R/10543 Rifleman Harry Dean King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Born 1891 in Hockley, Great Wakering, Essex
Lived at New Road, Great Wakering and Shoeburyness
Killed in action 23 August 1916 aged 25 in France & Flanders
Honoured on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier & Face 13a & 13b
Harry Dean was registered as Harry Fox in 1891 he was the son of Caroline Fox, step daughter of Robert Dean, both of whom lived in New Road, Great Wakering. Robert was described as a ‘Brick Field Labourer’. (Robert had married Sarah Ann Fox in 1873).
As Harry was born after the census was taken in 1891 the first time he showed on a census return was in1901. At that time he was living in New Road with the Dean family, and his younger brother Charley. Caroline was no longer living at the family home, and the boys were both listed as boarders. Robert had died, leaving his son James as head of the family. James also worked as a brickfield labourer. Brickfield workers frequently travelled from one brickfield to another, as the work was seasonal. It was not only bricks that were manufactured in the brickfields but also products such as tiles, chimney pots and drainpipes. It must have been a considerable struggle for the Dean brothers to keep the household together with two young step-nephews and little sister to support.
By 1911 Harry had moved house, again listed on the census return as a boarder, this time with the Wiggins family at 6 Earth Pit cottages, Shoeburyness and working as a (barge) sail maker. It is worth noting at this point that the name and address of Mrs. Wiggins is recorded on Harry’s medal index card, stating that she was his aunt; this is relevant because information on some records suggests that Harry was born in Hockley, Birmingham, and this ties him to the Dean family of Hockley, Essex.
Charley did not appear in the 1911 census, he had left England in 1902 aboard Dominion heading for Canada with a party of 199 children sent by Barnardos Homes. This is another indication of the fragile state of the family finances; Charley became what is known as a British Home Child – one of over 100,000 sent to Canada, mostly from poor families, to work as indentured farm hands or domestic servants.
Harry’s service records haven’t survived, so it isn’t known on what date Harry went to Southend to enlist in the army, though from the amount of war gratuity payment he earned, it was most likely in the spring of 1915. He was initially assigned to the 11th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a private and given the service number R/10543. He disembarked in France on 27 August 1915, and the medal roll says he was with 11th Battalion when he qualified for his service medals, so it must have been at some point after August 1915 when he transferred to 9th Battalion.
Because we can’t be sure when Harry moved to 9th Battalion, it isn’t possible to know which battles he was involved in. The battalion war diary is particularly descriptive: ‘The first of August 1916 found the battalion at Feinvilliers on its way to the battle of the Somme, having been relieved from the trenches in the Arras sector on 27 July. Feinvilliers is a village some 7 miles from Doullens and the sounds of battle are audible. Here too there is an important base of the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and all day long the air vibrates with the throb of aeroplane engines… On 12th the battalion moved out at 12.35am, and marched via Dernacourt and Meaulte to bivouacs overlooking Fricourt, now a ruined heap, and the first formidable line of German defences which were broken at the commencement of the battle of the Somme. Guns of all caliber surround us, and 17 of our Observation balloons are close overhead. One of these broke its cable and the occupant descended in a parachute.’
Observation balloons were employed in intelligence gathering and artillery spotting. They were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas, whose flammable nature led to the destruction of many balloons on both sides. Typically, balloons were tethered to a steel cable attached to a winch that reeled the gasbag to its desired height (up to about 1,500 metres) and retrieved it at the end of an observation session.
On the night of 19 August 9th The Battalion went into the front trenches east of Delville Wood, the war diary report describes the scene: ‘At 6.30pm 32 aeroplanes were counted overhead, chiefly ours, and there were many aerial combats without decisive results. At the same time an enemy observation balloon was shot down. During the day officers reconnoitered the approaches to Delville Wood.’ It must have been a surreal experience for these young soldiers, witnessing so many aircraft when they had been so rare at home.
The battalion fought at Delville wood for the next four days, and again, the war diary gives the best description: ‘At this date, 20th August, we hold a line running through the wood, and the enemy a line within and parallel to the N & NE edge. The ground is pitted everywhere with shell holes and strewn with fallen trees and branches. Longueval is dust and craters and both Langueval and the Wood are carpeted with the remains of bodies and discarded munitions, and material of war, British and German.’
The battalion casualties for those four days of fighting included 41 other ranks killed, 190 wounded and 46 missing. Harry Dean was one of the missing; his body has not yet been recovered, and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial along with many thousands of others.
For his service to his country, Harry Earned the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were returned in March 1922, and his medal index card marked: Next of kin NIL. He was entitled to a war gratuity payment of £6/10 that wasn’t issued either.
Harry’s mother, Caroline lived in Southend in 1945, and died in the Rochford registration district in 1945. Harry’s brother seemed to fare better in Canada; he became a butcher and joined the Canadian army in 1914. After the war he went back into farming and married in Ontario in 1924. Charley died in Chatham, Ontario in 1965
Acknowledgments: Image of the WW1 Observation balloon in the public domain.