Anthony Skarrizi

Anthony “Tony” Skarrizi enlisted for the First World War in 1915 at the young age of fourteen. Skarrizi was born in November of 1900 in Italy to parents Augustine and Eusebius D’Angelo Schiarizzi. He fought diligently throughout the war but ultimately died at the Battle of Passchendaele on November third, 1917 at the age of sixteen. He is remembered as the youngest individual from the Peterborough area to die fighting for the Allies during the First World War. Although he enlisted under the name Skarrizi, all of the documents regarding his family have his surname listed as Schiarizzi. The Skarrizi family originated in Rocca San Giovanni Chieti, Italy and immigrated to Canada in the early 1900s through Ellis Island. One of Skarrizi’s brothers and his father came to Canada in 1904, and the rest of the family followed in 1907. The family immigrated to Canada to seek work as laborers. Skarrizi was brought into a large family of seven, Tony being the second youngest of five children. The family lived at 656 Reid Street in Peterborough in an apartment above the fruit shop that the family owned. In memoirs written by Skarrizi’s niece, Mary Christina Stinziano Barreca, she remembers her grandparents, Tony’s parents, traveling to the market on weekends to sell fruit from their store. The 1911 Canadian Census shows that the family was Roman Catholic. The family continued to be active within the Peterborough community after Tony’s death.

A photo of Anthony Skarrizi upon his enlistment in August, 1915. Image courtesy of Veterans Affairs Canada.

Skarrizi enlisted for the First World War at the age of fourteen, lying about his date of birth in order to enlist. He claimed that his birth year was 1897, which would have made him eighteen at the time of his enlistment. All official government documents concerning Skarrizi still list his birth year as 1897. He also did not have any prior military experience before enlisting. The memoir written by Skarrizi’s niece describes why a fourteen-year-old boy might want to enlist for war at such a young age. Mary Christina describes times of sickness and the spread of influenza; “I went into my mother’s room crying. We were all sick. It was an epidemic that didn’t miss anyone’s home.” The Skarrizi family lived a simple life in a time with no central heating, limited access to indoor plumbing and electricity, and few automobiles roaming the streets. Through analyzing Mary Christina’s description of Peterborough in the early 1900’s, it is easy to see why a young boy would be eager to leave this setting after hearing about the glory and adventure awaiting him overseas. Mary Christine describes how well she remembered her family, discussing the First World War and the immense pride that her family felt regarding Skarrizi’s involvement in the war.

Skarrizi enlisted on August sixteenth, 1915 in Peterborough, Ontario at the Peterborough Armories. His attestation papers describe him as a 5’4” male with black hair and blue eyes. Skarrizi listed his previous occupation as a laborer. After observation, he was declared fit to serve and was assigned the service number 219457. Skarrizi originally enlisted in the 80th battalion and proceeded to do his military training at a Canadian base. On May sixteenth, 1916, Skarrizi boarded the RMS Baltic in Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived in Liverpool, England on May twenty-ninth, 1916. On July eighteenth, 1916, he was sent to the 50th battalion and assigned to Base Duty after his superiors discovered that he was not of age to be serving in the war. Throughout Skarrizi’s military career, he was transferred to six different battalions.

Throughout his service, Skarrizi was subjected to Field Punishment on four separate occasions. After each of his first three offenses, described as being Absent Without Leave for two days, being absent from parade, and neglecting to obey a non-commissioned officer, Skarrizi was sentenced to Field Punishment number two. This punishment consisted of being handcuffed and given labor duties. For these offenses, he was also docked payment for a number of days, which varied depending on the severity of his offence. The fourth offense, being Absent Without Leave for two days, earned Skarrizi Field Punishment number one for ten days. This punishment consisted of being tied to an immobile object for two hours a day, along with being subjected to labor, and being docked payment. After this final offense, Skarrizi was transferred to the 21st Battalion where he carried out the rest of his military career. This behavior can be explained because he was quite young while serving in the war. He was a child trying to play the role of an adult and his disobedience shows that he might have been fighting in the war for a sense of adventure, or very possibly that he was terrified of the realities of war.

On the night of November third, 1917, the 21st Battalion was stationed in front of Passchendaele to relieve the 74th Battalion when the enemy entered the trenches North East of Crest Farm. At 5:10am on the morning of November fourth, the enemy attacked the front of the company. The Allies were able to defend their territory until 5:40am, when the opposing army again attacked with gun and rifle fire. During the forty-eight-hour attack, the 21st Battalion suffered many loses: two officers were killed, one officer later died of wounds, two officers were wounded, forty-one other ranks were killed, and eighty-nine other ranks were injured. Skarrizi went missing during this attack and was later presumed dead. Although Skarrizi’s body was never found, it is likely that he was the victim of a direct hit from an enemy shell. Skarrizi was just sixteen at the time of his death.

Photo of declaration of death printed in the Peterborough Examiner on November 22nd 1917. Photo courtesy of 21st Battalion Website.

After the Battle of Passchendaele, the Skarrizi family received telegraphs explaining that their son Skarrizi was missing in battle, and later that he was presumed dead. At this time, the family was sent the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, the Plaque, commonly referred to as the Dead Man’s Penny, the Scroll, and the Memorial Cross to commemorate Skarrizi’s service. The family originally thought that Skarrizi died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, but have since discovered that it was the Battle of Passchendaele where he was ultimately killed. In Mary Christine's memoir, it was clear that the family was devastated by the loss of Skarrizi. Regarding his death, she writes: “We went through a very emotional time. Young as I was, I remember my grandma going around the house crying and being very unhappy about losing her son so young. I remember hoping it would be a mistake and one day he would return. I really don’t know if I remember him as a person or just have memories of him from the sadness and sorrow involved in his death.” It is evident that the family was extremely distraught with the loss of Skarrizi, especially since he was so young at the time of his death.
Skarrizi’s death is commemorated at Menin Gate Ypres Memorial in Belgium. This site honors the soldiers whose bodies were never recovered, but were presumed dead, while defending the Ypres Salient. His grave reference is panel 10-26-28. Skarrizi’s service is also remembered on page 326 in the Book of Remembrance. His childhood home in Peterborough, Ontario still stands and is currently a Mr. Convenience store. This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of his death. To this day, Skarrizi is remembered throughout the community as the youngest soldier from the Peterborough area to die fighting with the Canadian Infantry during the First World War.

 

Research by Jessica Parsons and Abigail Brown
   
 
Sources

 
“Canada and the First World War: Discipline and Punishments.” Canadian War Museum.
Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-the-front/trench-conditions/discipline-and-punishment/.  
 
“Canadian Virtual War Memorial: Anthony Skarrizi.” Veterans Affairs Canada. Accessed
October 28, 2017. http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/1596033.
 
De Remigis, Joe. Email to Family Member. October 30, 2017.
 
Historical Calendar, 21st Canadian Infantry Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment): Belgium,
France, Germany, 1915-1919.  Aldershot: Gale & Polden Ltd, 1919.
 
Library and Archives Canada, Digitized Service File, Anthony Skarrizi. RG 150, Accession
1992-93/166, Box 8955 - 42, Item # 232266 (CEF).
 
Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1911. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 2007.
Peterborough, Peterborough West, District No. 113, Sub District No. 8, Page 3.
“Page 326 from Book of Remembrance: First World War.” Veterans Affairs Canada. Accessed
October 28, 2017.  http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/books/page?page=326&book=1&sort=pageAsc.
 
21st Infantry Battalion War Diary (1915-1919). Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1915. Retrieved
from https://archive.org/details/21stInfantryBattalionWarDiary1915-1919.