b. 19/04/1897 Herne Hill, London. d. 09/12/1985 Sittingbourne, Kent.
Donald John Dean (1897-1985) was born on 19th April 1897 in Herne Hill, London. He was the son of John Hambrook Dean, who worked for the family firm as the London representative of Smeed Dean & Co, no doubt selling the firm’s famous London Yellow Stock bricks. John married Grace Walduck in 1891 and they moved to Herne Hill, where the couple soon had three sons, Graham, Donald and Harold. The family then moved to Lambeth to be closer to John’s work, but, by the time of the First World War, they would be back in Kent, living at Waldene in Tunstall.
When the Great War broke out, Donald was just 17. He did not allow this to deter him, however: lying about his age, he volunteered in the autumn of 1914 for the 28th London (Artists’ Rifles) Regiment, with which he served, as a private soldier, in the Ypres Salient and during the Battle of the Somme. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in October 1916 and joined the 11th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment, seeing action at Vimy Ridge and around Givenchy. In 1918 the 11th Battalion was disbanded and he became a Temporary Lieutenant with the 8th (S) Battalion of the same regiment.
During the period 24th September–26th September 1918, north-west of Lens, France, Lieutenant Dean with his platoon held an advance post established in a newly-captured enemy trench. The post was ill-prepared for defence and the lieutenant worked unceasingly with his men consolidating the position, under very heavy fire. Five times in all the post was attacked and on each occasion the attack was repulsed. Throughout the whole of this time Lieutenant Dean inspired his command with his own contempt of danger and set the highest example of valour, leadership and devotion to duty.
For this action, Donald was awarded the VC, his platoon sergeant, Sergeant Skinner, was given the DCM while four others received the MM. They had fought off five attacks, and Donald had personally shot four Germans and on one occasion was speaking on the field telephone, saying, “They are shelling us rather badly. Can we get some retaliation? The shells seem to be coming from all directions.” Then he suddenly broke off, saying, “The Germans are here. Goodbye.”
Lieutenant Dean did not escape unscathed from the war. He was wounded four times, twice on the same day, but happily survived to live a long life. Donald Dean was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 15th February 1919. He continued to serve in the Army, transferring to the 4th Battalion of the Buffs at Dibgate Camp, Shorncliffe, in 1921.
In 1923, he married Marjorie Wood and they had a son and a daughter. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Major Dean was placed in charge of No 5 Group Auxiliary Pioneer Corps in France. The group was heavily engaged in the defence of Boulogne (during which Donald Dean was blown up and mistakenly reported as KIA) and then covered the withdrawal of the Guards off the beaches at Dunkirk. The group were among the last to leave the beaches and Dean was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on his return to England.
He later served in Madagascar, where he was responsible for organizing the return of the defeated Vichy forces to France. Colonel Dean took part in the Sicily landings in 1943 and later served in Italy. He was twice mentioned in despatches and retired after the war with the rank of full Colonel and an OBE.
He inherited his parents’ home at Waldene, Tunstall and it was here that he died on 9th December 1985 at the age of 88. He was cremated and his ashes were interred in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Tunstall, and the inscription on his headstone reads: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” He was the last surviving British holder of the VC from the First World War. In 2008, his grave was refurbished and cleaned and this was organised by his daughter, Susan Bavin.
His medal group including VC, OBE, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977, Territorial Decoration with 4 Bars and Knight, Order of Dannebrog (Denmark) are not publicly held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: ST JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCHYARD, TUNSTALL, KENT. ASHES INTERRED
Donald Dean VC was cremated at Charing Crematorium, Kent and his ashes were interred in the family plot at St John the Baptist Churchyard, Tunstall, Kent.
Sittingbourne War Memorial
Courtesy of Mark Sanders
St George's Church, Ypres
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)