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Donald Dean VC (Hardback)

Memoirs & Military Biography

By Terry Crowdy
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 176
ISBN: 9781848841581
Published: 18th October 2010
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Donald Dean lied about his age to enlist in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment in 1915 and serve on the Western Front, where he worked his way up from Private to acting Captain. Severely wounded at Passchendaele in 1917, Dean’s account of the battle for ‘Tower Hamlets’ is a gripping account of the horror of trench warfare. Recovered from his wounds, it was in the last weeks of the war, late in September 1918, that Dean won his VC for leading a platoon in the determined defence of a recently-captured and isolated trench against repeated German counterattacks. In one of these attacks, the Germans actually broke into the trench, forcing Dean to break off a call for artillery support with the words, ‘The Germans are here, goodbye!’ Refusing to be overrun, he personally killed four of the Germans and the position was held.

Dean also served in World War II as a senior officer in the Pioneer Corps. He witnessed the fall of France in 1940 and claimed to be the last British soldier to escape from Boulogne. His frank account of the evacuation challenges some cherished conceptions and is very critical of the conduct of the Welsh Guards in particular. Dean describes his distinguished service in Madagascar, Sicily and the Italian mainland up to and beyond the German surrender. When he died in 1985, Colonel Dean was the longest surviving recipient of the Victoria Cross from the Trenches.

Terry Crowdy was granted complete access to Dean’s private letters and diaries, never previously published, adding additional notes and material from official reports to give the reader context. The result is a moving, often amusing and inspiring portrait of a hero of two world wars.

The son of a Sittingbourne brick maker, Donald Dean lied about his age to enlist in 1915. Working his way up from Private to acting Captain in the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, Dean was severely wounded by machine gun fire at Passchendaele in 1917. Recovered from his wounds, Dean returned to France in 1918 where he won his VC near the city of Lens. Ordered to hold a captured and isolated trench, Dean fought off five German counterattacks, personally killing four Germans in hand-to-hand fighting. His citation read: „Throughout the period Lieutenant Dean inspired his command with his own contempt of danger, and all fought with the greatest bravery. He set an example of valorous leadership and devotion to duty of the very highest order.

Spartacus Educational

"The Germans are here, goodbye!" Those were the words of Victoria Cross hero Donald Dean to his commader as enemy soldiers broke into his trench in 1918.

The story is told in a new book edited by Rainham author Terry Crowdy, which tells of heroic Dean's incredible feats in the First and then Second World War.

The son of a Sittingbourne brick maker, Dean lied about his age to enlist in 1915.

He worked his way up from Private to acting Captain in the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment before being severely wounded by machine gun fire at Passchendaele in 1917.

After he recovered from his wounds, Dean returned to France in 1918 where he won his VC near the city of Lens.

He had been ordered to hold a captured and isolated trench where Dean fought off five German counterattacks, personally killing four Germans in hand-to-hand fighting.

His citation read: "Throughout the period Lieutenant Dean inspired his command with his own contempt of danger, and all fought with the greatest bravery.

"He set an example of valorous leadership and devotion to duty of the very highest order."

Dean went on to serve in World War II and witnessed the fall of France in 1940.

Seventy years on, the account tells how Dean led a group of poorly armed Pioneer troops to the port of Boulogne.

Fighting off German tanks, Dean's Pioneers fought alongside the Irish and Welsh Guards.

When the order to evacuate Boulogne was given, the Pioneers were refused entry onto ships earmarked for the Guards and were left behind.

Dean ordered the Guardsmen to leave their rifles, so his men might at least continue the fight. In the middle of the night Dean signalled a passing British destroyer for help.

Under enemy fire and with the ship overloaded with survivors, Dean was the last man up the gangplank out of Boulogne.

When Dean later questioned the withdrawal of the Guards at Boulogne he was warned never to speak of the incident again.

Former Rainham Mark Grammar School pupil, Terry, 40, who has published ten other military history books, said editing Dean's memoirs had been a moving and inspiring project.

He said: "With the recent death of the last Tommy from the Great War, Donald Dean's account of Trench Warfare on the Western Front is all the more poignent.

"The story was more interesting for his references to the Medway Towns; of training at Fort Horsted and how he put down a mutiny at Chatham train station. Dean was a true Kentish hero."

This is Kent

Donald Dean‘s story is a quite remarkable one. Spanning two world wars, and the small matter of Britain’s highest honour for bravery, there can’t be many tales out there quite like this.

What I really like as well, is that Dean’s memoirs have such an easily-readable manner, which is no doubt down to his affable yet modest nature. Joining the Artists Rifles on the outbreak of war (he was underage), Dean was soon identified as an officer candidate and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Queens Royal West Kent Regiment. Promoted to Captain by 1917, he was severely wounded in an action at Passchendaele, where he led a Platoon in defending an outpost for days against a vastly superior enemy. Modestly, he makes virtually no mention in his memoirs of his VC.

Dean was recalled to service immediately prior to the start of the Second World War, when the British Army was expanding after the Munich Crisis. Dean was originally given command of a Battalion of the Buffs, in the process raising several more Battalions. Upon the outbreak of war, however, his divisional commander removed him from command, with the explanation that he did not want his division to be commanded by territorials. Even First World War veterans with the VC. Unfortunately I have not been able to trace the Major-General in question.

