b. 09/10/1883 Lambeth, London. d. 21/03/1918 Marteville, France.
John Henry Stephen Dimmer (1883-1918) was born at 37 Gloster Street, South Lambeth, London on 9th October 1883. His father, also called John, enlisted as a Boy in the Royal Navy in January 1866. He served on several ships including the Royal George, Pallas, Inconstant, Excellent and Duke of Wellington and was discharged as an Able Seaman in July 1879. In civilian life, he worked on the railways and as an engineer. John’s mother was Ellen nee Busby, a domestic servant. They had married in 1882 in Lambeth.
John had two younger brothers (a sister died shortly after birth) and the family lived at 36 Herbert Road, Wimbledon. John was educated at Melrose Road School and Rutlish Science School, Merton from 1896-1898. He was very active in youth organisations being a Sergeant in 1st Cadet Battalion KRRC 1900-1901, a member of 1st Wimbledon Company and later 1st Barnet Company Boys’ Brigade as a Sergeant Instructor until 1902. After leaving school he worked for four years in the office of a civil engineer in Westminster.
John enlisted into the KRRC on 1st July 1902 and was posted to Cork. He served with the 4th KRRC in South Africa from 1902-1904, and was promoted to Corporal for his excellent reconnaissance and signalling work with the Mounted Infantry. He was promoted to Lance Sergeant in 1905. In 1906 at his own expense he studied to try and qualify for commissioned service. He passed with high marks and also gained the First Class Army School Certificate in 1907. The Commanding Officer of the 4th KRRC recommended him for a commission based on his professional abilities, but not socially due to John’s lack of financial backing. Following an approach to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Haldane, the King approved a commission in the KRRC with the agreement that he was not required to purchase the uniform, as he was to be detached immediately.
He was attached to the West Africa Regiment as a Local Lieutenant from June 1908. While in Africa, he became a Freemason; 1st Battalion West India Regiment Lodge No 390, and then a founding member of West African Regiment Lodge No 157. He was promoted to Lieutenant in July 1911. Whilst home on leave in 1912-13, he sought another appointment as he couldn’t afford the lifestyle of a regimental officer. The War Office turned down his requests and only offered another tour with the West Africa Regiment, which he reluctantly took.
He was home on leave when the Great War broke out in Europe. His tour in Africa was cut short and he went to France with the 2nd KRRC on 13th August 1914. At 5 am on the 29th October 1914, the Battalion moved out of Polygon Wood to Herenthage Chateau and reinforced 3rd Brigade. Before dawn on the 31st October, the enemy attacked and A and B Companies were soon almost surrounded. Throughout this action, John Dimmer displayed great devotion to duty and was awarded the Military Cross (London Gazette, 1st January 1915). He would become the first man to achieve the double of a MC and a VC.
On 12th November 1914 at Klein Zillebeke, Belgium, Dimmer served his machine gun during the attack on the 12 November at Klein Zillebeke until he had been shot five times - three times by shrapnel and twice by bullets, and continued at his post until his gun was destroyed. John was treated in hospital at the Bellevue Hotel at Wimereux, near Boulogne. It was during his recuperation that he read in the newspaper that he had been awarded the VC. Returning to England, he was appointed Brigade Major of 4th (Reserve) Battalion on 7th December 1914. He was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 15th January 1915.
A medical board on 2nd February 1915 passed him fit and he returned to general service. He was offered the Freedom of Wimbledon but declined saying “too much publicity has been given to my name already, and caused me a great deal of worry and annoyance.” He was then promoted to Captain in April 1915, and received his Military Cross from the King the following month. John sadly was struggling with the mental strain of his war service and was prone to turn to alcohol. He resigned his appointment and denied all charges. In September 1915, he took command of 6th (Reserve) Battalion training camp at Sheerness.
He was then sent to Salonika, Greece where he served as brigade machine-gun officer in 3rd KRRC and as an Observer with the RFC. He suffered a recurrence of malaria and refused evacuation, but when he fell ill again, he was sent back to Britain. Having re-joined 2nd KRRC in February 1917, he contracted blood poisoning. He was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel in January 1918.
He married Gladys Dora May nee Bayley-Parker on 19th January 1918 at Moseley Parish Church. They had no children. Sadly the marriage only lasted two months, as John was killed in action at Marteville, France on 21st March 1918 while leading a counter attack on horseback. His body was missing until March 1920 when it was discovered 600km south of Maissemy and was reburied in Vadencourt British Cemetery.
In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. His medals are held by the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: VADENCOURT BRITISH CEMETERY, MAISSEMY, FRANCE.
John Dimmer's medals including VC and MC on display at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester (August 2012)
Picture kindly supplied by Steve Lee, from the Memorials to Valour website.
John Dimmer's memorial stone laid in Lambeth, London.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT II, ROW B, GRAVE 46
Civic Centre, Morden
National Memorial Arboretum
Allen Stewart painting
Dimmer and his wife, 1918
Winchester Cathedral (Thomas Stewart)
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)