Gaizencourt bell

  • Height  146 mm
  • Width  174 mm
  • Weight  4.5 kg
  • Note  G
Bell Inscription

In Memory of Percy William Skelley.
Given by Agnes Salmond Skelley and
Claude H.T. Skelley.

The ‘Gaizencourt’ bell is dedicated to the memory of Percy Skelley, an experienced staff officer who gave up his position at army headquarters to fight on the front line.

A Wellingtonian born and bred, Skelley spent most of his life in the capital. He worked for many years as a public servant with the Land and Income Tax Department before joining the New Zealand Staff Corps – part of New Zealand’s new permanent forces – in 1911. When war broke out, Skelley, now a captain, became assistant adjutant-general at army headquarters in Wellington.

With his background, Skelley was a valuable military administrator – but he wanted to see action. Likely to be prevented from enlisting because of the difficulty of replacing someone with his skills, Skelley resigned from the Staff Corps and in November 1916 enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

By March 1917 Skelley was in England. He spent several months as an administrative staff officer at Sling Camp (where New Zealand soldiers had advanced training before heading to the front) before he finally made it to the Western Front. He joined the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade a few weeks after Passchendaele and in April 1918 was appointed brigade-major of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade.

On the morning of 31 May 1918, the brigade’s headquarters were shelled by the enemy. Hit in the abdomen, 43-year-old Skelley was taken to a nearby casualty clearing station, but died nine days later. After the war Skelley received a posthumous New Year’s Honours mention in despatches, an award sometimes given to recognise valuable service by men unlikely to carry out courageous acts on the front line. Back in New Zealand his wife of 18 years, Agnes, was left to bring up their four daughters, the youngest of whom was then three years old.

In 1926, Agnes along with Skelley’s younger brother Claude gave one of the Carillon bells in his memory. It was named for the village of Gézaincourt in northern France, not far from Bagneux British Cemetery where Skelley is buried.

Further information

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph record – Percy Skelley
Commonwealth War Graves Commission record – Percy Skelley
Public Service Journal obituaries – Percy Skelley
W.S. Austin, The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, L.T. Watkins Ltd., Wellington, 1924, p. 320

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