A belated soldier’s burial
A Waikato police file notes that when he was found his only possessions were three war medals and a pencil in the pocket of his jacket. His clothes and boots were in poor condition.
Skelly may have gone AWOL at least four times after he was wounded in August 1916, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve respect after he completed service to his country. That respect was granted to him thanks to a military service at Matamata Cemetery on July 13, where his headstone was unveiled more than 80 years after he had died.
Veterans’ Affairs New Zealand provided the headstone. Dignitaries from both the Australian and New Zealand armed services were present for the service.
Speaking at the service, Lieutenant Colonel Julian Sewell said it was his privilege to honour one of their own. ‘‘This is typical of thousands of New Zealand soldiers. Today we have found one of our own and we will remember him.’’
Matamata Piako Mayor Jan Barnes was also at the service and welcomed Skelly home. Mayor Barnes thanked the armed services for identifying Skelly so the military service could be held.
From the date of Skelly’s discharge until his death, little is known, but a lot is known about the time he spent in service.
On January 14, 1902, he enlisted for service in Australia with the Commonwealth Contingent for service in the Boer War.
On August 24, 1915, Skelly enlisted in the 1st Battalion, Auckland Regiment and embarked for Egypt as part of the 8th reinforcements on November
13, 1915. He arrived in Egypt on January 15, 1916, and after a short stay he sailed for France on April 6, 1916.
During his service in France, Skelly was wounded in a night attack on August 13, 1916, when he received a gunshot wound to his right leg. A period of rehabilitation from his wound followed.
In January 1917, Skelly was admitted to hospital with bronchitis and discharged as fit but admitted again in February 1917 with chest complaints. He received treatment and had surgery that resulted in the loss of a number of his ‘‘digits’’.
He remained in hospital until July 6, 1917, when it was recommended his evacuation to England for recovery and discharge.
On January 10, 1918, he embarked on MS Arawa and returned to New Zealand, disembarking at Auckland on March 7, 1918.
He was discharged on May 20, 1918. By then he had completed 156 days on home service and two years and 115 days of active service.
After Skelly’s death, Waikato police arranged for a pauper’s funeral. As there were no funds available, two police constables dug the grave to avoid the 2/6 sexton’s grave digging fee.
His grave is in block five, plot 58 of the Matamata Cemetery.