The End Of A Long Search

In 2006 the Irish Naval Association travelled to the Towns of Ginchy and Guillemont in France in response to the Mayors invitation for our Association to participate in the ceremonies marking the 90th anniversary of the capture of these two Towns by the 16th Irish Division on the 9th September 1916.

Something a little different happened during the trip that adds to the occasion of our visit to the Battle Sites in both Belgium and France. We had a retired RAF gentleman Roy Skinner (83 years) travelling with us, who now lives in Waterford (Ireland). Roy joined the Naval Association as an Associate member. He travelled with us on this trip despite not in prime health. on the Tuesday night 13th September while having a quiet beer in the bar, one of our Petty Officer's asked me to look at an envelope containing papers which Roy Skinner had with him. The background to these papers hold a wonderful story. 35 years earlier Roy and his wife Stella were touring in a Camper Van and stopped somewhere in Skye at a campsite that was not one of the best. While he and his wife were walking through the countryside he came to a burnt out ruin of an old cottage. Roy rambled through the ruined rooms of the old cottage and noticed a biscuit tin that caught his attention scattered amongst glass and general rubbish on the floor. In the biscuit tin were papers and photographs. One photo was of a young man in Scottish Army Uniform with his Mother standing beside him, obviously very proud of her young son. Another document notified the Mother the sad news that her son had been killed in Belgium on the 12th February 1916. Another document was a letter from young Macaskill's commanding officer telling his mother the personal items and pay book were being returned to her. Roy was very moved with these documents and knew these documents would mean something to the soldiers family if he could find any. He has searched in vain for 35 years. However, recently he wrote to the Commonwealth War Graves to ask if they could help in his search. He was delighted when they answered his letter telling him that the boy was 21 years old Private A Macaskill 5477, 9th Div. Coy Army Cyclist Corp who died on the 12th February 1916.
He was son of Mr. W. and Mrs. A Macaskill, Ardelve, Kyle, Ross-Shire. He was buried in the Gunners Farm Military Cemetery, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium. Row K grave 6.

Realising how important it would be to Roy if we could find the cemetery and found the grave. This long search would finally bring him to the resting place of the young soldier on his mind for 35 years. With the help of our Belgium driver we changed all our plans and headed to the area where the cemetery was listed.It was a wonderful occasion when we located this small well-kept cemetery. While our party remained on the coach I went alone in search of the grave which I easily located. While our party remained on the coach I accompanied Roy to the grave and asked Roy if he would he like a few private moments on his own. Roy knealt at the grave, then placed the photograph he had of the soldier with his mother on the grave. I heard Roy in a tearful voice say " I bring your Mother to you as I promised all those years ago".

It was now the turn of the Irish Naval Association to do our part in honouring this young man. The Naval Association in uniform lined up behind the grave and the President of the Irish Naval Association Lt.Cdr.Robert Mulrooney, escorted by Senior Petty Officer Hugh O'Neill and Petty Officer John O'Neill marched to the grave where the President laid a wreath at the soldier's grave with not a dry eye in sight. We said some prayers wondering if this was the first time prayers were said over this young lads grave since he was buried 90 years earlier. We finished our honours to this young man by singing 2 Scottish songs..

I was hoping that this story and the long search by Roy Skinner would prompt as many to help trace any family of Private A. Macaskill so that Roy can hand over these documents and photographs. However, Private Macaskill will always be remembered in our prayers

On our return to Ireland I sent details of the above story to several Irish and Scottish Newspaper. Lynne Kennedy of one Scottish Newspaper picked up the story. and Lynne was very touched by its content and story. Lynne Kennedy contacted me from West Highland Free Press Newspaper in Skye. Following a long telephone conversation with Lynne she made contact with Roy Skinner. Lynne set off across Scotland to try and trace any relative of Pvt. MaCaskill. After many searches Lynne was successful in tracing some relative through marriage and is in regular contact keeping us updated on her continued search results. For her part in the search and for the feature story Lynne Kennedy won the Best Feature Writer 2007 for her article on Roy Skinner and Private Macaskill

We in the Irish Naval Association were delighted that Lynne has been as touched as we are at this sad story and congratulate her on her award as the Feature Writer of the Year Award.