Arthur Dykes

A Spotlight on Arthur Dykes - the first person to become a resident at Le Court

An article by Stephanie Nield  (Archivist – Leonard Cheshire)

The first resident of Le Court Cheshire home was a man called Arthur Dykes, the man that our founder said started him on the path to the charity Leonard Cheshire. However, we didn’t know much more about Arthur, so our Archivist decided to find out more.

We knew from Leonard Cheshire’s published books that he had been treated at Petersfield Hospital for cancer in 1948, was previously a member of Leonard’s V.I.P community and became the first resident of a Cheshire home.

The only photograph we have of Arthur is in a First World War uniform, though from Leonard Cheshire’s writing it was always assumed that Arthur was an RAF or Army veteran of the Second World War. Arthur can be seen in the photograph below and upon inspection his cap badge is similar to that of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC).

Arthur’s death was registered at Le Court in Greatham, Hampshire in 1948 and from this we had confirmation that he was a retired Veterinary Surgeon.

Searches on a family history website soon brought up a medal card for a Captain Arthur Dykes, an officer of the RAVC. The Gazette told us that he had been a member of the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (one of the first soldiers to be sent to the Western Front) becoming Lieutenant in September 1914 and Captain a year later.

By February 1918, Arthur was living in Osnabruck House at the 4th London General Hospital. Osnabruck House had been requisitioned in 1915 as an extension of the 4th London General Hospital (now Kings College Hospital) and had 25 beds for officers needing treatment for neurological conditions, such as war neuroses or ‘combat fatigue’ and ‘shell shock’. This could explain why his friend in the photograph we have has a dressing on his head.

Leonard Cheshire received a ‘neurosis’ diagnosis at the end of his military career in the Second World War. Leonard mentions in his writing that he found in Arthur a kindred spirit and this may be the reason why.

Leonard Cheshire had written that Arthur had no family left around the time of his move to Le Court and census searches revealed this to be true. Arthur was the son of a large and well-connected Scottish family and educated at private school, but by the late 1940s most of Arthur’s immediate family had died.

Arthur graduated as a Veterinary Surgeon from London in 1908 and moved to Ireland. He married there and became a Roman Catholic, something Leonard had written about in his book ‘The Hidden World’. Arthur remained in Ireland for over thirty years.

Just before the start of the Second World War, Arthur moved back to England, living at a farm cottage at Hill End Hospital in St Albans, Hertfordshire. Leonard had said that Arthur had lied about his age to join up for the Second World War, working as a nursing orderly but no mention of Arthur can be found on the Second World War medal rolls or in the archive of Hill End Hospital.

Hill End was a former psychiatric hospital that covered a large estate, including working farms which supported the settlement. In 1939 it was requisitioned by the government for St Bart’s Hospital in London. It is possible that Arthur was an employee of St Bart’s at Hill End, working as a vet on the Home Farm for the duration of the war.

By 1947 Arthur was living at the V.I.P settlement at Le Court in Hampshire; according to Leonard he was looking after the pigs on the farm. V.I.P closed in 1948 with most of the residents moving out, and at some point Arthur had been admitted to Petersfield Hospital and diagnosed with terminal cancer.

That same year, Leonard received a phonecall from Petersfield Hospital who were looking for somewhere to discharge Arthur to. Arthur had given Le Court as his last address and Leonard tried to help him find somewhere to go, eventually offering him a place to stay when nowhere else could be found.

At first, Leonard thought this would be an interlude; helping someone out whilst he found what to do next with his life. The reality was quite different. Find out more about what happened next by reading this blog on how Group Captain Leonard Cheshire’s work began.