Passed over for command in his Regiment, Dean was transferred to take command units in the Pioneer Corps. Historically the Army’s Navvies, and possibly the least glamorous unit in the army, the Pioneers performed valuable yet unsung physical labour. Taking part in the withdrawal to Dunkirk, Dean’s units of Pioneers held together firm on the perimeter of Boulogne while unmentioned units of the Guards fell back, commandeering their own ships in the process. Dean was strongly warned never to mention the fiasco. That a man who had been adjudged as an ‘amateur’ when it came to commanding an infantry unit led a Pioneer unit in a rearguard action should not be lost on the reader. The Pioneer Corps was traditionally a dumping ground for men who were deemed not clever enough or fit enough for the rest of the Army, and unwanted officers such as Dean, but as so often in British military history the Pioneers punched well above their expectations.

After returning from Dunkirk Dean and his Pioneers defended a section of the British coastline, before he left to take command of the Pioneer element of one of the least known operations in the Second World War – the invasion of Madagascar. Held by the Vichy French, a British task force secured the island as a safety measure against capture by the Japanese. Once ashore on Madagascar, Dean had an extremely complicated task in leading a rag-tag labour force, including natives and other various contingents. Commanding such diverse units must have called upon leadership and people skills in spades. Dean was not averse to taking matters into his own hands, and at one point was censured by a senior commander for ‘wanton destruction of civilian property’ for using metal railings to form an improvised roadway!

After Madagascar Dean was transferred to command Pioneer forces in Italy. There once again Dean was in command of a polyglot collection of men, including British, Canadian, South African, Polish, native Africans and Italians to name but a few. By the end of the war he had acquired the monicker ‘Dogsbody Dean’ for his ability to deal with any awkward situation, and for handling any task given to him. Not a bad record at all for someone deemed not good enough to command an infantry Battalion in 1939. We can only wonder what the Army missed out on thanks to that ridiculous decision.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dean’s remarkable story – there cannot be many others like it. He gives some valuable insights into leadership in war, and some very useful anecdotes about the human experience of war.

Daly History Blog

Based on his own fragmentary notes and writings, Donald Dean VC, or 'Dogsbody Dean' as he was occasionally wont to call himself, as an often illuminating study of one man's journey through two world wars, though about his most notable action which he earned the Victoria Cross he is frustratingly reticent. Like many of his generation, he joined up under age and was fortunate enough to survive getting 'in the way of bust of machine gun fire' that might have ended his 'matrimonial prospects' but for a well-placed hip flask. Aside from a 1940 action at Boulogne, where his leadership of a pioneer battalion was deserving a recognition, his second world war career was more hard-graft than heroic but no less interesting fir all that.

Steve Snelling Eastern Daily Press Jan 2011

Includes never before published letters and some of his diary entries. Mr Crowdy said: "With the recent death of the last Tommy from the Great War, Donald Dean's account of trench warfare on the Western Front is all the more poignant. It is important we never forget the sacrifices made to protect our everyday freedoms.

Medway Messenger

A veteran of the First World War, where he was awarded VC for his actions in holding an isolated trench, Donald Dean inspired his command with his own contempt of danger, which runs through this account of his life. Including a harrowing account of his experiences at the fall of France in 1940, this book tells the story of a remarkable man.

reenacting ww2

"The Germans are here, goodbye!" Those were the words of Donald Dean to his commander as enemy soldiers broke into his trench in 1918. The son of a Sittingbourne brick maker, Dean lied about his age to enlist in 1915, worked his way through the ranks and was awarded to VC in 1918. This is a story of a remarkable man.

Britain at War

This book contains two very different memoirs written by the same man. Donald Dean served on the Western Front during the First World War, winning the Victoria Cross for defending an advanced position during the advances of September 1918. In the Second World War he served with the Pioneer Corps, the organisation that provided manpower for a wide range of work, from bringing supplies to the front to major engineering works.

The two memoirs are inevitably rather different in tone. Dean fought at Ypres, Passchendaele, Lens and during the victorious Allied advance of 1918, and was a front line soldier, living and fighting in the trenches (and often between the two lines, after he was put in charge of patrols). Between the wars he served with the Territorial Army, but in 1939 he was passed over for wartime command of his battalion, and instead given a post in the Pioneer Corps. Although this officially took him away from the front line, Dean was involved in the fighting in France in 1940 after his men were caught up in the retreat to Boulogne and had to form part of the rear guard. He then served on Madagascar and Sicily and during the campaign in Italy.

During this time Dean commanded men from all over the Empire, including large numbers of Africans and Indians, as well as working with Italian Prisoners of War and co-combatant soldiers. It is his attitude towards this multinational force that makes the book so compelling. While many other British officers clearly had low expectations of many of the men send to Dean, he had different ideas. It is clear that Dean made sure that he understood the individual requirements of each contingent, from their diets to the best way to handle discipline, and took pride in getting good work out of every different group.

Dean's attitude to his men combines with the very varied nature of their work to make this second part of the book a fascinating read. Dean's men were responsible for tasks including road and airfield construction, running prisoner of war camps and carrying supplies to the front line (probably the most dangerous duty). Early in his pioneer career he was also caught up in the retreat to Boulogne, where his men had to be issued with rifles and formed part of the rear guard. This is an excellent book, and provides a valuable look at the work of one of the unsung part of the Allied army.

History of War

He has produced a portrait of an outstanding Territorial which is also an illuminating study of how to command men in battle. It would bear reading by modern soldiers who seek to lead.

The Society of Friends of the National Army Museum, Summer 2012

About Terry Crowdy

Terry Crowdy is the author of several books, most recently the internationally acclaimed The Enemy Within: a History of Espionage (which earned him interviews on national radio and has been translated into Chinese) and the successful Military Misdemeanours.

He lives in Rainham, Kent.

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