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Lt Col the Reverend Leslie Skinner RAChD

The Rev Leslie Skinner, who has died aged 89, was the first British chaplain to land on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. At 07.25 hours on June 6 1944, he splashed on to Gold Beach with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, a territorial armoured regiment, under fire in the first wave of the assault. He was injured as his landing craft hit a mine, severely wounding the men on either side of him. But he quickly started gathering up the wounded and arranging for their evacuation.


As padre, Skinner was supposed to be travelling with the medical officer but he had obtained - unofficially - a lightweight motorcycle to pursue his self-appointed mission of ensuring, at whatever risk to himself, that no family should suffer the uncertainty of having a relative reported missing, if he could possibly be traced and, if dead, given a Christian burial.


Of all the Sherwood Rangers recorded as missing in action in Normandy, all but one were lost while Skinner was away from the regiment, wounded. As for that one, his commanding officer had to forbid him from venturing onto the battlefield in search of him.


From the first, Skinner refused to allow tank crews any part in the work of recovering the dead from knocked-out tanks, a task which he was, all too often, left to undertake alone. He wrote to the families of each one killed, an action that resulted in a correspondence which continued for many years after the war. His compassion was boundless, practical and unsentimental.


Born in York, the son of a hairdresser, Skinner was educated at Elmfield school, before joining his father's business. He became a local preacher, and later a Methodist minister. His first church appointment, in north India in 1937, was cut short by the onset of deafness, which was to afflict him for the rest of his life.


At the outbreak of war, he joined the Royal Army Chaplains' Department, serving in Persia, Iraq and Egypt before, in late 1942, his deafness was recognised and he was sent home as unfit for overseas service. Passed as fit again in March 1944, he was posted as senior chaplain to the 8th (Independent) Armoured Brigade and attached to the Sherwood Rangers.


His first spell of service in Normandy lasted 20 days, till he was wounded in the head by a mortar shell; his only concern was to recover sufficiently to return to the regiment. This he achieved after only 29 days, recoursing to deceptions best not inquired into.


He remained with the Sherwood Rangers throughout the campaign in northwest Europe, commanding everyone's respect and affection: by popular demand, he wore, on his chaplain's uniform, the regimental shoulder flashes. I remember him as a tower of strength, and a living testimony to the Christian faith.


Skinner was mentioned in dispatches and received the French Croix de Guerre 1940 with palm, and the Belgian Chevalier of the Order of Leopold II with palm. His privately published campaign diary, The Man Who Worked On Sundays, is one of the most vivid and illuminating of all war memoirs.


Back in civilian life, his ministry took him to Higher Broughton, Whitefield, Altrincham, Stockwell, Chessington and Corby. His final appointment was as superintendent minister on the Walton and Weybridge circuit until 1977, though he carried on as a supernumary in Epsom for a further 20 years. His sermons were always challenging and thought-provoking, and his excellent bass voice could lead unaccompanied singing.


Skinner remained a member of the Territorial Army, ending his career as deputy assistant chaplain general TA for the London district with the rank of lieutenant colonel, the highest rank a TA chaplain could hold in peacetime. A great lover of sport, he swam for York, played football, rugby (both union and league) and cricket. In retirement, one of his great pleasures was attending matches at Lord's.


In 1941, he married his fiancée of five years, Etta Atkinson. They had two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren, all of whom survive him.


The Rev Leslie Skinner, clergyman, born November 26 1911; died October 9 2001


(J D Semken)




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