Poole man injured in Russia

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’.

Arthur George Leaton Poole Herald 8 May 1919

Arthur George Leaton Poole Herald 8 May 1919

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.



The war did not end in 1918 for some

While the Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918 and the fighting ceased on the Western Front there were other conflicts that continued for several more years. Typical is the involvement in the Civil War in Russia. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project attempts to unravel the involvement of Poole men and those from the Dorset Regiment in that conflict.

After Russia declared peace with Germany following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas there were concerns that Archangel and Murmansk in North Russia could be used by German submarines. A multi-national Allied force occupied both places in mid-1918 but could not leave Archangel when the Armistice was signed a few months later because the sea was frozen. The force had provided food for the locals who were starving and had also helped anti-Bolshevik forces. The latter involvement was because of concern that the rise of Communism would lead to unrest in many European countries.

In early 1919, it was decided to send a British Relief Expeditionary force to get the British troops out of Archangel, many who were due for demobilisation, and also to assist anti-Bolshevik forces. The 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment became part of the First North Russia Relief Force by becoming ‘Y’ Company in the 2nd Hampshire Regiment.

Nine officers and 240 men from the Dorsets, along with the rest of the Force, set sail from Tilbury on May 13th 1919 on an ‘uneventful’ journey and arrived in Archangel on May 27th. They were welcomed with a civic reception which included the traditional bread and salt. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment describes briefly how they then travelled by barge, which were pulled by steamships, along the River Dwina to Kurgomen; a journey of four days. It was a quiet period as the Bolsheviks had few shells. What struck the soldiers most was that the block-houses in which they were billeted were full of equipment from all different nations.

The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment goes on to describe the ‘Topsa-Troitza action’ in support of the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces. One problem was the terrain they had to cross was marsh-like and ‘not very attractive’. The mules carrying ammunition could not cope and ‘Y’ Company spent much of its time carrying ammunition to the troops in action. The Dorsets did not get involved in the actual fighting which was abandoned after a while. A withdrawal followed which was ‘very trying’ as they could only manage around 1mph because of the conditions. The Dorsets acted as a rear-guard and had two men wounded. The limited success of the action was overturned when several companies of a supporting Russian Battalion mutinied.

Action of sorts was also seen on the Volgoda Railway and the ‘front’ was advanced to Yemsta but these were highly confusing skirmishes with uncertainty over who was fighting whom and why; because of this the British announced on August 8th that they would leave North Russia. September 17th saw ‘Y’ Company leaving Yemsta and make a difficult journey to base before sailing from North Russia on the 27th. By October 8th they had arrived in Crowborough, England.

The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment summed up the involvement in North Russia – ‘as has so often happened, intervention in another country’s internal troubles had proved unsuccessful’. ‘The northern lights by night made a wonderful and awe-inspiring sight’ but the food was ‘poor’ – often just bully beef and biscuit and lime juice was issued to provide Vitamin C.

There was also a naval involvement in North Russia. Various ships saw action including the sea-plane carrier HMS Vindictive on which Able Seaman Reginald Vincent of Poole served. The ship sailed to Baltic in 1919 where it was involved in the multi-national action against the Bolsheviks and its seaplanes attacked the Soviet fleet at Kronstadt on August 18th 1919. It is believed that HMS Vindictive left the Baltic at the end of 1919. Vincent went on home leave in February 1920 and returned to duty where he got influenza which developed into pneumonia. He died on March 16th 1920 at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gosport and is buried in All Saint’s Churchyard, Branksome.

There were also limited actions in South Russia which were connected with the Civil War but also to stop Russian expansion into Persia.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in late October 1920 that Mr Hutchings of Wimborne Road, Poole was expecting the return of his son, Leading Signalmen William Alfred Hutchings after he was arrested by the Bolsheviks. Hutchings was a volunteer in a group of thirty men that were carrying out ‘reconnaissance work’ around the Caspian Sea on what was known as the ‘Enzeli Expedition’. He had been taken prisoner in April 1920 and was understood to be amongst fifty men who were held in Baku prison. The conditions in which they were held were described as ‘appalling’. The British Government had been attempting to get them released and hopes had been raised after the Russian Government offered an exchange of prisoners. Hutchings was released in November and eventually returned home.

Private George Leaton, whose parents lived on Everett’s Lane, Poole, was reported as being wounded in Russia in March 1919 while serving in the King’s Liverpool Regiment. The newspaper report does not describe where. He had served in the 1st Dorset Yeomanry during the First World War where he had been wounded in 1915.

Private James Bungay was one of several thousand British troops sent to intervene in the Siberian Campaign. The situation in Siberia was highly confused following the overthrow of the Tsar and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with an anti-Bolshevik Siberian Republic being declared in December 1917. The Czech Legion, formed of former POWs and now supporting the Allies, had found itself in Siberia in their campaign for an independent Czechoslovakia. The American President, Woodrow Wilson, suggested that Japanese troops could assist the Czech Legion in Vladivostock. A Japanese force did land in early 1918 and was followed by various British detachments and a large Canadian force. Vladivostock was declared an Allied Protectorate on July 6th 1918 and on July 10th it was announced that a British regiment would sail from Hong Kong in support. The Allied troops fighting alongside the White Russians in Siberia were from all nations; mainly Japanese and Czechoslovakian, supported by Canadian, French, American, Chinese, Italian and British forces. It is estimated that there were 120,000 troops in Siberia but by early 1919 the early successes were overturned and a withdrawal followed. British and Japanese troops left in the winter of 1919 and Czechoslovakian troops in early 1920.
Private Bungay’s mother, Jane, of Commercial Road, Parkstone received a telegram telling her that James had died at St Stilos, Vladivostok. James Bungay had joined the Hampshire Regiment in 1914 and served for four years in India. He also spent time with the Bedfordshire Regiment. He was then transferred to the 25th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment with whom he was posted to Russia.
‘The first intimation that anything was amiss came with a cable saying he was seriously ill (from influenza and pneumonia),’ reported the Poole and East Dorset Herald. He died of a kidney infection on February 9th 1919 and is buried in the Churkin Russian Naval Cemetery,