36774 Private Harry Dean Cheshire Regiment
Born 1897 in Winsford, Cheshire
Lived at 100 / 74 Wharton Road, Winsford
Killed in action 17 February 1917 aged 19 in France or Belgium
Buried in Berks Cemetery Extension, Hainaut. ref I.O.II
Harry Dean was the only son of Arthur Dean and Annie Matilda Cartwright, who had married on 18 October 1896 at Christ Church, Wharton, Cheshire. Arthur was a joiner, and the couple set up home on Wharton Road in Winsford.
By the time of the 1911 census he was working in the salt industry as a joiner and Annie was running a drapery business from home. Though the street number was different from the one given in 1901, the neighbours were in the same position; it appears that the street had been renumbered. Harry, aged 14, was still at school.
After he left school Harry trained to be a toolmaker for fustian cutting. Fustian was a heavy woven fabric usually made from cotton, often used for working men’s clothing.
One of the key tasks in its’ manufacture was cutting; this involved using a fustian cutting knife – usually about 50cm long, with the last 10cm or so sharpened to a blade on the top edge. It was this type of tool that Harry would have made in his work. Fustian cutting was common in the area, being on the fringes of the Lancashire cotton region.
Harry presented himself at the recruiting office in Winsford on 14 January 1916, before conscription so he was a volunteer. Conscription was initially introduced on 2 March 1916 for men aged 18-41, except those who were widowed with children, and ministers of religion. He was still living at Wharton Road, and because he wasn’t old enough to fight overseas, was accepted for ‘Field service at Home’. This would give the army chance to train him in the UK before his 19th birthday, when he would be old enough to go overseas. He was described as 5’6½” tall with a 35½” chest and no distinctive marks.
He was appointed to the 3rd Cheshire Regiment on 11 April 1916 – Harry had now become 36774, Private Harry Dean. It wasn’t until 26 September that he embarked at Southampton arriving at Le Havre the following day and posted from No.4 Infantry Base Depot to join 13th Battalion at Rouen on 28 September. On 8 December he was posted to 10th Battalion in the field, and joined that battalion on 10 December. At that point the battalion was in trenches (New Sector) with headquarters based at Despierre Farm.
After being relieved on 13 December they moved back into a support role at Le Bizet, returning to the trenches on 20 December. After three quiet days in the trenches, 23 and 24 December brought considerable activity by hostile trench mortar, resulting in one casualty. 25 December, Harry’s last Christmas Day, passed with nothing more than ‘Situation normal’ recorded in the war diary. The following day the battalion was relieved and went back into reserve at Pont de Nieppe. After a brief period of time in the trenches in early January, the battalion returned to Nieppe on 18 January for a training period lasting until the end of the month. They then moved to Regina Camp for four days training under Company Arrangements.
After another couple of periods on the front line and back in reserve the battalion was back on the front line preparing for attack. 15 February was described as quiet, whilst on 16th the war diary reported ‘In the line. Howitzers. 60 pounders. 18 pounders. 9.45 TM (Trench Mortar) & 2inch TM bombarded the enemy’s wire and front line from 9am to 4pm continuously.’
A 60 pounder was a 5” heavy field gun which was designed to be pulled by horses, or mechanical traction.
It was introduced at the beginning of the century and used throughout the war.
17 February was described in the war diary as Meanee Day; one officer and 65 other ranks successfully raided the enemy trenches north of Factory Farm, inflicting heavy casualties. Dugouts were bombed, bomb dumps and trench material destroyed and ten prisoners taken (eight of those caught by their own machine gun fire). It was amidst this fierce attack that young Harry lost his life.
Harry Dean was still nineteen years old when he died. He was buried in the Berks Cemetery Extension at Hainaut, alongside sixteen other soldiers from his regiment killed on the same day. Harry’s war gratuity payment of £3 was paid to his father, who would also have been issued with Harry’s medals – the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. Harry’s mother also died early in 1917, aged 45, leaving his father the only surviving member of the family. He remarried in 1919, continued to live in Wharton Road, and died in 1940.
Acknowledgments: Image of 60 pounder in public domain. Image of the Fustian tool courtesy of John Birchall themeister.co.uk