Arthur George Leaton was a survivor. They sent him to fight at Gallipoli, where he was badly wounded. Then they sent him to fight in Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution where he was wounded again.
But, despite his injuries, he came through it all.
Leaton – usually known as George – was no stranger to tough times. His mother, Elizabeth, had been widowed before he was born and she was widowed again while he was very young.
Arthur George Leaton was the son of Elizabeth Leaton who came from old Poole stock. Her maiden name had been Coombs and, as a child, she and four siblings had all been christened at St Paul’s Church in the High Street on the same day. Later, Elizabeth had married a man called John Wilson with whom she had four children before he passed away.
Still young, the widowed Elizabeth became pregnant again and she and George Leaton, a maltster, became husband and wife at St James Church in Poole on 14 September 1895. Their son, Arthur George was born in Poole and baptised at the parish church on 26 January 1896.
His father must have died soon after for Elizabeth, described as a widow, married for the third time, again at St James Church, on 5 November 1899. Arthur George was only three years old.
Elizabeth was 32 and her new husband, George Christopher, a labourer, was a few years younger. They, too, would have children together and Arthur George would end up, it is believed, with at least seven step-brothers and sisters.
Their home was in Thames Street, a poor part of town. When Arthur George was nine he found himself up before the magistrates. His crime? Thieving lumps of coal.
The lad was accused, along with another boy, of stealing 50lb of coal in a bucket and a bag from a railway truck by Poole Quay. They were spotted in a group of 20 leaving the coal truck and a constable subsequently found the 7d-worth of coal (3p-worth then, with a purchasing power of about £2.30p today) left under the wall of the nearby pottery.
It was the boys’ first offence and they were dismissed by the court on payment of costs of 4s 6d (23p, worth around £21 in 2019).
By the time he was 13, if not before, Arthur George was sent away to a Dorset county industrial school at Milborne St Andrew to learn the trade of shoemaker.
Unfortunately, it led to his step-father George Christopher, being called up before the petty sessions himself… for failing to pay the contributions for his Arthur George to be there. He was 12 weeks in arrears and ordered to pay up or face a month in prison.
It would seem he paid up for Arthur George was still marked down as an ‘inmate’ at the school in the 1911 Census.
By the time the war broke out in 1914, however, Arthur George had left the industrial school and was now working for a Mr J. King at Tolpuddle, giving his profession as ‘farmer’. (A Mr James King, living in a private house in Tolpuddle was a cattle dealer, married with two children.)
Arthur George Leaton volunteered to fight soon after war was declared in 1914. He was 18, though he told the Army he was 21, possibly knowing that at 18 he was not eligible to be sent to the front.
He enlisted with the Dorset Yeomanry, naming his mum, Mrs Elizabeth Christopher, of Levets Lane, Market Street, Poole, as his next of kin.
After being posted to Egypt, he was sent on to the Dardanelles where the British sought to end the deadlock in the Battle of Gallipoli against the Turkish enemy.
Private Leaton and his Dorset Yeomanry comrades landed at Suvla Bay as part of a British offensive. It failed dismally and he was hit twice. A gunshot wound entered under his right shoulder and shrapnel caused a severe flesh wound on his chest.
Invalided, he was put on a ship bound for Blighty and was treated at the Royal Victoria military hospital at Netley near Southampton.
Once recovered, Private Leaton returned to his regiment (though found himself in hospital again two years later as a result of contracting a disease common at the time among soldiers.)
As the war neared its end, Private Leaton had another dose of bad luck. The Bolshevik Revolution that overthrew the Tsar had taken place in Russia the year before. The new Bolshevik government had swiftly withdrawn Russia from the war that had cost the country around two million lives. But a brutal civil war now raged.
Leaton was transferred to the 17th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and posted east in support of the anti-communist forces known as the ‘White’ Russian Army. The battalion sailed from Glasgow to Murmansk and then Archangel on 11 October – exactly one month before the Armistice that would end the First World War. But the fighting in Russia did not end. Leaton’s battalion would remain there for the next year until Britain withdrew support for the ‘White’ Russians.
Long before then, in March 1919, Private Arthur George Leaton was injured again. This time he was suffered ‘gunshot wounds’ in the arm and thigh.
Two months later, his local paper, the Poole and East Dorset Herald, carried a report stating that his mother had received notification that he was injured again but she was not told which hospital he was in. It was headlined, ‘Poole man injured in Russia’.
In fact, the wound this time, it seems, was not so serious for George Leaton was soon able to rejoin his battalion before being sent back to Britain to be demobbed at last.
A medical examination revealed that he had two large circular scars, one ‘the size of the palm of a hand’ around his right armpit. He complained, too, of still suffering from shortness of breath and a pricking sensation at the seat of the wound. The Army, however, marked down his degree of disability as ‘Nil’.
Private Arthur George Leaton had served with the colours for four years and 315 days, including a year and 44 days abroad. During that time, his weight had gone down from 10 stone 4lbs to nine stone 9lbs. For his service, he received the three First World War campaign medals, the Victory, the British War and the 1914-1915 Star, awarded to the British soldiers known as Old Contemptibles, who had been in the war since virtually the start. (They were nicknamed ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfrid’ after a newspaper cartoon characters of the time.)
Two years after he returned to Poole, Arthur George Leaton, now 24, married. The ceremony took place at St John’s in Wimborne near Leigh Road near the home of his young bride, Agnes Longman, the daughter of a widowed laundry woman.
The couple set up home at 29b West Street, close to where Arthur George’s mother and step-father still had their home in Levets Lane. The young Leatons later lived at Barber’s Piles near the Quay before returning to West Street, setting up home at number 47.
It is believed Agnes and George had six children, though two, tragically, would die in infancy. Agnes, too, would die young. She passed away in Poole in 1938 at the age of just 35.
Widowed, Arthur George and his family were still living in their West Street home when the Second World War broke out. By then, he had a job as a cordite worker.
Before that war was over, in early 1943 he married again in Poole. He was still only 47 years old. His bride was a 37-year-old Poole woman called Doris Amy Bartlett who had worked as a housemaid at St Ann’s Sanatorium.
Arthur George passed away on 29 November 1982 when living in Legion’s Close in Hamworthy, four years after the death of Doris, his second wife.
Despite the wounds he had suffered in the First World War and after, he lived to the age of 86.