Hero Of The Great War
by Ruth Lawrence
Ruth Lawrence tells the powerful story of a Haywards Heath war hero, Sergeant Arthur George Knight VC, who fought for our Canadian brothers
I recently spoke to Martin Barker, the great nephew of Sergeant Arthur George Knight VC, who was born in Haywards Heath in 1886 and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for an act of exemplary conduct during the First World War. A Victoria Cross Commemorative Stone is placed in the town in his honour.
Martin and his two brothers were occasionally treated to viewings of the VC by their grandmother, Arthur’s sister Nellie, who had inherited his award and she would proudly show it to groups of schoolchildren and their teachers from the local primary school.
As a young man Arthur was apprenticed as a carpenter but his dislike of the undertaking duties that went with the job prompted him to emigrate to Canada in 1911 with his friends. He left from Southampton on the SS Albania and made his way from Quebec to Regina, Saskatchewan, where he continued his trade as a carpenter. He enlisted in the 46th Infantry Battalion in 1914 and was sent to France in 1915 in the 10th Infantry Battalion. Serving for three years as part of the 1st Canadian Division, Arthur received the Croix de Guerre from the Belgian government.
On September 2nd 1918 as Acting Sergeant, Arthur faced the enemy during the Second Battle of Arras, leading a bombing section forward under very heavy fire. He dashed forward alone, bayoneting several enemy machine gunners and trench mortar crews before directing fire on the retreating enemy with a Lewis gun. Soon after, he ran on alone, killing one Officer and two N.C.O.s and capturing 20 other ranks. He then routed another enemy party single handed and survived the day. During operations the next day with his Company, Arthur and several comrades were injured or killed by an enemy shell. He was struck in the head by shell shrapnel at about 3pm and died shortly after. Arthur and six other Canadian soldiers were each awarded the VC for their bravery, gallantry, initiative and devotion to duty in that battle, on 2nd September, 1918. Villagers did and still do regard Arthur and his comrades as liberators, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.
Martin researched Arthur’s history in 1987 and realised that no one in the family had seen where he was buried so he and his brother Peter went to the Dominion Cemetery, Hendecourt–Les– Cagnicourt to visit his grave. Martin got in touch with the Calgary Highlanders and as a result, in one of the proudest moments of his life, a memorial plaque was unveiled on the village church at Villers-les-Cagnicourt in 2015.
Two streets in Regina, Saskatchewan are named after Arthur and in 2013 Mid Sussex District Council decided to honour him by naming a residential street Knight Close. In 2014 Haywards Heath Town Council placed a marble memorial plaque to him under the portico of the Town Hall entrance in Boltro Road. It is a fitting tribute to a son of Haywards Heath who paid with his life for the continuing freedom of others.