James “Hener” Henry Skene (December 3, 1877-July 14, 1916) was one of the many pianists that Isadora Duncan performed with and traveled with in her lifetime. However for this story, Skene is important because he was Duncan’s pianist in the time immediately before of the death of her children. In the winter months before, Hener had accompanied Isadora to Russia. He had also played for her in the Spring in Paris. After this date, April 19, 1913, Hener never played for Duncan again and moved away from her life shortly after the tragedy. Isadora spent the next few years recovering and trying to put her professional and personal life on a path that would enable her dreams to come true.
Isadora wrote about her time working and dancing the accompaniment of Hener Skene. Isadora writes that “exquisite hours” of “marvelous happiness” were given to her by artists such Hener Skene. Further, Isadora called Skene “a pianist of great talent and indefatigable energy for work.” She described spending all day and all night dancing with Skene playing the piano and then finding that the two of them were so involved in their art that they entered a Hindu ecstasy. There is debate as to whether Isadora and Hener were intimate lovers, but Isadora had many other admirers around her at this time.
Hener started playing for Isadora in 1908. That same year Isadora writes in her autobiography, that she had moved into Gervex’s studio at Neuilly Sur Seine “which had a music room like a chapel” and she states that now she went to live there with her children. However, Isadora’s date is wrong because she did move there with her children but in 1908 Patrick had not yet been born. Patrick was born May 1, 1910, so Isadora must have moved to Neuilly after 1910.
Hener Skene also played a part in the affair that took place between Aleister Crowley and Mary Desti. In 1911, Aleister Crowley was brought to a party where Isadora Duncan and Mary Desti were present. The invitation was extended to Crowley by Hener Skene. At some point, Hener has become a part of Crowley’s followings and there were reports that Crowley was going to include him in a theatrical production. Crowley was as well interested in the nature and promise of Isadora’s new art form. Crowley apparently did not like Hener and his calling Hener a “prig” is widely reported. Isadora was also not taken with Crowley, but her companion of this time, Mary Desti, was and this night was the beginning of the Desti/Crowley liaison which resulted in one of Crowley’s most revered books.
Hener Skene was present when Isadora lost Paris Singer for the last time over an incident at a fete when Isadora was caught in a compromised position with Henri Bataille. Paris Singer walked out and two days later sailed to Egypt with Joan Bates.
Hener is cousin to another intimate of Isadora Duncan, Kathleen Bruce. Kathleen was present for the delivery of Deirdre in 1907 and will provide other information about Patrick because he was sometimes in her care.
As to the drownings of Deirdre and Patrick, what might be the role played by Hener?
Was there a connection between the work of Aleister Crowley and the mentoring of Hener Skene by Crowley? Could Hener have been influenced to cause a crisis in the Duncan household that was not supposed to end in death? The question was always raised whether the desire of Crowley was to meet Isadora for purposes of romance, theatre collaboration or espionage. Was Crowley disappointed in the lack of interest of Isadora in his version of theatrical productions? Was he slighted?
Isadora had recently toured Russia and was Crowley interested in her travels and possible political reportings about Russia? Crowley is widely reported to have been involved in espionage for Britain?
Isadora was, according to all reports, not interested in Crowley. Why was she not interested? Why were Mary Desti and Aleister Crowley immediately engaged with each other?
Mary Desti and Aleister Crowley broke up with some pressure from the presence of Mary’s son Preston Sturges. Preston was supposed to be in the car with the children and the nanny and only at the last minute did Mary forbid him to go. Was Preston the target and not the Duncan children?
Death on the Battlefield
Hener left the presence of Isadora. The European continent was about to be at war. This talented and experienced artist enlisted apparently from his home in Dorking.
Sometime between 1913 and 1915, Hener lived with Olaf Ranson Cuthbert who was another soldier in North Holmwood in Dorking. Olaf was killed on July 1, 1913 two week before Hener.
Hener was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in October 12, 1915 and assigned to the Princess Charlotte of Wales (Royal Berkshire Regiment.) Hener went to France on May 26, 1916 according to his Medal Card and was serving in the area of Pas de Calis. Through June 0f 1916, Hener was active as a leader of night patrols (wiring parties) to cut the German barbed wires and establish a new wire perimeter further away from the men in the trenches. The trench warfare of WW1 was characterized by the use of barbed wire. The idea was to cut your enemy’s wire to create gaps and move back the line of your own wire to prevent the enemy from being close enough to throw a grenade or use a machine gun. Because the space between your wires and the enemies wire was not large, wiring parties from either side would encounter each other and hand to hand combat was a possibility every night of the patrol. Please see http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/wiring.htm for a fuller description of the use of barbed wire.
Through June of 1916, Hener led many of these patrols. On June 23, Hener’s patrol had been cutting enemy wires in the trenches and came into close contact hand to hand fighting with the Germans. As Hener was rescuing another soldier, he was bayoneted in the leg. For the next three weeks, Hener had this bayonet wound, but continued to lead patrols remaining active in the trench fighting. On July 14, Hener and a party of his men and other officers were able to get through a gap in the enemy’s wire. At the end of the patrol, Hener and twelve additional soldiers did not return and were reported missing. Three days later, the army made July 14 the official day of Hener’s death. Dominik Wujastyk who keeps the biography on Geni Pro for James Henry Skene writes that the family stated that Hener was”completely blown up and there was nothing left to be buried.” Hener was 38 years old. J. H. Skene was listed as an unidentified soldier on the Dorking War Memorial where is name appears on the town war memorial and his name is duplicated on the St. Martin’s Church war memorial. Loos Memorial Panels 93 to 95 also honor him.