Harry – the first



8197S Stoker Harry Dean Royal Naval Reserve

Born 8 November 1892 in Swansea

Lived in Foxhole Rd, Canaan Row, Windmill St, Swansea

Killed in action at sea 31 May 1916 aged 23 near Denmark

Remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, panel 19

His story

Harry Dean was the youngest son of Thomas Dean and Mary Elizabeth Newcombe, who had married in Swansea in 1876. Their first son, George was born in Carnforth, Lancashire, in 1879, and by 1881 the family were living with Mary’s family at 46 Cuba Row in the Llansamlet area of Swansea, and Thomas was a railway goods guard. This could account for why George was born in Carnforth, a town at the junction of three major railways. By 1891 the family had moved and Thomas was working in a copper mill to support Mary and their five sons. Harry started attending St. Thomas’ school on 27 August 1900 and stayed there until 16 November 1908. It wasn’t until 1901 when Harry, registered as Henry, first appears on the census return. The family was living in Canaan Row in the Kilvey area of Swansea and Thomas was employed as a carter in the copper mill. Harry’s four older brothers were all working by this time, and eight your old Harry was still at school.

Thomas died in 1904, aged just 52. By 1911 Mary had moved house again, and was living at 10 Windmill Street in Swansea. All of the older boys had left home; Harry had started working at the local railway company as a labourer on 19 October 1903. Mary kept her home as a boarding house, which could have enabled her to cope independently with a little support from Harry’s wages.

Working on the railways could have been a good long-term career option for Harry, but the advent of war in 1914 prompted him to present himself for enrolment in the Royal Naval Reserve on 12 November 1915. He was living at 4 Windmill Terrace, the home of his elder brother, James, who also served in the Royal Naval Reserve. Harry was a fair haired, blue-eyed, young man standing 5’5½” tall. By the end of the month his enrolment was cancelled because his employers couldn’t release him for service. It wasn’t until 16 February 1916 that his enrolment was reinstated, when his employers had released him from his job for service.


After basic training Harry served as a stoker on HMS Indefatigable from 24 March. Stokers underwent firearms drill and field craft as a part of their basic training and had to demonstrate proficiency in these tasks if they were to be being promoted to Stoker 1st Class, presumably because they were the most likely to be on landing/boarding parties. The Stoker’s Manual of 1912 includes such topics as “Boiler Tube Leak Drill”, “Pumping flooding and drainage” and “The steam engine”. There are many cutaway drawings and pull out diagrams of boilers including pictures of “carbonic andhydride refrigerating machines”. Clearly a stoker’s life was a lot more involved than shoveling coal: They were also highly trained boiler mechanics.


HMS Indefatigable was built at Devonport Dockyard in 1911. She was put into service in the Mediterranean Fleet when war began in 1914 but was recalled to home waters the following year.

At the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916, in the first engagement between the British and German battle cruisers, Indefatigable was in the rear opposite SMS Von Der Tann. After about 25 minutes, a hit on the fore turret penetrated the ship’s magazine, blowing the ship in half. She sank at five minutes past four with a loss of 1,017 crew – there being just two survivors.

HMS Indefatigable blowing up after being struck by shells                             


Harry Dean was one of those lost, as was his older brother, James. For his service he earned the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. By the time his £5 war gratuity payment was paid his mother had died, and the payment was made to his brother, David, who was then living in Barnstaple.


Acknowledgments:   Images of HMS Indefatigable from wikimedia commons, in the public domain






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