Donald John Dean
Local Recipient of the Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ to members of the armed forces, of any rank. It was introduced by Queen Victoria in January 1856, and since then only 1,358 have been awarded, 628 in the First World War.
Lieutenant Donald Dean was the grandson of George Hambrook Dean, and great grandson of George Smeed. He had been working for the family firm of Smeed Dean when in April 1915, as soon as he was eighteen, he enlisted in the 28th London (Artists Rifles) Regiment. He went to France in August 1915 and took part in the Ypres Salient and the Battle of the Somme. In October 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal West Kent Regiment, and fought at Vimy Ridge and around Givenchy. He was wounded four times during the war, in December 1916 and March 1917 at Ypres, in September 1917 during severe trench fighting and then again on the Somme by a Boche bomb.
After one incident the local paper printed a letter from Private Doway, who had also been wounded and was in hospital. It had been sent to Smeed Dean, and asked for the address of Second Lieutenant Dean, who had been in command of D Company, 11th Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment when he was injured. The letter said, ‘I am desirous of knowing the nature of his wounds. I was servant to Lieutenant Dean. He was a man I always admired and respected for his personal bravery and coolness under all conditions.’
Lieutenant Donald Dean
The paper did not however provide information on his injuries or his experiences during the war. For details of those I am indebted to his own memoirs, edited by Terry Crowdy and published in the book ‘Donald Dean VC’.
His first injury was a minor one, in December 1916, when he got a small splinter from a whiz-bang (a small high-speed shell) in his right knee. The following March his injuries were more substantial. He said that under attack he ‘dropped smartly into a shell hole, breaking the ice and getting my legs down into the water, face against the ground and with my arms covering my head as far as possible, fingers laced at the back of my neck.’