Soldiers from the Bournemouth area who joined the 1st Dorsetshire Regiment were some of the first to see action in France during the Great War.

Some never returned home, including two Bournemouth officers killed within a month of each other.

Son of Arthur Durance and Charlotte George of Clarendon Road in Bournemouth, Athelstan Key Durance George was born in Surrey in 1887. After the family moved to Bournemouth, Athelstan attended Hailey Preparatory School in Poole Road, Westbourne, before going on to Tonbridge School and then Caius College, Cambridge.

“He began his military career long before the war, being gazetted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in 1909, but after returning to England from India in March 1913, he joined the 1st Dorset Regiment in Belfast”, said Westbourne Librarian Jenny Young.

In April 1914 Lieut. George gained his Aero Certificate to fly a Bristol Biplane.

“However, it was with his regiment the 1st Dorset’s that he was sent to the front at the beginning of the war as an ‘able and efficient platoon commander’ of D company,” said Jenny who has researched soldiers from Bournemouth involved in the conflict.

Born in 1892, John Reginald Turner was the son of Mr and Mrs J.M.B. Turner of Wimborne Road, Bournemouth. He was articled as a solicitor with his father in Bournemouth and was the Secretary of Bournemouth and District Law Students Society.

“On August 6, 1914, Lieut. Turner was one of five officers from the 1st Dorset’s who arrived in Belfast where the regiment was stationed, from Dorchester, following the telegram from the War Office ordering the Battalion to proceed overseas,” said Jenny.

Less than ten days after landing in France, the 1st Dorsetshire Regiment, with Bournemouth officers Lieut. John Turner of the B Company and Lieut. Athelstan George of D Company, took part in the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force at the Battle of Mons, and the subsequent retreat lasting ten days and covering 200 miles.

Lieut. George and Lieut. Turner saw further action at the Battle of the Marne.

“In September the Dorset’s were engaged in close range fire-fighting with the enemy at Bezu-le-Query on the Marne, when Lieut. George was shot through the head whilst using his field glasses, after insisting to his men not to expose their heads.

He was taken to the Hospice at Coulommiers where he died a few days later, having never gained consciousness.

He was buried with military honours in the town’s cemetery,” said Jenny.

Amongst those that fell in the same fighting were Bournemouth men, Lieut. Arthur S. Nicholson, Rifleman Jacob Birch, and Private William J. Heaste.

Brigadier-General Bols, commander of the battalion, in a letter to Athelstan’s father said that he was ‘the ideal of a British officer, gallant and brave.’ Lieut. George is remembered in Bournemouth’s Book of Remembrance and in Romsey Abbey where his memorial reads: ‘Greater love hath no man lay down his life for his friends.’ He is also listed on the Hailey School Roll of Honour held in Bournemouth Library.

In October the 1st Dorset’s were fighting around the town of La Basse. The 13th Brigade with Lieut. Turner leading B Company advanced north of the canal near Festubert, on flat land criss-crossed by dykes and hedgerows.

In the early morning mist Lieut. Turner and his men reached a line of track bordered by willows. As the mist cleared German riflemen from the canal made good use of the ground cover and increased their fire. A British machine gun by the lock could do nothing to protect the men on the flat.

Lieut. Turner was an early casualty as he led his men in what was described as ‘the gallant fighting of the Dorsets.’ Alongside Lieut. Turner who also fell were Corporal Robert Boorer, Lance Corporal William Franklin and Privates Walter Linham and Edwin Day, all Bournemouth men.

“The 1st Dorsetshire Regiment were mentioned in dispatches by name for the battle on 13th October, and Lieut. Turner aged just 21, one of the officers who fell that day, now lies in Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy,” said Jenny.