Sword used by ‘inspirational’ St Albans war hero given to school
PUBLISHED: 17:04 08 February 2017
Danny Loo Photography 2016
A battleground reminder of an ‘inspiring’ St Albans war hero has been given to a local school, where he was highly regarded as an academic and keen thespian.
The death of Arthur Skett, whose name is engraved upon the city’s War Memorial, was one of many during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, but his heroism has recently been recognised at St Albans School, Abbey Gateway.
Peter Jeanneret, Arthur’s nephew, has given the school a ‘slightly rusty’ sword which was used by his brave relative during the First World War.
He explained that his uncle was killed on November 11, 1916, and that as Arthur was a former pupil at the school, it seemed right to give such memorabilia to it.
Peter said: “It was a play thing when I was a boy but it became more poignant as I got older – I suddenly realised it was a sword which had belonged to Arthur.
“It’s on permanent loan to the school, where it is part of their display.
“I went to St Albans School in 1958 and left in 1965, and every day I used to walk past the War Memorial, and Arthur’s name is at the top, facing the road.
“I used to think, ‘that’s my uncle’, and I was inspired by him.”
Arthur left the school in 1914, and signed up at the age of 17 as he had always intended pursuing a military career.
A letter to his father sent by the War Office just before Christmas in 1914 said that while Arthur was in a special reserve battalion, and wished to get into the regular army, “several impetuous youths have made the same mistake. The thing for him to do is to go to Sandhurst.”
Two years later, at the tender age of 19, the junior officer found himself commanding a company of his battalion.
A letter to his parents, written after his death by an officer serving alongside him on the Somme, said that Arthur led a company of men, walking single file, across a “waste of mud that squelched, gurgled and very often sucked the boots off a man’s feet”.
They were burdened with heavy equipment, ‘harassed by shellfire’ and slithering in and out of old trenches and shell holes.
On November 11, 1916, Arthur was shot dead in No Man’s Land while making his way to an area where a fellow officer had disappeared.
The letter to his grieving parents explained that he went to find the missing officer because ‘he could not have stayed’ and was being true to himself.
St Albans School archivist Nigel Woodsmith welcomed the addition of war hero’s sword to the institution’s impressive collection of memorabilia.
Reflecting upon Arthur’s brave act, the school’s headmaster, Jonathan Gillespie, encouraged pupils to commit themselves to “fight, metaphorically for the values that those whom we remember gave their lives to protect – liberty, democracy, the triumph of good over evil.”
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