active service’.

Built by Harland & Wolff Ltd. in Belfast, the M/V King Edwin was struck by a bomb during an aerial bombardment, when she was being unloaded on 26 April 1943 in the Grand Harbour, Valetta, Malta.  She was carrying aviation fuel and coal in her forward holds and ammunition in the aft holds.  There was an extensive fire onboard, so the holds were flooded to prevent further explosions, and the M/V King Edwin was later scuttled.