Written for the Petersfield Post April 2019. Not easy to précis his life in 450 words!
"In St Peters Church is a stained glass window depicting St Michael in armour. It is dedicated to Lt-Colonel Gerard Leachman, one of the most colourful and courageous figures to have come out of Petersfield.
He has been described as Petersfield’s Lawrence of Arabia, but while the self-promoting Lawrence became a legend, Leachman wrote little and is now largely forgotten.
Born in 1880, he was the youngest child of Dr Albert Leachman, a much-respected member of Petersfield society, and his wife Louisa.
After Charterhouse and Sandhurst he became a Second Lieutenant with the Sussex Regiment and served in the Boer War, India, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq).
Two exploratory journeys were undertaken in Arabia on behalf of the Royal Geographical Society and he formed relationships that would later prove invaluable. The Turkish forces believed he was a spy and tried to limit his movements – so he disguised himself as a bedraggled Bedouin, far different from the Lawrentian model.
From 1915 he organised irregular Arab fighters against the Turkish army. At the start of the siege of Kut-al-Amara, Leachman successfully led the cavalry to safety through enemy lines. This was just the beginning of his activities at Kut, most of which remain buried in obscure reports and deserve to be told.
Later in the war he commanded a Motor Battery and was awarded the DSO. After the Armistice, Leachman was appointed a Political Officer as the Allies parcelled out the Ottoman Empire. Britain was given the mandate to govern Iraq and Leachman was called upon to maintain tribal peace.
Deeply committed to duty and steeped in the ways of the Empire, he had a violent temper, and seems to have kept the Arabs in check by the force of his personality and his cut-off polo stick, but he was also respected and many children were named in his honour. Contemporary accounts remark on his good-humour, generosity and loyalty. However others, including Lawrence, disliked him intensely.
He certainly divided opinion. Petersfield men returning on leave from the Middle East had nothing but praise for him. There are several accounts of him standing alone against a mob of tribesmen and his will prevailing, such was his reputation.
In 1920, after a personal conflict, Leachman was shot and stabbed by Sheik Dhari and his son near Fallujah. He was buried with full military honours in Baghdad. His death was marked in Britain by many column inches of praise and anecdotes. The Hants and Sussex News reported: “The news…caused widespread sorrow in Petersfield”
His murder sparked a tribal revolt and is still seen in Iraq as the beginning of Iraqi independence. It is ironic that Leachman’s name is infamous there, while it has mostly been forgotten in England."