Wednesday, February 04, 2009

From Russia with Love: The Saga of Austin W. Skinner

by David Parmer

In terms of world travel, James Bond had nothing on Austin Skinner, one of Orlando ’s “Doughboys” of World War I. Austin served his term in Russia, or more precisely, Siberia, during the Great War and after. His arsenal of weapons did not include trick fountain pens which exploded or Aston-Martin DB5 sports cars, but rather an old Springfield M1903 rifle, a bayonet, and a pack horse.

Left: Austin in Siberia.
Right: example of a Springfield M1903 Riffle.

Austin Walter Skinner

Austin Walter Skinner was the son of William Otto Skinner and Clara Oneta (Skinner) Skinner. Austin ’s father, William Otto, was the son of pioneer children Granville and Martha (Walton) Skinner. He was known throughout the Orlando area as “Otto”or “Ott.” He was a section foreman for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and a farmer. Austin ’s mother, Clara, was the daughter of Jackson and Patience (Duvall) Skinner.

Bill Skinner of Clarksburg, the son of Austin Skinner, tells us that according to his aunt Pearl Skinner, Otto came courting his grandmother Clara on a railroad handcar. Apparently, the approach worked and shortly thereafter Otto and Clara were married. Otto and Clara’s oldest child Austin was born on Clover Fork in 1896.
Left: Example of a hand car. Austin's dad came a'courting his mom on a hand car.
Right: Clara Skinner and William Skinner, Austin's parents.

Austin attended school for eight years on Clover Fork at the Locust Grove School, also known as the lower Clover Fork School. This school was about a mile from the Skinner home. Austin ’s son, Bill, also tells us that Austin ’s sister, Madge, who was stricken with polio as a child and lost both legs, attended the same school and was taken there by her brothers sitting in a wheel barrow. After his eight years of education at Locust Grove School came to an end, Austin devoted himself to working on the farm of his parents.

At twenty years of age, in 1916, Austin gave up the plow and the hoe for a campaign hat and the horse cavalry. Enlisting in the United States Army in 1916, Austin was sent to Fort Carson, Colorado to learn his military skills. After completing his military basic training, Austin was sent to the Philippine Islands which was the most distant outpost of the United States military. At that time the United States had not entered the European conflict and was still at peace. Austin was serving in the Philippines when the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917.

Above, right: Austin Skinner in his Army uniform
Left: Austin Skinner in the Phillipines

The Wolfhounds
A member of the 27th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Wolfhounds,” Pfc. Austin Skinner was stationed in the Philippine Islands in August 1918 as war was raging in Europe. When the Provisional government of Russia sued for peace with Germany and entered into a peace treaty in 1918, the American government became concerned about the security of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the vast storehouse of military supplies which had been previously shipped to Siberia. Not wanting the railroad or the supplies to fall into the hands of the Bolsheviks or the Germans, the 27th Infantry Regiment was ordered to depart Manila for Siberia aboard the U.S.S. Crook in August 1918.

It’s a long way from Orlando to the Philippines and then to Siberia, but Austin weathered the trip well, despite the torrid heat of the Philippines and the frigid cold of Siberia. Austin liked to reminisce that in the Philippines he could fry an egg on a rock and in Vladivostok the temperature was thirty five below zero.

Right: example of the WWI Victory medal, which Austin Skinner would have received.

Another American unit, the 31st Infantry Regiment known as the “Polar Bears,” was also involved in the Siberian operation. Years later, in the desolate and frigid mountains of North Korea, Austin’s son, Bill, would be a member of the “Polar Bear” Regiment which would also have to come to grips with north Asian winters.

Postcards of Siberia from Austin Skinner

In Siberia, the “Wolfhound” Regiment gained an outstanding reputation among the Allied forces, the Japanese, British, Czech and Chinese, for its prowess in marching long distances in pursuit of the Bolshevik forces and had sterling success in guarding the Trans-Siberian Railway against Bolshevik depredations.

For his exemplary service, Austin was promoted to the rank of Corporal during his Siberian deployment. After sixteen months of duty on the frozen tundra of Siberia, Austin and the “Wolfhound” Regiment were re-deployed to the Philippines.

Right: Austin Skinner's commission as a Corporal. Click on it to enlarge the image.

Life as a Civilian

After his military service was completed in 1920, Austin returned to Orlando for a little rest and recuperation, but soon found R & R boring and not very well paying and shortly secured employment at a Weston glass plant.

Austin also secured for himself a wife when in March 1921 he married Mrs. Estie (Reed) Posey. Estie was the widow of Wayne Posey, a conductor on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, who died in Weston in 1920 of typhoid fever. Wayne was the son of George J. and Minerva (Hopkins) Posey of Posey Run. Unfortunately this marriage didn’t last nor did Austin stay long in Weston.

Left: Austin with his first wife, Estie, widow of Wayne Posey.

Finding better employment in Clarksburg with the Hazel-Atlas Glass Corporation, he moved to that city. He also found another wife in Clarksburg and married the former Carrie Barnes.

Austin and Carrie became the parents of thirteen children. Austin worked the remainder of his life with Hazel-Atlas and became supervisor of the packing and shipping department.

In the latter months of 1946, Austin contracted rheumatic fever. The severity of the disease affected his heart and in February 1947, without recovering, he died of rheumatic carditis at the young age of fifty.

Left: Austin Skinner's obituary.

Below: Austin Skinner's grave marker.


  1. What was he doing in Russia? Was he part of the little known allied resistance to the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War? I'd love to hear more of his experience.

  2. Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for pointing out that Austin's unit fought in the Russian Civil War. That slipped right by me! Let's hope that Bill Skinner has some old letters that will give David Parmer more info on Austin's exotic service. -Donna

  3. he was my father,shirley skinner